Wasim Akram was perhaps the best left-arm fast bowler in history. With complete mastery over swing and seam, he could sometimes with a single delivery, move the ball both ways.

Wasim started his ODI career against New Zealand in Pakistan in 1984 under the captaincy of Zaheer Abbas and quickly rose to prominence by taking five wickets in his third ODI against Australia in the 1985 Benson & Hedges World Championship.

Among those five wickets were Kepler Wessels, Dean Jones, and Captain Allan Border.

Wasim took his 100th wicket, that of Curtly Ambrose, in Sharjah during the 1989–1990 Champions Trophy against West Indies. Overall, he took five wickets in that match, including a hat trick in which all three batsman were bowled.

He took his second hat trick on May 4, 1990 in Sharjah, against Australia. Once again, all three batsmen were out bowled.

From 1986–1989, Wasim took 100 wickets at 22.71 runs per wicket and at an economy rate of less than 3.9 runs per over.

He was the first bowler to reach the 500-wicket mark in ODI cricket during the 2003 World Cup.

 

Career Statistics

Full Name: Wasim Akram

Born: June 3, 1966 (54), Lahore, Punjab

Major teams: Pakistan, Hampshire, Lahore, Lancashire, Pakistan Automobiles Corporation, Pakistan International Airlines

Playing role: Bowler

Bowling style: Left-arm fast

 

ODI Career: Pakistan (1984-2003)

Mat        Inns        Balls       Runs      Wkts        BBI         BBM        Ave        Econ       SR           4w          5w               10w

356         351         18186      11812      502        5/15         5/15       23.52       3.89       36.2          17             6                  0

 

Career highlights

  • 1st man to take 500 ODI wickets
  • Claimed 502 wickets at an average of 23.52
  • He has two hat-tricks in ODIs
  • Ranked by Wisden as the best ODI bowler of all time in 2002
  • Most ODI wickets as captain (158)

Wasim Akram is the best left-arm fast bowler of all time. He has mastered all types of deliveries, slower balls, inswingers, outswingers, seaming in, seaming out, he could do it all at will it seemed. On some occasions he would swing it one way, then seam it another, leaving batsmen in a quandary about what to do. To top it off, Akram had a vicious bouncer that came from imperceptible extra effort.

Jimmy Adams, a stodgy defensive player from the West Indies, who at one time was the world’s best Test batsman, said Akram was the most difficult bowler he has ever had to navigate, rating an unbeaten 48 he scored against him in a match where the Pakistani pacer took 11 wickets on his way to 398, as the best he’s ever played.

Akram also formed one of the most dangerous Test duos in the history of the game with a certain Waqar Younis and it is no surprise that the latter would make a list like this as well.

The two would open with terrifying spells, then as the ball got older would return to unleash reverse swing on their opponents. Together, the two would take 559 wickets in just 61 Tests, just as dangerous, if not more so than the great West Indies pairing of Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose which yielded 421 in 49. Akram, Imran Khan, and Younis are the only three Pakistani bowlers to take more than 350 wickets in Test cricket.

Akram’s only failing may have come with the bat. He was the natural successor to Khan but though he proved to be just a good a fast bowler, his average of 22.64 is well below what his talent would suggest.

Akram has three Test centuries and seven 50s in his 104 matches, with a best of 257 not out against Zimbabwe in Sheikhupura.

  

Career Statistics

Full name: Wasim Akram

Born: June 3, 1966, Lahore, Punjab

Major teams: Pakistan, Hampshire, Lahore, Lancashire, Pakistan Automobiles Corporation, Pakistan International Airlines

Playing role: Bowler

Batting style: Left-hand bat

Bowling style: Left-arm fast

 

 

Test Career: Pakistan (1985-2002)

Mat    Inns    Balls      Runs    Wkts    BBI        BBM        Ave      Econ   SR      4w     5w      10w

104     181     22627    9779      414      7/119    11/110     23.62    2.59    54.6     20      25        5

 

Career Highlights

  • Most wickets by a left arm fast bowler in Tests (414)
  • Joint 3rd most Man of the Match Awards (17)
  • Averaged 23.62
  • Highest score as a number 8 in Tests (257)

Legendary Pakistan fast bowler Wasim Akram has recently recalled an incident in which iconic West Indies batsman Viv Richards scared him senseless, during a series that ended with a fiery Test match, in Barbados, in 1988.

Pakistan had strolled to a 9 wickets win over the West Indies in the first Test before the teams drew the second encounter.  The famed West Indies were left battling to stave off defeat when Akram remembers the clash with Richards in the final Test.

“He would have hit me a lot in 1988. He was a muscular guy and I was very skinny. It was the last over of the day and I was bowling at a good pace. I had realized by then that I had become fast. Viv Richards realized I was a difficult bowler and saw I had a quick-arm action. I bowled a bouncer at him, and his cap fell off.  Getting Viv Richards cap to fall was a big deal,” Akram revealed in a recent talk with cricket commentator Aakash Chopra.

  “There was no match referee back then and I went up to him and sledged him in my broken English. He spat after staring at me and said don’t do this man. I understood nothing but just the man’s word. I said ok, no worries and went to my captain Imran Khan and told him Richards was warning not to abuse him or else he will beat me up. Imran Khan said don’t worry about that and just bowl him, bouncers. I bowled him a bouncer again and abused him after he ducked. On the last ball of the day, I bowled an in-swinger and he was bowled. I went up to him and gave him a good send-off, shouted go back and all,” he added.

According to Akram, who had Richards caught for 67 in the first innings, before dismissing him for 39 in the second, the issue was far from concluded.

“I went back to the dressing room with Imran Khan. In Barbados, the dressing of two teams is in front of each other. I was tired and taking off my shoes when a guy told me to come out of the dressing room. I asked, ‘who is calling me’ and he said you better come out man. When I went out, I saw Viv Richards standing without his shirt,” Akram recounted.

“He was sweating and had his bat in his hand, he also had his pads on. I got scared and ran back to Imran Khan. I told him that Viv Richards was waiting for me with a bat in his hand. Imran Khan asked ‘what should I do. It’s your fight, go and handle it’. I said skipper what are you saying, you have developed this strong body and are telling a skinny guy like me to face him. I went out and told him sorry. I told him that nothing of this sort will happen again and he said you better not, I will kill you.”

 

Jimmy Adams never made our Jamaican BestXI West Indies Championship team and that may be the most unfortunate omission of the lot, with others like Alfred Valentine, Nehemiah Perry, Roy Gilchrist, and Alan Rae also missing the cut.

However, there is no doubt that Jimmy is one of the finest competitors the West Indies has produced and his efforts slowed a degradation in the region’s cricketing fortunes in no uncertain terms.

On May 29, 2000, on the final day of a Test series against Pakistan in Antigua, visiting captain Moin Khan stood on the verge of history.

Moin was about to be the first Pakistan captain to win a series in the Caribbean. But Jimmy, the captain of the West Indies at the time, stood in his way.

Pakistan would eventually earn a series victory in the Caribbean, the hosts capitulating almost 20 years later, but on that day, Jimmy was determined not to suffer the ignominy of losing at home.

The three-Test series was tied at 0-0, making the final Test very much a final.

Pakistan had been sent into bat on the first day but had been bowled out early on the second morning for 269 on the back of Mohammad Yousuf’s unbeaten 103.

The West Indies hadn’t fared much better in their first innings, with Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s 89 and Jimmy’s 60 barely get them over the mark to be all out for 273. Jimmy had bat four hours for that 60, while Shiv’s defiance had lasted even longer, the Guyanese batsman holding out for five and a half hours.

I say holding out because Pakistani left-arm pacer, Wasim Akram, was in his element, taking 6-61 in that first innings to outdo Courtney Walsh’s 5-83 in the same stanza.

But Pakistan were in for more trouble in their second innings as the West Indies pairing of Curtley Ambrose (3-39) and Reon King (4-48), demicated the Pakistani lineup, restricting them to just 219. Inzamam-ul-Haq stood firm with a fighting 68 that included a pulled six through midwicket off Ambrose and Yousuf, who made 42.

Three days of the Test had elapsed and the West Indies had the two remaining to chase down 216 for victory. Seemed easy enough at the start, but on a wearing pitch and with masters of the art of bowling the reverse swing like Akram and Waqar Younis running in, who knows.

There was also the formidable spin threat of Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq as well as the dangerous, largely underrated Abdul Razzaq.

At the end of day four, the picture did not look any clearer, as Jimmy Adams on 15 would return on the final morning with the score on 144-4.

Openers Sherwin Campbell (6) and Adrian Griffith (23), had not given the middle order puch protection, but Wavell Hinds (63) and Shiv (31) had sought to restore some composure to the innings, but they too had fallen before the fourth day had ended, Akram the orchestrator of three of the four wickets.

Ramnaresh Sarwan was to enter the fray on the final morning and much was expected of him if the West Indies were to overhaul the 72 runs needed to win the match. A draw certainly wasn’t in question.

But Sarwan fell victim to the brilliant Akram, who snared his fourth wicket, getting the diminutive right-hander out leg before.

Ridley Jacobs then committed a sin early on the final morning, going run out for five. With Adams and the bowlers at the crease at 169-6, the West Indies were treading murky water.

Defeat was in the air, but so was Jimmy.

Franklyn Rose didn’t last long, waiting around for just 13 balls for his four runs, while Ambrose scored eight runs that included a six.

He was almost run out in the interim but it never mattered as Mushtaq would prove his undoing.

Things looked grim but the West Indies were getting ever closer.

Rose had gone at 177-7, and Sir Curtly had taken the Windies to 194-8.

King stayed around long enough for Jimmy to score a few runs and take the score to 197-9, but Akram struck again, bowling him all ends up as the pacer took an inelegant waft at a straight delivery.

Out came Courtney Walsh, who after his five-for in the first innings, and 1-39 from 20 miserly overs in the second, would not have expected to have more work to do, but he did.

The West Indies were still 19 runs adrift and nobody but nobody wanted to see Walsh, who had the unenviable record of not scoring on 36 occasions.

And Walsh could have, and likely should have been given out off the second ball he faced, as he was caught bat pad off the bowling of Mushtaq. Umpire Doug Cowie didn’t see it and there was no third umpire to plead Mushtaq’s case.

But Walsh would have to face more of Mushtaq because Jimmy was not letting him anywhere near Akram.

“When Walsh came in, I remember telling him that the only chance we had was for him not to face Wasim. He said fine, and that he would do the best he could against Saqlain or whoever else it was from the other end. I told him, "Look, either it will work or it won't work, but it's going to take time. I'm going to refuse runs because I'm going to try not to have you face Wasim," Jimmy recollected.

The crowd at the Antigua Recreation Ground gave Jimmy a hard time for refusing runs, booing and the like, but they never understood what he did and what he had the discipline to employ. Akram was a master and would not need too many deliveries to get rid of Walsh.

But calamity was never far away and Walsh and Jimmy ended up in the same crease during what should have been an easy run.

“I can't remember where the ball went. All I know is that Courtney was ball-watching. I just thought at some point he would actually look at me and run. I said to him, "Courtney, you've got longer legs than me, so you need to try and get up to the next end." And Courtney was telling me: "Well, I might have longer legs, but you are still quicker. So you give it your best shot."”

Fortunately, Mushtaq and Younis Khan conspired to miss the catch in the former’s case and throw poorly in the instance of the latter.

Adams, somewhere around 2pm on the final day, would dab a ball into the outfield with the scores tied and that would be the end of that.

Akram would end the game with 11 wickets, two short of 400, and Jimmy, in his second series as captain, was over the moon, scoring 60 and an unbeaten 48.

“For West Indies it was a good end to a very tight Test match. But I will never discuss that Test without paying tribute to Wasim. He is the best fast bowler I have ever played, not just in that Test, but in my career. I put more value on that 48 than probably most of my Test hundreds because of the situation, the pressure, the quality of the bowling,” Jimmy would say of the game years later.

There have been some wonderful pace bowlers over the years in all forms of cricket. With the bent toward the batsman in the shorter forms of the game, some of the figures of even the best pacers have looked a little worse for wear. With that said, just as we did with batsmen, SportsMax.tv chose to look at the best bowlers to play the five-day game, as running in over after over throughout a day of cricket only to come back to do it again tomorrow might be a smidge more difficult than 10-over or four-over spells at maximum.

Finding an XI from the rich history of fast bowling Test cricket has to offer was no easy feat and I’m sure we missed names that you would have undoubtedly picked, but here goes ...

 

BestXI

 

Malcolm Marshall (West Indies)

Standing at 5 feet, 11 inches, you wouldn’t think Malcolm Marshall the type of bowler who could scare world-class attacks, but he did. Marshall was regarded as the finest pace bowler to come from the West Indies, a region known for producing some of the best quicks ever to play the game. Marshall had an open run-up that should have made him less accurate but it, instead, gave him the ability to swing the ball either way with very little difference in his action. His technique also generated remarkable pace and had a very deceptive, very cruel bouncer. England’s Mike Gatting remembers that bouncer better than most after Marshall flattened his nose bridge in a match at Sabina Park. Marshall would rachet up 376 Test wickets in just 81 Tests at the remarkable average of 20.94, which represents one of the best of all time. Marshall’s 376 wickets also came at a time when all four West Indies fast bowlers were wicket-takers, making his haul even more of a prize.

 

Curtly Ambrose (West Indies)

When Curtly Ambrose walked away from International cricket there was not a soul who thought he didn’t have much more in the tank. A quiet giant, Ambrose bowled at a menacing length, too full to go back to and too short to play forward to. The master at putting the ball in that corridor of uncertainty, he would get wickets regularly by constantly getting the ball to jag bag at batsmen before making one hold its line. His yorker, from his great height, was nothing to sniff at either. Ambrose’s best of 8-45 is something that is still talked about today, though his 405 wickets in 98 Tests at an average of 20.99 will not soon be forgotten either. Ambrose would take five wickets in an innings 22 times, and 10 in a match on three occasions.

 

Michael Holding (West Indies)

The nickname “Whispering Death” speaks volumes about the man known as the Rolls Royce of fast bowling. An over to Geoff Boycott, the belligerent England opener, best describes what Holding was like at his absolute best. Boycott was bowled in the over and did not feel hard done because, as he has admitted, he had no answer to the lanky Jamaican. Holding is the textbook of fast bowling, from the first step to his leap and then to delivery, there has not been a smoother bowler in the history of the game. He was an artist and made fast bowling a beautiful thing to watch unless you were at the end of one of his 249 wickets. Holding only played 60 Tests and also fell victim to a four-pronged West Indies pace attack which would quickly ensure he had nobody to bowl at. But for those who did have to face him, they will not soon forget how the silky smoothness of his run-up and delivery would be shattered by genuine pace, accuracy and guile. In his book, ‘No Holding Back’, Mikey talks about how he gave up pace for accuracy but found, funnily enough, that once he had mastered being accurate, his pace had ratcheted up again, at least in the minds of the batsmen he faced.

 

Glen McGrath (Australia)

Anybody who calls Glen McGrath the best fast bowler of all time, cannot be argued with. The right-arm fast-medium by the time he ended his career had the ability to pitch the ball wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted and made all the great batsmen of his era have to admit, he was the most difficult customer they would encounter throughout their respective careers. McGrath is famous for being the man to have gotten the prize wicket of Brian Lara, arguably the best batsman of all time, the most in his career. To be fair, Lara average 51 against Australia, so that battle was fairly even. Still, McGrath’s mammoth 563 wickets from 124 Tests at an average of 21.64 speaks for itself. There were 29 occasions when McGrath would hold the ball aloft for earning five wickets and he, like Ambrose got 10 wickets in a match on three occasions. McGrath’s best bowling figures, 8-24, featured a spell of fast bowling that might never be matched.

Dennis Lillee (Australia)

Dennis Lillee, in partnership with tear-away fast bowler, Jeff Thomson, can be blamed for the rise of the fearsome four-pronged attack of the West Indies in the 1980s. It was afterall, after a crushing 5-1 defeat in Australia that regularly featured Lillee and Thomson decimations, that the Caribbean side turned to all-pace attacks. Lillee, though not as fast as Thomson, was the class of the pair, grabbing 355 wickets in just 73 Tests. Lillee was a complete bowler. When he debuted in 1971 he was frighteningly quick, but a spinal stress fracture threatened to end his career. Years later, a slowed Lillee was still outwitting batsmen with almost monotonous regularity. So much so, that there are many who consider him and not Marshall, the greatest of all time.

 

Richard Hadlee (New Zealand)

There are no superlative too good for the man who perfected swing bowling at high pace. Hadlee troubled every opponent on every kind of pitch. Hadlee almost singlehandedly lifted New Zealand cricket to unprecedented heights and along the way becoming the first bowler to notch 400 wickets in Test cricket. He, like Lillee, started as a tearaway quick, preferring to bludgeon his opponents into submission with searing bouncers. But Hadlee was a quick study and shortened his run-up while developing the attributes of the model fast bowler. His whippy action was a concern for most batsmen and when that was combined with pace, bounce and movement. When Hadlee retired in 1990, so effective was he, that he took a wicket with the last ball of his career. He would end with 431 wickets in just 86 Tests at an average of 22.29.

 

Wasim Akram (Pakistan)

Wasim Akram is likely the best left-arm pace bowler of all time. Blessed with an economical action, Akram was deceptively quick and would make batsmen used to playing against the most express of fast bowlers, still look hurried. Called the Sultan of Swing, Akram was also brilliant at producing seam movement. The two combined, produced a bowler who was always dangerous. Akram was also never the same bowler to the same batsmen when they met again in another series. Something would change, he would develop something until it came to a point where the Pakistani, who kept a strict fitness regime, could pitch four balls in the same spot and get something different to happen to it. A nightmare for anticipating, and so he had to be played off the pitch. But he was quick, and sometimes, 414 times to be exact, it was too late to adjust. Akram’s 414 wickets came in 104 Tests at an average of 23.62.

 

Imran Khan (Pakistan)

If ever Akram could claim a father figure, it was Imran Khan. The Pakistani captain is undoubtedly the finest cricketer the country has ever produced, averaging 50 with the bat and 19 with the ball over the last 10 years of his career. Khan led his country into the modern era of cricket, teaching the value of professionalism, as well as the importance of getting the public’s support. Under Imran, Pakistan became a real force, but as just a pure bowler, his figures of 362 wickets in 88 Tests was remarkable. His average of 22.81 was as brilliant as his reverse swinging yorker.

 

Dale Steyn (South Africa)

Steyn is the best quick in modern-day cricket. The South African has the best strike rate of all time. In 93 Tests, Steyn has 439 wickets at an average of 22.95 and was the world’s number-one fast bowler for a record of 263 weeks, a little more than five years. While those figures are scary, they aren’t as frightening as his extreme pace, combined with the ability to swing the ball both ways and accuracy to boot. Persistent injuries have curtailed the bowler's appearances for the Proteas over the last few years but he is always a welcome addition, especially with the likes of the talented Kagiso Rabada waiting in the wings to learn from his experience.

 

Mitchell Johnson (Australia)

Australia have, like the West Indies, consistently produced great fast bowlers and the two countries could, together, fill a list of the bestXI on their own without too many arguments. One of the best of those is Mitchell Johnson. In just 73 Tests, Johnson has taken 313 wickets and while he needs to bring down his average of 28.4 a little, he is still quite brilliant. Johnson has had his issues, having horrendous lows to go along with incredible highs. It is only now that he is beginning to be the fast bowler Dennis Lillee said he could. Late swing at pace is his major weapon, but he has now also included interesting angles that put batsmen in trouble.

Waqar Younis (Pakistan)

The longtime saying, last but not least, certainly applies to Waqar Younis. Half of the pairing with Wasim Akram, Waqar would bulldoze his way through opposition batsmen, while his partner in crime was the scalpel creating neat, tidy incisions.

The two Ws were undoubtedly one of the most effective fast bowling duos in cricket history. Waqar would take 373 wickets in 87 Tests from that partnership, relying on late swing and real pace for the most part. His execution of late reverse swing meant batsmen even muffed chances to score off bad deliveries, making him, with his slingy action, more economical than one would expect. Waqar was a problem for all the greats who bat against him from his debut in 1989 until his retirement in 2003. His strike rate was the best of all time until Dale Steyn’s arrival in Test cricket.

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