As we emerge from the catastrophe that was the England test series, with a gentle medium pacer leading our fast bowling attack in two of the games, my mind went back to multiple levels of ‘what ifs’ had Shaheen, Haris or Naseem been fully fit. Nothing would have likely changed, or maybe it would have. Who knows. But beyond that, there is an entire discussion that can be held around other fast bowlers who had played for Pakistan, and the memorable performances they have put up. Here I will list 5 of my personal favourite performances. These are not necessarily the greatest performances by pakistani fast bowlers, but only ones that I enjoyed most for one reason or the other, in order, from bottom to top.
5.Naseem Shah v England ( T20 )
Figures : 0 wickets for 30
Year : 2022
The most recent spell on this list, and quite possibly, one of the finest wicket less spells in T20 history. There is nothing spectacular about it if you look at the figures alone, but if you watched the real thing, you’d understand. There were the deliveries that England dispatched for boundaries, as you’d expect in any T20 game. It’s not a format that is kind to fast bowlers afterall. But then there were deliveries, multiple ones, lingering on the edge of being ridiculously unplayable. Just ask Stokes. Heck, don’t even ask. Just look at footage of him laughing in disbelief at the sorcery Naseem was conjuring. There was probably a small voice inside asking how he had survived. He didn’t know, and neither did we.
4.Mohammad Amir v India ( ODI )
Figures : 3 wickets for 16 runs
Year : 2017
I don’t care much for Amir, or rather, I don’t care much for him anymore. Not since every word out of his mouth is filled with infantile frustration aimed at former team mates and management. There was a time however, when he was the most promising young bowler on the international stage. Then he threw it all away for a better bank balance, but then years later, got a redemption of sorts via this spell. Pakistan had come into this final, as they always do, against all odds. India had absolutely hammered them earlier in the competition and there likely wasn’t anyone who expected any different. Even after the total put on the board. Surely Rohit, Virat and co would hunt it down, with ease. Only they didn’t. First Rohit, then Virat almost, and then Virat finally. The delivery where Virat Kohli was dropped, and the one following that where he was caught, both off Amir’s bowling, are reason alone enough for Nasser Hussain to be granted official commentator status every time Pakistan play.
3.Umar Gul v New Zealand ( T20 )
Figures: 5 wickets for 6 runs
Year : 2009
Umar Gul was the anti-thesis of a Pakistani fast bowler. No off field issues. No on field issues too, for the most part. He would come in, he would do the job, and then he would go home. As cruel as it sounds, you would think you were dealing with an England bowler from the 1990s, albeit with more pace, and infinitely more swing. 5 wickets for 6 runs are incredible figures in any format, but in a format were fast bowlers are walloped to all corners, they are barely believe. So unplayable was Gul in this spell that the New Zealand side accused him of ball tampering, allegations that fell flat soon after. Pakistani fast bowlers had been through this whole charade before, and so had the opposition. Nothing dark. Nothing sinister. Just Pakistani fast bowlers doing Pakistani things.
2.Wasim Akram 3/80 v India ( Test )
Figures : 3/80
Year : 1999
Chennai 1999 is rightly up there among the greatest test matches ever played, if not the greatest. From Tendulkar almost dragging India over the line, to the first of Afridi’s grand ( albeit limited ) exploits on the test arena. In between all of this, was Wasim. Figures of 3/80 are hardly earth shattering. Wasim has had other spells with more wickets going for fewer runs, but there was something majestic about this particular one. Wasim, then 33, was still a few years away from retirement. The guile, the swing, the movement and the ability to outfox the best of them, was still there. If there is anything that captures that, it is the set up of how he got Rahul Dravid out. Dravid, even at that early stage of his career, was among the most solid players in the world. A batting technique so impenetrable, he should have been called The Fortress instead of The Wall. But then he was up against the finest left arm fast bowler to have played the game. Dravid was lucky to survive an LBW appeal, and had DRS been around back then, we likely would not have witnessed what happened two balls later. A ball so scarcely believable, stretching your mind beyond what was possible and teetering into the impossible. It somehow moved in, then moved out, squared up one of the most solid batting techniques in history, and then clipped off stump, leaving Dravid in a tepid sea of bemusement. It was as filthy as they came. It was as Wasim as they came.
1.Shoaib Akhtar v Australia ( Test )
Figures : 5 wicket for 21 runs
Year : 2002
There was Jeff Thompson. There was Brett Lee. There was peak Waqar. There is Mark Wood. There is also Nortje, Haris, and others who can crank it up to levels where the ball becomes less of a ball and more of an object whizzing past you every few seconds. It’s there, but somehow not there enough to be hit. There are plenty who have achieved this level of there-ness. But none have done with the same level of menace and thuggery as Shoaib. In full flight, he wasn’t just good- he was downright frightening. The long hair, shirt buttons open, gold chain dangling, chest hair reminiscent of a 1970s Bollywood villain, and then the attitude. The same attitude that had PCB’s discipline hammer on him throughout his career. The same attitude, which made Shoaib the Shoaib we knew. A walking, talking middle finger. This particular spell, was all of that rolled into one. By that time Australia had well established their dominance as the best team in the world, a status they would enjoy for at least a decade more. Not only were they the best in the world at the time, but they could lay claim to being possibly the greatest in history. But then came Shoaib, plowing through their batting lineup like an uncaged animal in one of the most brutal exhibitions of fast bowling ever seen. It was primal. It was savage. It was one of the rare occasions where this Australian team was blown into complete smithereens.