Sometime into the chase, commentator and former England captain Nasser Hussain hit the nail on the head with a piece of observation. It was said in almost jest, and it was about Hasan Ali: “When you meet the guys (like him) in the flesh, you would never know they can bowl so fast!”. It’s something the Indian fans are intimate with for several decades now. Always beware of the (relatively) unknown man in green.
Those were the pre-google days, and the anonymity was exaggerated further, and when those men did their stuff and left the crime scene, you would mop around in the living rooms, numbed and bewildered by the sucker punch until someone would start laughing and you joined in. So, when the news trickled in that Mohammad Amir wasn’t available for the semi-final, only the young cricket watcher would have thought it would be a one-sided encounter.
Imran Khan, the two Ws (Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis) and Shoiab Akhtar were all well and good; their danger was known and expected. It’s the unknown ones who sometimes don’t even look like fast bowlers, as Hussain said, who really buried you on a big day.
Before we get into the Pakistani fast bowlers of today, there is one stereotype that needs to be buried first. That cricket is dead in Pakistan as the country is besieged with problems, and there is no international cricket played there. As if that’s going to stop our neighbours.
Last year, when Aaquib Javed, the former Pakistani bowler and a passionate coach, got himself involved in a talent-hunt program for a Pakistan Super League team, he was left gobsmacked. A staggering one-hundred-and-ten-thousand players walked in for the cricket trials. 14,000 came in at Faisalabad, 21,000 trooped in at Gujranwala, 25,000 streamed in at Lahore, and Javed took the trials all across Punjab and was astonished to see young dreamy-eyed boys pouring in. Let that sink in again: 1,10,000 boys, and that too for just one franchise.
Now to these seamers who did England in some style. With Pakistan, it’s difficult to shake away nostalgia even when reviewing the present. For, there is always a common thread in its bowlers: When every other country produces fast bowlers, you can sense the order and method behind them — this is not to fall into the other stereotype about untrained and uncoached Pakistani bowlers, but there is a stink of the system in most other countries’ fast men.
The load-ups as they say about the way the bowler gets his bowling arm up prior to release, the effort to get the arm as high as possible, and even the strain to get the follow-through going in the conventional fashion, can all seem coached and heavily trained in most. Not that there is anything wrong with it, of course, but Pakistan have a knack of churning out men with different traits altogether.
Many like Junaid Khan and Rumman Raees run in as if they are just jogging around the block. Every bit of energy and adrenalin is reserved for the assault at the finish line: the bowling arm revs up in up in insane speed, it whirs up and over in a blink, and sometimes, the non-bowling arm hardly gets into it. Never mind that, though, as the other arm is hellbent on unleashing violence.
They cranked up the pace, they bounced at the face, they crash-landed at the toe, and teased out the edge — and England had no chance. Especially, when it seemed they were a bit overwhelmed by the occasion. They might have been the ‘it’ team — and you can italicize and colour it crimson red, too — but England aren’t still a team who have shown that they can conquer big moments. We saw that in the T20 World Cup final in Kolkata, and we have seen it here again. It’s a team that has definitely come a long way from the almost condescending way they used to view the limited-over format, but they haven’t got it all together yet to seize the big day.
Yesterday, it seemed they had suffered a relapse. Faint-hearted, lacking conviction, almost nervy, they wobbled away with the bat. And it continued in the way they bowled. They had Plan A — bounce those Pakistanis — but that’s all they had. The captain delayed the entry of spin, the seamers delayed changing the length, and Pakistan bulldozed their way through.
Over the years, Australia have been the team who climb all over you when you expose your vulnerability. When they sense you are nervy and weak-minded, Australians go for the kill. But then again, over the years, Pakistan have been the team who can create that vulnerability in an opponent with the venom in their bowling attack. You might think you got it all covered, but Pakistan can amp up their game so much that you can feel like all nervy and out of place.
Their critics focus on the lows, on the days when they collectively don’t turn up and mock them, but their fans relish days such as this at Cardiff. Who wouldn’t? No Amir, Wahab Riaz already injured out of the tournament, the batsmen you can’t really trust on most days, but when they have those bowlers that can kick up a fiery storm, it wasn’t a surprise that the all-new brave England were dragged back to the pale-faced version of the ‘90s.