One of the all-time greats

Wasim Akram was to fast bowling what Sachin Tendulkar is to batting in modern cricket. That both found the shorter version of the game equally suited to their skills as Test cricket might have something to say about their talent. — Pic. JACK ATLEY/GETTY IMAGES-

THE man who terrorised batsmen for a living will not be seen on the international stage any more.

Wasim Akram will be missed by teammates, opponents and fans. No less by the Indians who were at the receiving end of his fury many a time.

"Akram is the best fast bowler I have ever played against in the world. His deceptive bouncers were very lethal and because of that Akram found success so often," former India captain Krishnamachari Srikkanth said.

"Akram will be remembered for ever as one of the all-time greats," said Srikkanth who led the last Indian team to visit Pakistan, way back in 1989.

Akram's retirement, announced midway through a county match in England, might have been low key without much hoopla but at least, Akram realised early enough that he no more had a chance of returning to the Pakistan team and bid a quiet adieu.

More than 400 wickets in both forms of the game is a rare double that would withstand the test of time. If his 1,032 first-class wickets at 21.65 including 70 five-wicket and 16 ten-wicket hauls are staggering, the two hat-tricks in both Tests and one-day internationals complete the picture of an all-time great.

"He was the best paceman and none of the top batsmen in the world ever felt comfortable while facing Akram," former player and selection committee chairman Chandu Borde said echoing the thoughts of most of the Indians.

Of course, what set Akram apart from his contemporaries was that he did not need to resort to any kind of sledging to earn his wickets. There had hardly been a moment in his entire career when Akram spat verbal volleys in the manner of the likes of Glenn McGrath after beating a batsman.

There was not even the typical West Indian fast bowler's cold stare on the follow-through. Just a rueful grin on the sweaty face, which seemed to ask, "how could you have missed it?"

Former India all-rounder Robin Singh vouches for Akram's approach to the game. "He is a gentleman cricketer and he will be missed," said Robin.

"He is the most complete bowler in the world. My personal observation of Akram is that he is the best fast bowler in the world. He is a bowler with rare natural abilities and he has proved quite often that he can take wickets at will," Robin added.

For all his exploits all over the world, Akram enjoyed bowling against India, claiming 45 wickets from 12 Tests and 60 from 48 one-day internationals.

"A series against India always rises our spirit. We in Pakistan say `whenever you want to get back into form, have a match against India,'" the bowler himself has said often, and that may explain the levels to which he raised his game when playing against the subcontinent rivals.

The 10-wicket haul by Anil Kumble might be an oft-mentioned feat in the last Test series played between the two neighbouring countries but the cricket puritan would like to remember Akram's spell on the fifth morning in the Chennai Test, which Pakistan won.

The delivery that got Rahul Dravid was just one fibre of a magical yarn that the seamer weaved around the Indian batting mainstay. Thoughts of facing Akram would be the last thing the recently-married Dravid would want to have during his honeymoon.

Akram's battle with other leading Indian cricketers of his time was also stuff of folklore. Ever since his lethal bouncer left Srikkanth with a bleeding forehead in a one-day international in 1987-88, one may say the swashbuckling batsman failed to bat with the same authority against the Pakistani.

In the famous return series in 1989, Akram would open some of the old scars — to borrow a phase from Steve Waugh — to have Srikkanth dismissed in seven of the eight innings. In the eighth instance, the Indian captain was caught by Akram.

"I consider him a hardcore fighter who had given his best for the country," Srikkanth said. "It was unfortunate that he faced problems from his Board but he proved himself right always."

Akram also tarnished Ravi Shastri's reputation as an all-rounder by going after his left-arm slow bowling but the one Indian he might have failed to get the better of would be Sachin Tendulkar.

By the same token, one may also say Akram was to fast bowling what Tendulkar is to batting in modern cricket. That both found the shorter version of the game equally suited to their skills as Test cricket might have something to say about their talent.

It is a pity then that neither he nor Tendulkar was among the Five Cricketers of the Century by Wisden. How much the eyes of the crictics was clouded by accusations of match fixing against Akram is in the realm of speculation.

What can be safely concluded is that there can be no question of his genius as a fast bowler, that he was a cricketer's and critic's delight at once.