Three great cricketers

BY K SRIKKANTH

Wasim Akram turned out for his record-breaking 34th World Cup game, against Namibia in Kimberly, and picked up five wickets. He is a bowler par excellence.-— Pic. AFP.

What a phenomenal achievement it was for Wasim Akram, when he turned out for his record-breaking 34th World Cup game, against Namibia in Kimberly. He is 36, but is still good enough to run through sides.

This speaks for his class and durability, and that burning desire to excel. I can tell you that he is the most complete fast bowler I have seen, right-arm or left-arm.

No other paceman has quite the same amount of variations as this champion bowler has. Akram can send down six different deliveries in an over, and they can all be potentially wicket-taking ones.

It was in the '92 World Cup final down under that Akram, the first to go past 50 wickets in World Cups, bowled with much fire to play a prominent part in Pakistan's trophy triumph and eleven years later, he still is a formidable bowler.

His dazzling successes in the international arena are even more creditable, if you take into account the fact that he is a diabetic, and has had to maintain a very strict vigil over his health. I must say that his has been a tale of courage.

He can be extremely deceptive with the ball, and can generate surprising speeds. I found him tough to handle during my playing days, because of his ability to keep changing his tactics. He is not the kind to need a long, elaborate run-up, and he could just come off a few paces and let go a real quick ball. That's because he puts so much shoulder into his delivery.

The batsmen might relax mentally when they see him ambling across, but they better not relax. If they do, they would be on their way back. Akram would demand attention, always.

The left-armer is also somebody with a tremendous will power. The authorities in Pakistan have shabbily treated him. He will be captain one day, and dropped from the team the next.

However, he has always displayed the resolve to fight back, never ever gave up. A lesser man would have so easily called it a day, at such bizarre treatment at the hands of the selectors. Not Akram.

As a bowler, he is a captain's dream. He can swing and seam the ball away from the right-hander, can bring it back with ease, and has a quick reverse swinging yorker, that can be lethal in the end overs of a limited overs contest.

I remember we were once 200-odd for one in Sharjah, and he bowled us out for less than 250, using the yorkers to deadly effect. That's Wasim Akram for you, a cricketer who can swing a match on his own.

His short-pitched balls are no less effective, and he can put fear in a batsman. His change in pace, subtle and clever, subject the batsmen to a severe test. He can be genuinely fast when he wants to, but does not waste his energy in attempting to bowl quick.

He has been equally effective in both forms of the game, which given the glittering qualities in his bowling, will hardly raise an eyebrow. Even when Pakistan has the quickest bowler in the world in Shoaib Akhtar, Akram is the danger man.

Let's not forget, he has a double century in a pressure situation in Test cricket, and can be a fearsome striker of the ball. However, he has neglected his batting to an extent, in a bid to excel as a paceman. Even today, in certain situations, he can be extremely dangerous with the willow.

Sachin Tendulkar is a master with the willow, of course, and when he passed Javed Miandad's tally of 1083, during his half-century against Holland, he had the highest run-aggregate in World Cup history.

What can I say about this great cricketer? It is my privilege and honour that I was his captain on his first tour with the Indian side, to Pakistan in '89. During that trip, I could make out that here was a cricketer who would go places, given an abundance of talent, commitment and dedication.

A lot has been written about his glorious knocks for India, his incredible shot-making skills, and his ability to win matches for India single-handedly. Yet, what has taken Tendulkar to where he is now, is his sheer passion for the game, and his work ethic.

Tendulkar is dead serious during practice sessions, and cricket and India are foremost in his mind. Given his natural talent and an ironclad temperament, Tendulkar is bound to break several more records in what has been a truly remarkable career.

He is a national treasure, and should be treated and respected as one. Tendulkar is in his fourth World Cup now, and I will not be surprised if he is India's best batsman in the West Indies championship four years hence, when the next edition of the premier one-day competition gets underway.

From Tendulkar, let's go back to a left-arm paceman. Chaminda Vaas is someone who has given his all for Sri Lanka, match after match, and tournament after tournament.

It was the rarest among rare performances by Vaas, when he knocked over three Bangladesh batsmen with the first three deliveries in the pool `B' World Cup match. A world record it was, and he followed this up with a wicket off his fifth delivery to make the feat even more special. He is what I would call a poorer version of Wasim Akram, which still makes him a good bowler. The notable aspect of Vaas's bowling is that he pitches the delivery up and allows it to swing.

Early on in the innings, when the batsmen are tentative, when their feet movement is uncertain, Vaas can be very effective because he gets them to play. In other words, he does not waste the new ball by spraying it around. He has been a prominent member of the Sri Lankan side from the early 90s, and even as some others have come and gone, he has stayed in the Lankan team. A creditable feat in itself.

I believe, Vaas's feat against Bangladesh will be hard to repeat, for a lot of things have to go in a bowler's favour for this to happen. The Lankan deserves his share of glory, for he works really hard on his game and fitness.

He is actually sharper than he looks and has got quite a few wickets with a deceptive short-pitched delivery (shades of Akram here). Vaas is not the glamorous kind, but is a quiet cricketer, rather unsung, but true to his team and himself. That's always more important.