Struggling to live up to a great legacy

Pakistan have a proud history of producing quality pacemen

Whenever India and Pakistan lock horns, more often than not you will see the previews in newspapers and television channels depicting how it’s going to be a battle between Pakistani pace bowling and Indian batting.

Of course, India have a handful of quality pace bowlers just as Pakistan can legitimately claim to have quite a few world-class batsmen. There is, however, no running away from the fact that it’s the pacers that make Pakistan such an exciting international outfit. From Sarfraz Nawaz and Imran Khan to the two Ws (Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis), Pakistan have always managed to unearth bowlers who have both bedazzled and bamboozled batsmen in equal measure by alloying their unfathomable skills with no insignificant pace.

While Nawaz and Imran are largely credited with inventing and perfecting the art of reverse swing, Younis’ toe-crushers hurled at ferocious speed sent shivers down batsmen’s spine. Inarguably the greatest left-arm pacer ever, there was nothing that Akram couldn’t do with a ball in hand. The likes of Aaqib Javed, Mohammad Sami and Shoaib Akhtar may not be in the same league as Akram or Younis, but they have left a fine impression, sometimes playing the lead role and mostly complementing their star bowlers.

Just as the famed Indian batting is struggling at the moment to match the high standards it has set for itself over the years, Pakistan too are finding it tough to live up to their great fast-bowling legacy. Still, the unassuming Umar Gul, who conceals menacing pace in his frail build, and the unorthodox Sohail Tanvir can be more than handy for opposition batsmen.

Gul, the most successful of Pakistan’s bowlers after the volatile Akhtar in recent years, has for some years been the spearhead, a responsibility he has handled with good success. Yet to find a firm footing in the side, Tanvir is no less talented even though he is a yard or two slower.     

“I can’t think of any specific reason,” said the left-arm quick when asked about the secret behind Pakistan’s ability to produce one quality paceman after another. Surely, bowling fast appeared a much easier task for Tanvir.

“If you look at our history, Pakistan has always produced fast bowlers. Not just today, even in the 70s – Sarfraz, Imran – and in the late 80s – Wasim and Waqar came in – and then Shoaib, we’ve had them. I don’t know what the reason is but yes, our fast bowling has played a greater role than our batting. The main reason I see probably is the tape-ball cricket,” he pointed out.

A tape ball basically is a tennis ball wrapped in insulation tape. This modification of the ball, apparently, gives it greater weight and speed. Every cricket playing youth in Pakistan is exposed to tape-ball cricket in one form or the other. Though there is no documented evidence, the variation is believed have been pioneered in Pakistan and is considered to be the reason behind the emergence of fast bowlers from this land.

The mushrooming of an array of spinners, led by the highly-talented Saeed Ajmal, has taken the spotlight out of Pakistani pacers in both Tests and shorter versions in recent times. While not denying the bigger role being played by the spinners in the current set-up, both Gul and Tanvir maintained pacers haven’t become less relevent.  

“Even the fast bowlers have a role to perform. Against England in Abu Dhabi, the fast bowlers contributed along with the spinners. I took the highest number of wickets after the spinners,” Gul stresssed.

Tanvir acknowledged the reversal of roles. “Today, we have three or four world-class spinners in the side at the same time. This has never happened before with Pakistan. In the past, there would only be one spinner in his era. When you have three or four world-class spinners in the eleven, it sort of reduces the role of the fast bowlers. In the last six-seven months, the fast bowlers have done well but when Ajmal, Afridi and Hafeez are all doing well together it can occur to people that Pakistan’s pace battery is not performing,” he explained.

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