SULTANS OF SWING: FOR REAL


There were times when bowling at the death-end of an innings was not at the mercy of the batsmen……there was a time when saving your toe was more important than your stumps….there was a time when the balls went bananas more often than they went bamboos and there was a time when the SULTANS OF SWING ruled.

While the great Imran Khan was ready to pass on the baton physically(mentally he was very much the spearhead….though he was barely half of what he was at his prime)……he was lucky to have not one but two gems in the reckoning…..One lanky left armer, who was meticulous in his approach, tenacious, relentless and cunning as a fox ….a real fast learner and even faster executioner whom Imran honed for half a decade with utmost care, on the other hand emerged a slingy-speedy prodigy out of nowhere, as RAW and DANGEROUS as they get…..but what skills….it was brilliance in its most pristine form.

“Imran just asked me to aim at the top of stumps and bowl as fast as I can….everything else followed” –Wasim on how easy it is for him to get the Yorker right

“I played a lot of tape-ball cricket, in addition to the plain tennis ball. I remember six-a-side (competitions) had just started in Lahore, in around 1983, when I was living with my grandmother in androon (inner) Lahore. At 15, I was a tape-ball ‘professional’ and would take ten rupees per game to win matches for different teams.When I started bowling with a cricket ball, I was quite nippy, because I was already used to exerting more energy with the tape ball. So by the time I made the switch, I had already strengthened my shoulders.”- Wasim on Tape ball cricket

“Imran had prohibited burgers and other fast food for us while we started the 1992 World cup preparations, we used to hide and have a few here and there……but it had a very positive influence on the players”- Wasim and his love for burgers

“These guys never went to a gym….all that they did was 40-50 laps of the ground and numerous rounds of bowling.”- Ramiz Raja on his former teammates

There was more to them than just talent and muscles…..it was a culture that was promoted by Imran Khan, who would prohibit anything unhealthy, even hamburgers for his players. He worked harder on his fitness than anyone else and made sure that he set an example good enough for youngsters to follow….and so they did.

“We never exercised much……to me a quick jog followed by some stretching was enough…..though Kapil did his bit, but there was no pressure on others. Imran was different he was super-fit for our generation…and he passed on the legacy”- Sunil Gavaskar on fitness and players from sub-continent

Agreed the reverse swing meant some tampering with the natural state of the ball…..agreed that it was against the laws…..but when they executed it to perfection, it was a pleasant sight for most….you’d go out and pay to see it….and that is all that matters. How can anyone bloody do it once, do it twice, do it as many times and still do it at will? 57% of Waqar Younis’s entire Test dismissals were either bowled or leg before, the same stat for Wasim Akram stands at 53%….a fair indication of how lethal they were; they have the highest number of test wickets (476) for a pair of opening bowlers bowling in tandem, at a stunning strike rate of only 46.05 balls per wicket.

“We usually stood at mid-off or mid-on when the other was bowling. We were constantly talking to each other and we also had several arguments but we still talked. What to do, what not to do…”-Wasim on how they had each others’ back

1992 has to be the year of reckoning for the two as a pair…where they not only tormented the British….but pushed them to a level where all that they could do was propagate this media frenzy of calling them cheats………For the record, ball tampering was most prominent in the English domestic circuit and it continues to be so.

There is something about Pakistan….how do they get such pacers? How do they get such talent out of nowhere? ….The answer lies at the grass-root level….while most children in other cricket playing countries play with the normal tennis balls…an average Pakistani plays with taped tennis ball…….try that in your backyard with nothing other than an electric tape tightly wrapped  over a tennis ball and you’ll know the difference. Not only does it come out faster, but it swings as well…….an encouragement that bowlers are deprived of…….what they do in return…..go back to the bowling mark and make the batsman dance and intimidate him again….this KILLER INSTINCT separates them from the rest……you need a weapon to terrorize right? To add to the fficacy is the fact that children/kids/teenagers spend hours in wilderness trying to replicate their heroes….mind you all that Pakistan has as their heroes are their cricketers!!!!  Even Batman or Superman goes for a toss.

India and Pakistan have same pitches, same climate and similar cultures…..yet Indian bowlers aren’t quite their (hey but they have more money and glamour right?)……Don’t blame it on anything but your system… starts at the grassroot level and ends at grassless pancakes for pitches where its tough to get the ball even to the waist level…..so much for encouragement!!

It’s a shame that the duo played for Pakistan, where stardom comes with controversy and hatred. It would have been a different ball game altogether had they played for Australia or even to that fact India……still what they achieved made cricket proud. Yes there was some tarnish, but the lusture sustains….guess that’s the difference between bullion and billion!

Yes there were egos that created a rift between the two subsequently……but the time they spent together, they didn’t just hunt in pairs….. “It was a healthy competition between us, I didn’t want to be second to Waqar and he wanted to do it all by himself….but it was good for the team and disastrous for opponents. Often one would have 5 wickets and the other would have 3 or 4, but one would be anxious and the other would be disappointed” – recalls Wasim Akram of what he shared with his greatest partner and greatest ally. They never were friends, they were never over the envy for for each other….this was unlike any other successful bowling partnership cricket had ever seen. A Lion and a Tiger paired together…..guess that’s the closest replica.

With what’s happened to the game, bowlers still hold the key…….and will always do, but as uphill a task it is for the bowlers and it’s the reverse for the batsmen who play on flat tracks and boast of great averages and runs….it’s still legal. It’s a misconception….people want to see close games…….where is the value that we derive out of a magnificent six?? It’s more common than an extra or a bye these days…..One wonders what if the Sultans played today?

The 2 W’s were indeed wonderful for the game

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