'Waqar Younis was definitely quicker. He was friggin’ express': Wasim Akram

Pakistan great tells 'The National' who he thinks was faster between his era and the pace aces of today

Former Pakistan cricketer Wasim Akram looks on during a practice session at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) grounds in the Sri LAnkan capital Colombo on December 1, 2016. - Former Pakistan cricketer Wasim Akram has begun his coaching tenure with the Sri Lankan cricket team. (Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP)

As he casually reclines on a couch, on the top floor of a multi-sensory cube designed to demonstrate the future of paying for stuff, Wasim Akram seems well placed to compare the differences between old and new.

The all-time fast-bowling great is at Expo 2020 Dubai as an ambassador for Mastercard, who are the “official payment technology partner” for the world expo.

Inside the cube, guests are given a glimpse of what it will be like to attend a sports event in future, using augmented reality to pay for match tickets and even snacks.

It feels a long way from 1990s Sharjah Cricket Stadium, when Wasim was in his pomp. To be honest, it all feels a long way from 2021 Sharjah, even.

At the T20 World Cup just gone, for example, spectators were still able to buy samosas or popcorn from the concessions outlets using cash money. Crazy, hey?

It is a tribute to Wasim’s lasting greatness as a cricketer that he is still considered suited to such a role, 18 years after he retired from playing.

He appreciates evolution, too. If he ever intimates anything was better in his day, he will be able to reason out precisely why.

And he loves the current vintage of the Pakistan team, too, terming them “humble” and “just good kids in general, down-to-earth guys”.

The side’s performances at the T20 World Cup in the UAE were thrilling. Not for the first time, they were the most captivating team for neutrals to watch, even if they did fall short of winning the trophy.

The way Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf, in particular, thrilled the baying masses in Sharjah and Dubai with their searing pace bowling brought to mind the way Wasim did the same in years gone by.

Pakistan's Haris Rauf bowls during the T20 World Cup semi-final match against Australia. AFP

So, in the spirit of comparing old and new, it begs a question. The Wasim and Waqar Younis partnership of his era, or the Haris and Shaheen combination of 2021: which one was faster?

“Waqar was definitely quicker. He was friggin’ express,” Wasim says.

“The speedgun only really came in around 2000 or 2001, maybe. I was 136kph then. Waqar was around the same pace, 136-138. In our heydays, on our day we were regularly 150s.”

Although the difference in their respective speeds is debatable, the level of achievements cannot be compared as yet.

Waqar and Wasim took over 1,700 wickets for Pakistan between them. Shaheen and Haris, by contrast, are just starting out.

Wasim does have one word of advice, though. “I think Haris needs to play first-class cricket,” he says.

“What I don’t want is for Haris to get into the mindset of just playing T20. T20 cricket is easy: four overs, then go and stand at short fine leg. And that’s over in an hour and 10.

“Test cricket is the ultimate. For any top cricketer, it is the ultimate. T20 is great for entertainment, but you can’t judge the quality of a player by T20.

“Haris is still young. At his age he should be wanting to represent Pakistan in Test cricket.”

The all-time fast-bowling great is at Expo 2020 Dubai as an ambassador for Mastercard.

The fact Shaheen is due to have a length stint in county cricket with Middlesex next summer is something Wasim appreciates. He sets great store on the 10 years he had playing for Lancashire in the county game, and says the same worked for Waqar in his spells with Surrey then Glamorgan.

As a left-arm pace bowler of great dexterity, who is capable of show-stopping spells, the similarities between Shaheen and Wasim are obvious.

Wasim has not had any direct consultations with the younger man as yet. If he could recommend one thing to him, it would be to develop a slower ball which moves away from left-handed batsmen, he says.

He believes that might have helped guard against the sort of hitting by Matthew Wade which ended Pakistan’s World Cup campaign in a flurry of sixes – although Wasim does suggest that experience will make Shaheen stronger.

“Sometimes it can be a blessing in disguise to go through this as a bowler,” Wasim says.

“It takes something like that for Shaheen to understand he needs that slower ball [Wasim mimes a leg-cutter action] not just the one that comes into the left-hander.

“If this slower ball goes across, there is a chance it will go up in the air.

“Also, Shaheen’s field placing, especially in that over against Wade, was wrong.

“Whenever you do a team meeting, you say: ‘OK, Matthew Wade, his go-to shot is this one, so we need fine leg back’. He might hit you for six there as well, but he will be in two minds’.

“Shaheen had fine leg and third man both up in the circle. With experience, he will learn.”

Updated: December 1st 2021, 4:32 AM