By Muhammad Asif Khan
Ever since I started following the game of cricket, the aspect that has fascinated me the most is the sight of a genuinely quick pacer tearing down his run-up to hurl thunderbolts. I still remember the day I entered a cricket stadium for the very first time — early 2000 — to witness the run-up of the legendary Waqar Younis. Although there was Wasim Akram’s craftsmanship to feast upon as well, it was the swift yet smooth approach of the other ‘W’ that mesmerised me the most.
I used to be riveted to the television screen just to see Waqar sprinting in and intimidate the batsmen. Waqar was not only an inspiration for fast bowlers around the world but also for the world’s fastest runner — Usain Bolt. The Jamaican revealed he was enthralled by the lightening run-up of Waqar.
Of course, Waqar was not the only one who struck the fear of God into many batsmen; the time before and after him was also studded with terrifyingly fast bowlers. Sadly, after Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee called it a day, Dale Steyn is the only genuine fast bowler left in international cricket who has a fear factor quotient.
So why this fast bowling famine?
The growing interest in Twenty20 cricket has made pacemen very vulnerable. That’s because in this format, a captain prefers an all-rounder over a specialist. Perhaps we should recall what captain Imran Khan told Akram during the 1992 World Cup: “Bowl as fast as you can. Don’t worry about the runs; I want wickets from you.”
Now, after 20 years, in the T20 era, I am sure no captain can exhibit the courage to exhort his fast bowler the way Imran did.
The fear of scoring more runs is one of the main reasons why a fast bowler hardly experiments with his length during his spell. This is why bouncers and yorkers — the main weaponry of faster bowlers — are becoming a rare sight now.
Some also blame the rules governing the game and the dead pitches around the world as other major causes of the slow death of fast bowling. But I don’t buy that theory. Rules for the bowlers have been more or less the same. The wickets — especially in the subcontinent —are in favour of batsmen and spinners, yet Pakistan has been able to produce quality fast bowlers one after the other.
The T20 version of cricket also attracts a league of spectators who are more interested in witnessing towering hits and a flurry of aggressive strokes in a short game. In other words, players like Chris Gayle and Shahid Afridi are in greater demand. But what about the thrill and the exhilaration created amongst the spectators by fearsome fast bowling?
I think we need to trust our fast bowlers a little more. Seeking shortcuts has become the main cause of concern. Sadly, playing Test cricket for many of today’s generation of players is no longer as exciting as representing themselves in cash-rich T20 leagues.
To preserve the game of cricket in general, the mushrooming of T20 leagues around the world needs to be checked if the world has to see the emergence of quality paceman like Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Imran Khan, Malcolm Marshall, Allan Donald, Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee.
(Muhammad Asif Khan is head of sports section at News One TV and a TV show host of ‘Sports One.’ He has also worked with Business Plus and Indus TV. He tweets @twitter.com/mak_asif. The above article has been produced with permission from http://tribune.com.pk/)