Home > Features >

Wahab Riaz: An unpredictable prodigy

One of Wahab Riaz's finest moments was his haul of five for 46 against India at the 2011 World Cup semi final at Mohali © Getty Images
One of Wahab Riaz’s finest moments was his haul of five for 46 against India at the 2011 World Cup semi final at Mohali © Getty Images

Wahab Riaz has been in-and-out of the squad since his debut in 2008. His career has been a mix of brilliant and dull patches, something which makes him a highly unpredictable choice for the Pakistani selectors. Umer Rana delves analyses the career of the left-arm seamer.

Wahab Riaz burst on the scenes back in 2008 in the low-key series against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Incredibly fit, brimming with energy, a bouncy run up and generated quite threatening pace, he had a plenty to offer from the word go. Though a likeable player, his consistency and control was in question for most of the time.

It was summers of 2010 in England in which Riaz hit the headlines again. With 0-2 down in the series against an almost invincible looking England, the batting devoid of any experience hardly lasted any length of time to gain from the spectacular fast bowling attack that Pakistan had assembled. As injured Umar Gul did not recover in time, Pakistan were forced to throw Riaz in the deep end of Test cricket at the Oval’s batting paradise.

There was a sea change in conditions to what they were in earlier Tests at Trent Bridge and Edgbaston. The much celebrated duo of Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer failed to make any inroads on the batting beauty. In came Riaz at first change, running into settled Andrew Strauss, who promptly thumped Riaz down the ground for a delightful straight drive. Another one just straying on the pads, clipped away from Strauss to the mid-wicket fence. Straight away the comparisons were drawn from the subsequent summer with another touring left-arm pacer Mitchell Johnson. Sky’s commentators made the comparison due to his strong build, sling action and lively pace. In fact, his over was quite like Johnson of those days, erratic and inconsistent in lengths.

In the very next over, Riaz pulled his length back and found some extra purchase from the wicket to leave Strauss nicking to the keeper. Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen were undone by his extra pace and Eoin Morgan also found Riaz too hot to handle. In space of 9 overs, Riaz had knocked over 4 and Pakistan had a new fast bowler to celebrate. In his next 9 overs, Riaz went for 47 runs while achieving his maiden five-wicket haul on debut. He bowled on the both side of the wicket to Stuart Broad and Matt Prior with some generous width. His first show in Test cricket really summed up his career till now. While he was exceptional at times as some of the Pakistani bowling legends, he tended to be occasionally erratic.

In the One-Day International (ODI) series against South Africa, he unveiled his menace for the first time with reversing ball and toe breaking yorkers at tear away pace. In New Zealand, the fact reinforced that he isn’t the remotest what it takes to be a new ball bowler but quite handful with old reversing ball once. His two scintillating yorkers stood out, the first one to shock Jesse Ryder to fast track the Pakistani triumph in Hamilton Test and the second one was the corker to Jacob Oram under immense pressure to seal the ODI series but the love story, Riaz and reversing ball, had another gigantic crest  in stored.

For that he could not have picked a better stage for that even if he had the choice, the semi-final against India in Mohali, replacing Shoaib Akthar in the most hyped cricket game ever played on the planet earth. Amid obnoxious fielding and indifferent bowling from his fellow pacer, reverse swing was the language Riaz talked in. He hardly bothered the fielders to help him to get the wickets. His scorching yorker to Yuvraj Singh first up was surely the ball of tournament perching in the league of Wasim Akram’s screamer to Lamb.

Since then, world turned upside down for Riaz. Clearly, the two new balls in ODIs hardly affected any other bowler more than him in world cricket with his penchant for old reversing ball. With two of his resounding backers and fast bowling mentors Aqib Javed and Waqar Younis parting away, he lacked any sort of backing from Misbah. After the stellar show in Mohali and a decent trip to West Indies following that, he got to play just two ODIs for the best part next two years.

In South Africa in 2013, thanks to another Gul injury, Riaz came back into the mix. Clearly, he was short of confidence, and it felt as if he was holding himself back to search for the control but it never happened, similar sort of mental storms that Mohammad Sami has been going through for last decade or so.

In the Champions Trophy, amid the dark regression of the batting, Riaz was among a few blipping positive out of the absurd tour. Riaz charged his way in as always, but this time much more control and plenty of venom. His spell at the Oval against West Indies, when the bowlers were trying to force an issue, was the most hostile spell from a Pakistani pacer since Akhtar. He was really cranking it up, hitting regularly almost 150 km/h or so, he almost blew away Chris Gayle with his vicious bumper. His two wickets came of brute of the balls raising like spitting king cobra from the goodish length to make Ramnaresh Sarwan and Kieron Pollard hopping and fending off to the keeper.

In the West Indies, the sword hanging by the thin string finally fell on him. To be fair, he bowled well, apart from the lousy last over to Jason Holder that almost gave away the won cause but unfortunately, in these situations only final acts come to the limelight rather the complete picture. He did make another comeback against South Africa in UAE but that also lasted three games and 14 overs to be precise, in fact, he played more for his batting skills than bowling abilities. Riaz came back into the squad with return of Waqar in the management. That might be the spark that his career has missed in the last three years.

Riaz is a work in process but now the onus is on the captain that they keep on showing faith him too, with his action, he would have a shocker here or there but a left-armer rushing in at nearly 150 clicks is too tempting prospect to be ignored. Just nine months ago, Riaz was just a tiny fragment of Johnson’s career. Just like Riaz, Johnson always had pace but only direction and mental strength was missing. But with plenty of confidence shown in him by the new regime under Darren Lehman and relentless backing by Michael Clarke, he has risen to the pedestal of the most fearsome man in the cricketing world.

Sami has been spilled through the same channel and in this draught of out and out pace in the country, they can’t afford another one going through the same channel. Had control been the criteria for the young bowlers, we might not have known Waqar, who was obnoxiously wayward at the start of his career, though he was backed by Imran . Riaz is no Waqar, neither would Pakistan get another Imran but still there is lesson in it to be learnt.

(Umer Rana is an Electrical Engineer who graduated from NUST. A club cricketer from Islamabad, he fell in love with the beautiful game at the tender age of six. Wasim Akram’s Pakistan’s road to the marvelous triumph in the 1997 World Series, is his first cricketing memory. He is always up for a chat about cricket, captaincy and tactics)

World T20 League 2014

Sep 24, 2014 (20:00 IST)   at Hyderabad

World T20 League 2014

Sep 25, 2014 (20:00 IST)   at Bengaluru

World T20 League 2014

Sep 26, 2014 (16:00 IST)   at Mohali

World T20 League 2014

Sep 26, 2014 (20:00 IST)   at Mohali

World T20 League 2014

Sep 27, 2014 (16:00 IST)   at Bengaluru

More

World T20 League 2014

Sep 23, 2014  at Raipur

Hobart Hurricanes won by 86 runs

World T20 League 2014

Sep 22, 2014  at Bengaluru

Chennai Super Kings won by 54 runs

World T20 League 2014

Sep 21, 2014  at Hyderabad

Kolkata Knight Riders won by 4 wkts

World T20 League 2014

Sep 21, 2014  at Hyderabad

Hobart Hurricanes won by 6 wkts

World T20 League 2014

Sep 20, 2014  at Mohali

Kings XI Punjab won by 4 wkts

Photos

Cobras vs Hurricanes Match 6 at Hyderabad

Videos

Daniel Flynn looks ahead to Hobart game

Live Cricket Score Hobart Hurricanes vs Northern Knights CLT20 2014 Match 9: Hurricanes register massive 86-run win

Brendon McCullum’s stunning fielding effort in CSK vs Dolphins CLT20 2014 match

Chennai Super Kings’ top five batting performances

Hobart Hurricanes vs Northern Knights CLT20 2014: Northern Knights likely XI

Hobart Hurricanes vs Northern Knights, Match 9, CLT20 2014 – Hurricanes’ likely XI

Asian Games Asian Games 2014 Cape Cobras Champions League T20 2014 Chennai Super Kings CLT20 CLT20 2014 Dolphins Hobart Hurricanes Incheon Asian Games India at Asian Games 2014 Northern Knights

Ben Hilfenhaus, Aiden Blizzard star in massive 86-run win for Hobart Hurricanes against Northern Knights in CLT20 2014 Match 9 at Raipur

Hobart Hurricanes vs Northern Knights, CLT20 2014 Match 9 at Raipur: Knights lose their sixth wicket

Scott Styris becomes only 2nd player to get T20 double of 4000 runs and 100 wickets during Hobart Hurricanes vs Northern Knights, CLT20 2014 Match 9 at Raipur

Hobart Hurricanes vs Northern Knights, CLT20 2014 Match 9 at Raipur: Knights sink further after fourth wicket

Hobart Hurricanes vs Northern Knights, CLT20 2014 Match 9 at Raipur: Knights struggling after massive set-backs

Cricket in Canada: Coach Mukesh Narula travels around the vast nation to train players

Australia on the verge of handing out 50 Test caps in a decade!

Hobart Hurricanes vs Northern Knights, Match 9, CLT20 2014: Key Clashes

Chennai Super Kings’ top five batting performances

Asian Games 2014: Afghanistan eye cricketing glory after 2010 heartbreak

Fan of the Day

Edward Knowles

Edward Knowles

447 Posts | 1 Fans

Video: Brendon McCullum's amazing fielding in CSK vs Dolphins CLT20 2014 match

Northern Knights vs Hobart Hurricanes: Hurricanes score 178 as Blizzard and Malik dominate the final overs

Asian Games 2014 Schedule Day 5: Indian players in action at 17th Incheon Asian Games

Bigg Boss 8: Sushant Divgikar hopes to sensitise TV viewers to LGBT cause via Salman Khan’s show

इन खाद्द पदार्थों के द्वारा किडनी को स्वस्थ रखें

Here’s why the Bigg Boss 8 Secret Society is a big flop!

Xiaomi offering free micro-SIM card trays to Mi 3 owners

Updated Retina iPad mini and 12.9-inch iPad Pro delayed till 2015: Report

Scared you’ll lose your job? It might be the reason for your frequent asthma attacks

Also on cricketcountry.com

Play Fantasy Cricket & Win

Cash Daily! Click here