Waqar Younis, the legendary right-arm fast bowler from Pakistan, is working with Sylhet Sixers as their mentor in the BPL 2017. Waqar claimed 373 Test and 414 ODI wickets in his illustrious career and is regarded as one of the greatest fast bowlers in cricket history. During an exclusive interview with Ali Shahriyar Bappa
of Dhaka Tribune
, Waqar shared his thoughts about his career, reverse swing expertise, partnership with Wasim Akram, battle against great batsmen, BPL 5 and Sylhet, among other topics. Here are the excerpts:
How did your career get going?
I started my career as like any other player in Pakistan. I played a lot of cricket in the streets, in the golis (streets). I was lucky enough to get picked at a very young age. And I was also a very hardworking kid. Always. Not only in cricket, but in other sports as well. I played most of the sports. It was a bit easy for me as I was a good athlete. So it was easy for me in international cricket.
Why did you decide to become a fast bowler? You could have been a batsman for instance...
No. I don’t think I had the talent to become a batsman. I guess, I had decided to become a fast bowler due to inspiration from certain players, certain people, certain heroes. Watched them bowl and then wanted to become a bowler like them. And I was lucky that I was very talented and skillful also. So all I was needed was to put hard work into it and then you know, I was on my way.
You were picked by the great Imran Khan. We got to know that he watched one of your games on TV and included you. Will you share that memory?
Yes I was picked by Imran Khan. Not actually that way, like watching on TV only. But yes, he watched me playing on TV. At that time I was selected for 22-member Pakistan national camp. During that time I was playing for United Bank and United Bank were playing against a first-class team from Delhi. In those days we used to play Super Wills Cup. You know there was Wills Cup in Pakistan and in India also. Then winners of both the first-class tournaments from the two countries played each other in a one-off match called Super Wills Cup. So in that Super Wills Cup match I played for United Bank and the match was played in Lahore. Imran Khan was injured then and he was not there. Later he watched my game on TV as it was my first game being shown on TV. He saw me and liked my bowling. And later I was picked for the national team.
How influential was Imran Khan in your career?
He has been a great ambassador of the game. He was a great leader and great supporter of me. I had been very lucky to be a part of his cricket career.
Pakistan always produce fast bowlers from generation to generation. What’s the secret behind this?
I don’t know the secret to be honest. But I guess, the actual stars or role models, when we were growing like Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz even Wasim Akram. Youngsters generally look at their role model and like to follow them. Probably most of the stars were fast bowlers. Maybe that’s one reason why Pakistan youngsters want to become fast bowlers. And also most of the fast bowlers come from Punjab or up north. So people are a bit stronger and talented I guess from there when they come to fast bowling. Probably it's like India as India always produce good batsmen all the time. So it is something traditional. So we always keep producing fast bowlers.
In the 1991 season you played for Surrey and took 113 wickets at an average of 14,65. Was that your breakthrough season ?
No, I broke my back by then. I was bowling quite well before then. I bowled well in the 1990 season. I bowled well in the New Zealand series in Pakistan and took 29-30 wickets in three Test matches. So that was the turning point in my career as a bowler.
Do you have any regret on missing out on the 1992 World Cup as you were in great form back then?
Not really. That’s what cricket is all about. As a fast bowler, you have to go through injuries in different periods of your career. I was on the tour for Pakistan. And then injury came. You cannot fight against such injury. I am glad that I came back in my career. And I came back strongly. I broke my back thrice in my career. I broke my back in 1997 also. And then broke my elbow in 1998 also. This is part of fast bowling, you know, facing injuries. You just need to keep moving. I was lucky that I was strong enough to bounce back.
How did you develop your expertise on the reverse swinging yorker?
I think it came naturally for me. My action was suitable for reverse swing. That’s why probably I was more effective on reverse swing compared to others in that era. There were some fast bowlers in our time who knew how to reverse swing the ball. We had two or three fast bowlers who could bowl reverse swing effectively while if you look at other teams around the world then you can see there maybe have one bowler with that ability. We always had me, Wasim or someone like Aaqib Javed or Mohammad Akram or Mohammad Zahid who had the reverse swing ability. There were many good fast bowlers and we all knew how to bowl reverse swing. And all of us were quick fast bowlers, like around 150 or even 150-plus km/h speed with reverse swing. And that’s why we got success.
How many stumps did you break in your career?
I don’t know (smiles). Many I guess.
One of your specialty was the reverse swinging yorker. You were nicknamed "toe crusher". Did you practise it often?
Of course I practised it a lot in training sessions. And probably back in those days people did not know how to play reverse swing effectively. That’s why probably I was more effective. But in these days, in these years of T20 cricket batsman use heavy bats and bowlers are not bowling upto 150km/h. Bowlers often bowl at 140 or less. So now that’s the major difference.
There were many fast bowlers in the 1990s. Yourself and Wasim, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock etc. Comparing that, there are not that many fast bowlers these days? Why is that?
I think pitches are more batting-friendly these days. And there is also rise of T20 type cricket. So the reason maybe both of them. In T20 cricket, bowlers become more worried about getting hit or conceding more runs rather than getting batsman out. Maybe that’s why you don't see many fast bowlers these days. But there are still good fast bowlers in the world like Mitchell Starc, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn etc. Even some of the Indian pacers can bowl around 145-150 . So there are fast bowlers around. But I guess the batsmen are more equipped now, the pitches have gone more flat, cricket bats became more heavier. So a lot of things have gone to batsmen’s favour. That’s the reason why you don’t see many genuine fast bowlers in world cricket like before. Players are looking to escape as a fast bowler rather than getting people out. That’s why there are less fast bowlers.
So you think T20 cricket is killing fast bowlers?
I would not say that exactly. But of course, there are some issues. T20 is a new concept of cricket and it is taking its toll. And it's not that much easy. I would say as a fast bowler it is difficult at times these days.
Geoffrey Boycott once said Wasim and Waqar can dismiss all the English batsmen even while bowling with an orange. What’s your comment on that?
I don’t think I can bowl with orange (smiles). He used that as a phrase. He did not mean that. He just wanted to give the answer that time. The English media and all the people thought there was some sort of cheating going on during that tour in 1992 regarding reverse swing. So that’s why Geoffrey said it. The comment was just his confidence about me and Wasim.
Who is the toughest batsman you have bowled to?
On a given day, anybody can be dangerous. Brian Lara was a dangerous batsman. Sachin Tendulkar was one of them. Steve Waugh was a very tough batsman. Matthew Hayden was good, Ricky Ponting was good. I mean there were so many of them. In that era, we have seen a lot of great batsmen besides good bowlers. It was an era when we played good fighting cricket and really enjoyed it.
You have taken five-wicket hauls 22 times in Tests and on 13 occasions in ODIs. Any particular spell of bowling that is special to you or you remember fondly?
I have taken wickets all around the world. So it's difficult to choose one. I took five wickets against South Africa in South Africa in Durban in 1994. I think that was very special. We were out of the game. Then I just bowled a spell of five overs. I picked up four wickets in those five overs. Altogether I took five, but I took four in those four overs, or maybe five. But that spell was special. And we won that game.
Aaqib Javed came to Bangladesh last year and worked with Bangladesh pacers for few weeks. If you get the same offer from BCB, will you work over here?
I don’t mind if i get an offer.
You are working for the first time in the BPL? How has the experience been so far?
Would have been little bit better if Sylhet had won a few more matches. But it’s a new experience. It’s something very different I have seen because I have played international cricket here before. This is the first time I have been involved in different things. This tournament is quite good actually, to be honest. In the past I have watched this (BPL) on TV. I have never been involved. But I always thought something might be missing. But this time the standard has definitely improved.
Any suggestion as to how the BPL can improve?
I think they should keep doing what they are doing now. Probably keep bringing more people and international players, involve more local players. About local players you can clearly see that they are getting better and better. And all ideas like the BPL or any other league around the world are all about giving the younger player a chance to play with and against international players and share their experiences and all of that. And I think that is happening in BPL. I don’t think they need to do too much more. They need to keep going like this.
Have you enjoyed your sting with Sylhet?
Very nice people. Wonderful owners. I am working for the first time for Sylhet. And also it's a new experience for the Sylhet people. There was a lot of excitement as we won the first three matches. Then we had a tough run. We could have won easily another three. But unfortunately was not able to finish the games. It’s a learning experience for players, owners, selectors, management. I am sure they must have learned a lot from this and I hope definitely things will get better next year.
You and Wasim were recognised as one of the most destructive bowling pairs. What made you and Wasim different from the others?
He was a left-armer and I was a right-armer. We were different because we were competing against each other. That’s why it helped the team and it also helped the individuals as well. That’s why we have got so many wickets together. I think we were both quick, different and knew how to swing the ball and also reverse swing the ball. Everything was perfect for us. Both of us were in very good rhythm. We had a good chunk of eight-10 years together for Pakistan cricket and we did our best in our time.