Since Pakistan started playing Test cricket, left-arm fast bowlers have always played a big part in their rise as a cricketing power.
Pakistan have always been fortunate to have at least one left-armer in their attack. Usually, teams search for one good left-arm pacer to provide variety in their attack, but Pakistan have been fortunate enough to always have more than one such bowler to call upon.
It would be no exaggeration to say that currently, there are about a dozen left-arm pacers who can walk into the team in any format. Consider this: in January 2016, Pakistan fielded as many as four left-arm pace bowlers in their playing XI in the third One-Day International at Auckland against New Zealand. That was a unique record in itself.
Left-arm pace bowlers provide a different aspect to any cricket match. The angle that a left-armer creates, and the ball that comes back in to a right-handed batsman is one of the most eye-catching sights in cricket.
Wasim Akram began the trend, and ended up as arguably the best ever left-arm fast bowler to have played the game, and talented youngsters in Pakistan have followed in his footsteps over the years.
There is a certain uniqueness about left-handers in general. Those who write with the left hand are regarded as a genius. A study estimated that between 15 to 18 percent of the world’s population is left-handed. Five of the last seven USA presidents were left-handers, geniuses like Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and Leonardo da Vinci used were left-handers. John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles and now Rafael Nadal have earned fame in the tennis world with their left hand.
But the charm of left-handers – whether while batting or bowling – is definitely greater in cricket. While the left-hander’s classic cover drive is everyone’s delight, the angles left-arm bowlers create trouble batsmen. In the post Wasim Akram era, around 60 percent of youngsters in Pakistan have been left-arm fast bowlers.
That remarkable stat is also a source of delight for the legendary former Pakistan captain.
“Of course, its pleasing when you hear that left-armers follow me,” Akram told Wisden Pakistan. “Left-arm bowling is mostly about creating different angles and I think lefties challenge the batsmen in their side-on stance and even with a straight ball, because the angle creates problems, especially for right-handers.”
Asked who was the best of the current lot, Akram said, “It depends, but all-round quality wise, (Mohammad) Amir is the best as he plays all three formats. Junaid (Khan) is good and Shaheen Afridi looks raw but talented.”
One of the most prominent left-armers to have risen post Akram has most certainly been Amir. His rise in the 2009-2010 season was one of the most sensational stories of Pakistan cricket. On the 2010 tour of England he heralded his arrival with a bang, leaving even Akram in awe. Sadly, his remarkable rise was followed by an ignominious fall owing to the spot-fixing scandal.
But so rich are Pakistan’s bowling resources that they could weather even Amir’s loss, as Junaid – Amir’s Under-19 teammate, Rahat Ali, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Irfan, Sohail Tanvir, Ruman Raees, Usman Shinwari, Mir Hamza, Zia-ul-Haq and Mohammad Aftab came on to the scene and played for either the Pakistan national side or junior outfits.
Junaid too has caught Akram’s fancy. “I don’t understand the logic behind picking him for one format and then not picking him for another format. There seems to be no consistency in their treatment and planning for Junaid. And that’s affecting his performances,” felt Akram.
Two other left-armers, the towering Mohammad Irfan and the pacy Wahab Riaz, have lost favour with the team management.
For someone who is the tallest cricketer ever at seven feet one inch, Irfan does have wear and tear in his body. With Mickey Arthur, the head coach, giving no leeway on fitness, Irfan was sent back home from the England tour last year. He also returned home from the Australia tour later in 2016 following his mother’s death and then came the biggest jolt in his career when he was banned for six months for not reporting a fixing offer.
Wahab too has fallen back in the race. For someone who got a five-for on debut and a memorable five-for against India in the 2011 World Cup semifinal at Mohali, his career has regressed. His red-hot spell against Shane Watson in the 2015 World Cup has been the only other bright spot in a career blighted by poor form. Replaced by Rumman Raees, another left-arm speedster, after he was injured, Wahab is now facing the heat with the emergence of a new crop of fast bowlers, mostly left-handers.
For his part, Rahat Ali became one of the most trusted performers in the longer format for Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s most successful Test captain.
Ever since Sarfraz Ahmed took over the limited-overs captaincy he has had four left-armers in the squad at times. This lethal attack of left-handers has become one of the best in the world, especially in ODI cricket. Add to this mix the emergence of Hasan Ali, and you have a heady combination. Hasan has proved to be equal to the challenge and competition posed by the left-armers. Such is the depth in bowling stocks that each time a bowler gets injured, there is a ready replacement in place. Despite Amir missing the recent five-match ODI series against Sri Lanka with a shin injury, Pakistan pulled off a 5-0 whitewash.
On the domestic circuit too, there are plenty of left-armers knocking on the doors of international cricket. Mir Hamza, with five wickets per match in first-class cricket, was part of the squad for the two-Test series against Sri Lanka. He can break into the side at any moment.
Shaheen Afridi, the strapping fast bowler from Federal Areas, has also heralded his arrival on the domestic scene with an eight-wicket haul on debut and is right now playing in the Bangladesh Premier League.
Taj Wali of Peshawar has also impressed with his wicket-taking ability, while Sadaf Hussain has been unlucky that his consistent performances have gone unrewarded. Sadaf was part of the squad for the West Indies tour in 2011 but did not get a chance. Sadaf, who stands at six feet five inches, has 348 wickets in just 72 matches with 23 five-wicket hauls, but is mostly not considered because of his poor fitness standards. However, Sadaf challenges this theory with his wicket-taking ability.
While Sadaf continues his battle back into prominence, another left-armer Usman Shinwari has given notice of his ability. This, more than anything else, signifies the depth that Pakistan have with a surfeit of left-arm pacers in the mix.