It’s a nice breezy mid march night in Adelaide, the stratosphere is witnessing a saintly halo around the floodlit Adelaide Oval in south Australia. Michael Clark the Australian Captain has just been bounced out, caught at forward short leg in the 11th over preventing the batsmen to cross over, next comes in Shane Watson averaging 40 with a strike rate of nearly 100 to face the bowler, the bowler is Wahab Riaz. What ensued was one of the most ferocious spell of fast bowling in the history of ODIs, occasion is the quarter final of 2015 Cricket World cup and Wahab Riaz the magician behind the uber display of aggressive bowling, that paralyzed Shane Watson in the crease ball after ball. Shane Watson that unforgettable day was looked upon favorably by lady luck and eventually survived Wahab’s fire and thunder to take Australia to the Semi’s. Australia may have won that day, but Wahab Riaz had just started to reveal his fighting spirit, emotions on sleeve and playing his heart out cricket.
Wahab hasn’t had the best of the stats on paper, with immense talent and raw pace he is as consistent as the unpredictable English weather or perhaps bringing more closer to home as unpredictable as Pakistan’s national side itself. At times brilliant, others his own worst enemy, Wahab is in fact where the microcosm of Pakistan cricket maybe found. If one would like to analyse Pakistan Cricket, you could do very well just by analysing Wahab Riaz with one exception, that is this fellow doesn’t give up, you may question his talent, temperament, accuracy, his bowling stats, but one thing Wahab wins hand down is the relentless spirit he possesses, he is driven for fours, pulled for a six, scooped for a cheeky one down the boundary but he will come back harder than the last ball without any dent in his confidence, raring to go eyes screaming murder. Wahab Riaz is a flamethrower the ferocity of which is occasionally misdirected not quite incendiary where intended but once gets going the fire storm he unleashes not only blows away the opposition but also lifts his team’s morale. This is the intangible that the stats won’t allow you to draw a bell curve on. The stat do hint at Wahab being an effective proponent of the short ball certainly due to the sheer pace generated, the pace element is something which I believe is inherent talent and not something that can be learnt or learnt with an enormous amount of effort. There’s a perception I hear sometimes that Wahab isn’t able to swing the ball both ways, but stats would hint otherwise, Wahab has gotten as many Left handed batsmen caught out on balls moving away from their off stumps as he has right handed batters. We can do away with stats because re-placing a healthy Shoaib Akhtar in 2011 world cup didn’t require a look at the numbers, the act itself spoke volumes on the talent Wahab Riaz possess. Simply put there’s isn’t a bowler in Pakistan that you can draw a like for like with Shoaib Akhtar except Wahab Riaz, we are talking about sheer pace, passion and aggression here, leaking runs is just a by product.
There are plenty living organisms that hibernate and are effectively docile during the long sleep, until woken up from their slumber in due time and start producing and consuming, and there’s Wahab, who doesn’t quite hibernate but on average produces negatively which is for the lack of better words leaks runs but quickly redeems himself when it matters the most like the world cup matches. As a NFL follower an inevitable comparisons is in order of this mindset of Wahab with the Jacksonville Jaguar’s Quarterback Nick Foles, Foles has an outstanding and arguably the best performances in post season than he has in regular season (NFL post season is the equivalent of knock out rounds in Cricket World cup, Champions trophy etc). If one can make this breed of sportsmen believe that they are playing in finals rather than regular season games might we see the outstanding production of Wahab Riaz, and Nick foles during games that are not as impactful as the finals and playoffs.
Having been absent from the national ODI side for nearly two years, Wahab was asked to join the 2019 World cup squad specifically. In the absence of any domestic performance no doubt his veteran status of having been part of Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Derbyshire county cricket teams hence experience of English playing condition played a major part in deciding to include him in the national side, not to forget his previous two world cups appearances which saw Pakistan reaching the semi and quarter finals. In the 2019 World cup, Wahab only bowled 4 overs in his first match against West Indies in which Pakistan batting was bundled out for 105, the lowest ever score by a team in any world cup, followed by a much needed morale lifting win against the tournament favorite England in which Wahab Riaz featured taking 3 wickets and contributing in the dismissal of THE important wicket of Joss Butler on which the win or loss of the English side hinged, with Butler gone courtesy of Wahab. Pakistan took the game away from England ironically this was the same ground where Wahab had conceded 110 run against England in 2016, and where Pakistan scored both the lowest and the highest totals in the World cup history.
I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let’s evolve, let the chips fall where they may. — Tyler Durden
However this world cup up turns out for Pakistan we will surely be entertained, awed, inspired and no doubt heart broken by the all out, gritty, riveting and at times sense defying performance by this speed demon and dare I say the personification of Pakistan cricket which will make this tournament in England worth watching this summer of 2019.