Dubai: Legendary Pakistan pacer Wasim Akram felt that India had missed a trick by not selecting tearaway fast bowler Umran Malik on the bouncier Australian pitches for the Twenty20 World Cup, beginning on October 16.
The 22-year-year old fast bowling sensation, who caught the eye with searing pace in the Indian Premier League 2022, played in three Twenty20 internationals against Ireland and was a touch expensive, conceding 112 runs in 54 balls, picking two wickets. The pacer, to his credit, defended 17 runs in the final over to give India a four-run win in the second Twenty20 against Ireland in Malahide.
Skipper Hardik Pandya had said the Kashmiri’s pace was the reason for him to give the final over to Malik. But subsequently, Malik has not been part of the Indian set-up and Akram feels that he could have been India’s X-factor.
More he plays, the better he gets
“Umran Malik is quick and India took him to Ireland and he got hammered. It happens in T20, but you got to stick with him. If I were in think tank, then I will have him in the squad all the time. The more he plays, the better he will become. Experience in Twenty20 matters a lot,” the former Pakistan left-arm pacer said at an event where he was unveiled as the brand ambassador for Innovation Factory, an IT firm that focuses on blockchain-based solutions, in Dubai on Tuesday.
Umran Malik is waiting for his visa to join the Indian team in Australia, along with Kuldeep Sen, to be part of the net bowlers for the Men in Blue. Still, India have to name a replacement for the injured Jasprit Bumrah and veteran pacer Mohammed Shami is touted as the leading contender as the replacement, but Malik could well be drafted in before the October 15 deadline.
Akram, who had special praise for another young Indian left-arm pacer Arshdeep Singh, felt that pace, not swing and seam movement, will be very effective on Australian wickets.
“Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar] is a very good bowler. He can swing the ball both ways and bowls a good yorker with the new ball, but once the ball is not swinging then he might struggle. You need pace there. Pakistan has got Shaheen Afridi, who is very fast, but has been out of action for over three months. So he has to play some practice games before the big game against India,” felt Akram, who has been a coach for the franchise-based Twenty20 leagues apart from being a commentator for over a decade.
Left-arm pacer Afridi hurt his right knee ligament while fielding during a Test against Sri Lanka in Galle in July and has been out of action since then. According to Akram, Afridi and India’s Jasprit Bumrah are the two best fast bowlers in world cricket today. But the India pacer will be missing the World Cup due to a back injury suffered during the recent Australia series at home.
No substitute to hard yards
Talking about the frequent breakdown of fast bowlers, Akram, who is a firm believer of working out in the nets, feels the current fast bowlers are not strong enough to take the rigours of international cricket and feels there is too much reliance on science now than sticking to the basics.
“I am all for technology,” he said adding that hence he joined hands with the tech firm. “But certain things don’t change. Fast bowling is all about running. During training, you run, then sprint and then you start bowling. Nowadays fast bowlers are bowling only three overs, which is only a warm-up. The fast bowling muscles can only develop and gain strength by bowling,” he said and went on to narrate how he, along with Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar, used to bowl at least for two hours in the nets apart from running five laps of the ground and sprints. “That’s what our great captain Imran Khan taught us, which we all picked up.”
Akram was also critical on how little hard-work the pacers do now. “Nowadays, captains ask their bowlers, is it OK to bowl two-over spell? That’s bizarre. In Tests we used to bowl an hour and hour and half consecutively. I suppose if the coach tells you to choose between running two kilometres in 14 minutes or go to gym, I would choose the gym as it is in the comfort of an air-conditioned environment, easy, and pull weights. I only see warm-up from these players.”
The Pakistan pacer, who sent shivers down the spine of many top batters around the world in his hey days and also produced a match-winning spell in the 1992 final against England, says Twenty20 format is a deathbed for bowlers and calls for sporting wickets to balance the contest and make it more interesting.
“Unfortunately, Twenty20 format is not for bowlers. The format is the need of the hour, it is entertaining and it’s picked up worldwide. Bowlers should understand that they will be hammered once in a while, which they do now,” he said.
Sporting wickets key
Akram feels more sporting wickets, like the ones at the Dubai International Stadium during the recently concluded Asia Cup, will make the contests more balanced. “Flat decks become one-dimensional. The pitches in Dubai offered a bit for the bowlers and once it is set then the next day it is better for batters. That should be the future of the format.”
Talking about the several teams' chances, including Pakistan, Akram feels Pakistan need to address their middle order woes to be successful in the showpiece.
“Australians will play better as they know their pitches. India have a good batting side, but bowling is slightly weak without Bumrah. Pakistan middle order is struggling, but they have been winning as well. Pakistan have a very good bowling attack and one of the best opening pairs. If the middle order woes are taken into control, then Pakistan have a very good chance. My pick for semi-finals are Australia, Pakistan, India and South Africa as the dark horse,” he added and felt that the surfeit of fast bowlers in Pakistan is due to the numerous superstar fast bowlers, starting from the great Imran Khan.
Akram is happy to see India’s Suryakumar Yadav perform well on the international stage and says the middle order batter is one of his favourite players. SKY, as he is commonly known, is in a close second spot in the ICC Twenty20 player rankings, only over a year after making his international debut.
“He is very dangerous player. I saw him first when he joined KKR [Kolkata Knight Riders]. I spent two years with him and I was amazed that KKR let him go. He was young may be 19 or 20 then and would have been the captain by now. He is the future in the Twenty20 format. He is a treat to watch and one my favourite players in this Twenty20 World Cup and will have a very big role to play on the Australian wickets,” Akram concluded.