Transcript: Couch Talk 49 with Wasim Akram

Couch Talk Episode 49 (play)

Guest: Wasim Akram

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman– Hello and Welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is arguably the greatest fast bowler cricket has ever seen and most definitely the greatest left hand fast bowler of the game, Wasim Akram. We will be talking about his dismissal of Rahul Dravid in the 1999 Chennai test, what it takes to be a very good fast bowler, impact of T20s, how he managed his health issues during his career, his views of Pakistani cricket amongst other things.

Visit for more information on what this legend is up to these days, and follow him on twitter at @WasimAkramLive. Also, follow his business manager Arsalan Shah Hyder on Twitter @ArsalanHyder to get in touch with Wasim Akram.

Welcome to the show Wasim Bhai!

Wasim Akram– Thank you very much!

SJ– You’re in England right now, and you’re doing Charity work and also with a cricket academy. So

WA– Yes, it is called CricPlus Academy.

SJ– Please, do tell us about them.

WA– Cricket Plus is an academy with a young boy called Faisal. He looks after it, he calls me for a day where kids from every age group come. I’m actually at a coaching session today. We have these kids from age 10 onwards, I have about 25 kids here today, and 25 kids later on. The idea is to tell them the basics about fast bowling – the action, the bowling run-up, little details that they might not have known about yet. That is why I’m there at Cricket Plus.

SJ– Excellent! I’d like to talk to you about your on-field exploits. That dismissal of Rahul Dravid in the 1999 Madras Test. It showed a bowler who knew his craft inside and out and had immaculate control. Can you take us through your thought process and the planning behind the dismissal?

WA– The thought process, being a fast bowler, is very simple. Nowadays, they have made it complicated. Whenever I speak to the fast bowlers, it is very simple- you outfox the batsman, you come in running hard and you know what is happening.

The delivery you spoke about, the first two I bowled were in-swing, and Rahul was leg-before. Nowadays, with DRS, he would’ve been in the dressing room. Obviously, I knew he would be waiting for the in-swing in the third delivery. But, in that delivery, I aimed leg, but obviously the idea was to ‘nick or clip the off stump. That delivery did clip the off stump. Nowadays I hardly see any reverse swing. Those days, reverse swing was there more. Me and Waqar would do both ways – in-swing, out-swing.

If you see now, there is only one swing. Right handed bowler brings the ball into the right hander. Left handed bowler, if he bowls reverse, takes it away from the right hander. They don’t bowl both like a reverse-swing artist. For me, in the last 5 years, that has gone. I hardly see anyone do it, or maybe they are not bothered.

SJ– What was most impressive was that the length you bowled, the spot where it pitched, how does a bowler do that time and again?

WA– I tell all these young bowlers, like in IPL as well, all the fast bowlers- Balaji, Shami Ahmed (the new guy), Brett Lee- the idea is to bowl at a length that the batsman is uncomfortable playing on either the front foot or the back foot. It should be half-way. Sometimes a player plays on a front foot beautifully, he used to make me very uncomfortable, as a bowler. So, the length- short of length.

It also depends on the nature of the wicket. If you are playing on a sub-continent track- slightly shorter, if you are playing in Australia- slightly fuller, if you are playing in England- keep it full because the ball seams around. It depends on the conditions and the wicket as well.

SJ– I have a couple of follow-up questions on that thought. How does a fast bowler acquire the level of control that you seemed to have, or at least go about getting it?

WA– The way I learnt, obviously County [cricket] helped me. I had a very good mentor, in fact, the best mentor in Imran Khan, as far as bowling and leadership were concerned. Practice makes you perfect. The more you practice, the better you become. Nowadays I see bowlers running in without any thought process. For me, nets was the place where I could try different things. I would go around the wicket, come closer to the stumps, come wide of the crease, all these stuff I learnt in the nets by myself. The youngsters today need to work hard, and they need to think of the nets as a match, not just a net, and run in with purpose and not just run in blank.

SJ– You mentioned about playing a fair bit of county cricket. The up and coming bowlers, they don’t seem to be doing the amount of bowling that they need to do to understand their body, skills, and the ability to adapt to conditions. On top of this, you mentioned the IPL, which runs for 7 weeks, but the bowlers get to bowl only 60-70 overs. Doesn’t this run counter to the philosophy of fast-bowler development?

WA– Nowadays, all these foreign coaches… It was fairly simple in my times, less than 9 years ago. It was very simple. What I’ve learnt from Imran, and Javed Miandad ofcourse- the idea as a fast bowler is that the fast bowling muscles will only work when you bowl in nets. The gym training is good for individual muscles, maybe to look good, I suppose, it’s part and parcel of the game [laughs]. I’m fine with that. But again, if you look good and you are not bowling well, there is no point in being a fast bowler, or being a bowler at all. He has to get wickets for your country, your county, your club.

Nets mein foreign coaches ne kuch ajeeb sa kar diya hai. Foreign coaches have come in and done something, very odd- you can only bowl two or three overs, and then rest. For young bowlers, ones from the sub-continent, to  get paid you need to bowl, where is rest? That’s the psychology we come from. We have to adopt for our own sub-continent. Look at your own Kapil Dev. He bowled in 125 test matches as a fast bowler. Name me any Indian, Pakistani or a Sri Lankan fast bowler who can play 100 test matches. There is none. India had Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, R.P. Singh- they came, were good for some time, and then they were gone. Irfan Pathan is there, he is bowling well, but is not what he was three years ago. One has to see why this is happening. These guys need role models, they have to have consistent eyes on them to see what they do on and off the field as well.

SJ– So, what is your opinion on it- it is not only bowling the nets, but match bowling as well, because of the pressure difference. What is the effect of bowling only 60-70 match-overs over 2 months?

WA– You create your own pressure in the nets- try not to bowl no-balls, try to get the batsman out, have imaginary field sets for the batsman, and then you bowl. Now, they just come and bowl at a length. And if you ask somebody to adjust bowling lengths, that is not good enough. {They need] to learn Yorker. If you want to bowl a Yorker- it is the bread and butter of T20 bowling today, and T20 will go on for a long time. I’ll try to bowl at least 12 yorkers at will out of 24 deliveries in a T20 innings. But, bowlers end up bowling low-full tosses.  You have to bowl Yorkers, but that doesn’t happen because you don’t practice it in nets, so, under pressure that will be a full toss. Unless and until you don’t bowl Yorkers under pressure in the nets, you will end up bowling full-tosses, which disappear every time you bowl.

SJ– As a bowling coach, how do you guide your bowlers to build an over? Every single delivery should be a means to an end.

WA– I tell them first to read a batsman and start with the view that he is going to have a go at you. After any dot ball, he wants to have a go at you. Be sensible, bowl middle-leg and have fine-leg back. Give a single away to attack the new batsman. When I used to bowl with a partnership going and a proper batsman going at 100+ runs is staying in and a no.9 walks in, I’ll give the single easily. Bowl middle-leg, fine leg back, and give the single to the set batsman and attack the new batsman at the other end. Bowlers don’t think that anymore.

What I tell my bowlers in the Kolkata Knight Riders is to read the batsmen, and to concentrate on the first & last deliveries [of the over]. If you get hit on the first ball, your whole over will be gone. And, if you bowl a beautiful over, 2 or 4 runs in the over, and last ball you don’t concentrate, and give away a six, it can become a 10 run over. These little details and field settings. If you are bowling Yorkers, your extra-cover will be straighter, your mid-off and mid-on will be straighter as well. I tell them to set these things. Fielding is very important in T20.

I had very good talent at my KKR team. The bowlers were exceptional, and they enjoy bowling. We do talk a lot about bowling. That helps them, gives them a confidence that somebody is watching them out there. If they make any mistake, I can always send them a message.

SJ– The modern day bowler, not just the KKR in the IPL, but the modern day bowlers don’t seem to be having the ability to have back-up plans and make changes to their plans on the fly. They come with plan-A, and if things don’t work they are taken to the cleaners.

WA– It is there, it is a culture now. That is what I’ve picked up. It is a culture that the fast bowlers have become a bit soft, I feel. One of the bowlers I love to watch, the way he bowls and runs in, is Dale Steyn. If any young bowler has to follow somebody, it must be Dale Steyn. Look at the way he runs every time he bowls. 100% effort. And that is how you become a great bowler. You can’t just pick and choose – “I’m not going to come and bang in this over. I’ll come and bowl in the next-over.” There is no next-over. The game will be over by then.

SJ– When you are playing for Pakistan, what was the effect of having Waqar Younis at the other end? You may not always have seen eye-to-eye at all times, but you made it work.

WA– Yes, we did! That was an honour. He was the best bowler I’ve ever played with, and have played against at times in county. He is a sight to watch. One of the quickest bowlers, reverse swing both ways, and used to sprint in every ball with a long run-up. It seemed like for 2 years Shoaib Akhtar bowled fast, and then he has disappeared, and nobody takes his name now. But, Waqar Younis is a legend and one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time. And we had fun against every batting- against India, England, thrashed them in their country. That was fun, it really was. It was fun scaring the batsmen.

SJ– How does it work within the team atmosphere? Two really great players that may not get along personally, but made it to work professionally..

WA– All the team at that time – Saeed Anwar, Aamir Sohail, myself, Waqar, Inzamam, Ijaz Ahmed, Moin Khan… All these guys, also Aaqib Javed, Mushtaq Ahmed, the idea was- whatever happens off the field stays off the field. On the field, you are playing for the country, and you want to win. It was a matter of pride, and you want to win. We have to see each other faces in the field in the morning. Whatever happens off the field, stays off the field, we are not taking them to the ground.

SJ– There is a question from a listener, Masuud Qazi. He actually met you in Trent Bridge in the India-England series. He was the only guy wearing a Pakistani shirt in a sea of India and England shirts. He wants to know about how you managed your health. You have had several issues with your groin and intercostal muscles, shoulder, hernia, appendicitis, and of course, diabetes at the peak of your magnificent 19 year career. What was your motivation? Where did that drive come from?

WA– My drive was my wife, my late wife, Huma. She is the one who moulded me into a strong person mentally, and physically. Obviously, when I went through an injury, or when I found out that I had diabetes, it took me 3-4 months to gather the information in my brain and I realised that it is there, I have to fight it out and lead a normal, healthy lifestyle. So far, it is working. I’ve been diabetic for 15 years now, and everything is working fine. You’ve got to be mentally strong. That is it. I’m a diabetic, I’ve to look after myself. I don’t have to blame other people or tell other people to look after me. it is my job, it is my health. If I’m happy and relaxed, it will have positive effect on my body.

SJ– The more things change, the more they stay the same with Pakistani cricket. One step forward, two steps back. If you were in an official capacity to influence Pakistani cricket, what would be some of the steps that you would take right from the word go?

WA– I will have a regular captain. There is no point having two captains, because in our culture we can’t follow one leader, what is the point of having two leaders, two captains, or three captains? That actually is a good enough answer. So, first of all, one leader, and support him for one year. It doesn’t matter if he wins or loses, just support the captain. And players should know that the cricket board has provided the backing to this captain and he is not going away.

And then, obviously, we have the talents, but we need to channel that talent. I was just seeing the scorecard. Pakistan vs Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka had scored 472 and Pakistan were 100 all out. If Pakistani batsman can’t play spin, I don’t know what they can play! It is all a mental block. You have to give them some confidence, you have to give them some education on and off the field.

The problem I have with this Pakistani boys is that, they are all very good bunch of guys, but they don’t socialize. They don’t go and meet different people. They just stay in their rooms. When we played, I played for Lancashire, and we used to go out. We played Australia, we would hang out after the game. Nowadays, they don’t. Their confidence levels are very, very low. I hope Pakistani cricket will flourish again, there is immense talent, but like I said, we have to channel it.

SJ– Last question. Lot of Pakistani fans and lot of Indian fans sent in questions for you. The summary is, the Pakistani fans want to know why you haven’t become the bowling coach for the Pakistani cricket team. And the Indian fans want to know why you haven’t become the bowling coach for the Indian cricket team. Will you be coaching in the future?

WA– My answer is- I want to live happily ever after. I’m fine with what I am. Pakistan Cricket Board has to ask me to come and be the bowling coach. I’m not going to their door and say “Sir, I’m here, please take me as a coach.” I’m not going to do that. They haven’t offered me a job as a coach in the last 3-4 years, since I retired. That’s the answer for the Pakistanis.

As for becoming India’s bowling coach, I don’t have to become their bowling coach. I’m helping them without being a coach, because I meet them during the IPL. They all come up to me. They are all good boys, all the Indian young bowlers. And, I’m giving all the help I can to them. And also the Pakistani bowlers, whenever I meet them. They come up to me, and I am always available to them.

SJ– On that note, thanks a lot for coming on the show, Wasim bhai! It was an absolute pleasure and privilege talking to you.

WA– Thank you very much!

SJ– Thanks, bye!

WA– OK. Bye!


[Download the episode here]

Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman