Brian Lara was answering some questions on Twitter today. At least, it seemed to be Brian Lara. It's a verified account, and not an obvious parody. Told by one inquisitor that Harsha Boghle had just called him the best exponent of the sweep shot he'd ever seen, Lara responded lightheartedly by asking what Boghle would know about it.
It transpired that Harsha hadn't made the comment at all, rather it came from Sunny Gavaskar, and it led to Boghle questioning the legitimacy of the Lara account (in fairness to Harsha, he was hearing all of this in Twitter's louche, second-hand style). There was though, almost conclusive evidence, beyond the verification tick, that it was indeed the authentic voice of Brian Charles, prince of the Port of Spain. During the same Q&A, he was asked who the best bowler he'd ever faced was, and he answered with a single word: Akram.
From a man who encountered them all in the last great era of bowlers - Donald, Waqar, Warne, McGrath, Murali, Kumble, Imran, Bond, McDermott - who debuted in a team with a pace attack that consisted of Marshall, Bishop, Ambrose and Walsh, and who was dismissed in his first Test innings by Abdul Qadir, it was a worthy and genuine answer. For Wasim, that wicked magician, it was the highest of compliments.
Like Marshall, the sheer range of Wasim's gifts, the bewildering nature of his style, seems somehow to register less with the arbiters of status than it should. The players, though, they know. Boycott yielded to no-one in his appreciation of Maco's genius, and Lara has followed suit with Wasim, who in many ways was Marshall's mirror image, the short run, the whirring arm, the lethal inventiveness.
Wasim's record still carries the power to astonish, a combined 916 wickets at 23 in international cricket, more than 1,900 at 21 in first class/list A. He was simply too good for all but the very best, and often too good for them too. Akram dismissed Lara just twice in Test match cricket, nothing, it would seem, compared to McGrath, who got him 15 times, Andre Nel, who got him eight, or Warne and Gus Fraser, who dismissed him on seven occasions. That is until Lara's average against each of them is taken into account. He averaged 41 against McGrath, 54 against Warne, 47 against Fraser, 103 against Nel. Akram got him out twice in 29 deliveries. Lara made exactly four of his 11,953 Test runs from his bowling.
During England's tour of India, there were several discussions about how many Test hundreds Alastair Cook might make, given that he already holds the English record. The Akram generation is one of the reasons that the record is so comparatively low. A look at Mike Atherton's dismissals by bowler reveals the following list of those who got him on the most occasions: Waqar Younis, Shaun Pollock, Shane Warne, Alan Donald, Courtney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose and Glenn McGrath. Good luck scoring 30 hundreds against that lot...
NB: Wasim got Athers four times for an average of 25, which puts him above Wasim's overall mark.