Sunday, 20 January 2013

One word: Akram

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.


Masuud said...

The fact that this post had it's origin from a BCL comment and made it's way through Marshall and Wasim and ended up having a soft corner for the English of 90s, makes it the best red of this year already.

Mas said...

another enlightening and thought provoking post

John Halliwell said...

I wonder if Atherton’s relative success against the truly great Akram was in part down to standing at slip to him when they both played for Lancashire in the nineties. The opportunity was there to study the mode of attack and the variations; and the techniques employed by top county batsmen who were successful against him (probably small in number). Then there were the discussions between captain and bowler which must have helped a batsman as talented and intelligent as MA; and there was the net practice. But, then again, was Wasim pretty cagey, saving his full repertoire for England in the Test arena?

Graeme said...

From Ather's memoirs, he comments, if I recall correctly, that Wasim would generally pepper him with bouncers when they faced each other. Maybe that is the reason that Athers got a few runs. Wasim bowling at the stumps used to make people like Gooch seem like rank amateurs.

Oliver said...

Malachi Loye did a Q & A at our Awards Dinner a couple of years ago. The best bowler he had faced was Akram, but not just because he could get you out. He said he remembered playing for Northants against lancs in the 90's and after getting out for not many was watching from the dressing room. Every time Akram bowled his wicked short ball, the batsmen due to come in would shudder,as if someone had just walked over their graves. One young wicketkeeper actually went into the bar (this was before mobile phones) to ring his mum and tell her he loved her. That's how scary Akram could be.

The Old Batsman said...

Oliver - superb story!

David Barry said...

It doesn't detract from your overall point, but it looks like you might have been sucked in by Statsguru's rather misleading "bowler summary" and "batsmen dismissed" features. They're not the stats from the balls bowled by a particular bowler to a particular batsmen, they are the average of a particular batsman, from only those innings in which he was dismissed by the particular bowler.

So, to invent an example, Lara could have scored several unbeaten double-centuries against Akram, but Statsguru's output would only show that he was dismissed twice by him at an average of 2.

We don't have the ball-by-ball breakdowns for each bowler-batsman contest, though Charles Davis might eventually release the results of his painstaking work (I think he's now covered more than half of all Tests).

In the absence of such data, I think it's generally better to look at a batsman's average in matches involving the bowler we're interested in. Of course that brings its own problems - the batsman's average will also depend on the quality of the other bowlers. But at least in Lara's case, it doesn't change your main point - in matches against Akram, Lara averaged 30; in matches against McGrath, he averaged 46.

becoming a bookie said...

I am sorry for my ignorance buddy, but I do not know the meaning of Akram, this is actually the first time I heard of it, you blew my mind away

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minne said...

Such a nice story. Inspiring me something. thank you.

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