Wasim Akram has been involved in coaching and mentoring many left-arm fast bowlers © Getty Images


By Umer Rana

The left-arm angle has always been much-coveted in the arsenal of a bowling attack. Captains crave a left-arm pacer to mix things up. It was probably Alan Davidson who made the left-arm angle fashionable for the first time in the game. In the ’50s, he cast his magic with big curving in-swingers to right-handers at a threatening pace.

Then it was left to the iron man of cricket, Sir Garry Sobers, to showcase his left-arm fast-medium skills in the ’60s and the ’70s. The ambidextrous proficiency of Sobers could pull off just about anything; he was alluring with both ball and bat. Like the many fascinating feats he accomplished on the field, Sobers would swing it around while opening the bowling for the West Indies; but in the end his abilities as a bowler were overshadowed by his exquisite batting skills.

Still, cricket was lacking a poster boy in terms of quality left-arm pace that young southpaws could look up to. And then, he was discovered, quite bizarrely — but then again, this is how things work in Pakistan. For the next two decades, Wasim Akram flabbergasted the world of cricket with his ravaging spells. He did everything with the ball that one could imagine doing; scrambling in from a mere 12 paces, a quick whip of the arms, and there she went — defying nigh all laws of mechanics — curling it either way to the shocking twinge of the batsman.

Over the years, he waylaid the batting line-ups; in fact minced them into pieces. Although, he started as a predominately reverse swing merchant, he ended up as a bewildering wizard irrespective of the condition of the ball. Without a doubt, Wasim was a true protagonist for left-arm pacers the world over.

There were a few other left-arm fast bowlers around, but injuries and frailty kept most of them out of the game; Bruce Reid, Brett Schultz, Geoff Allott, Alan Mullally, Nuwan Zoysa, Shane O’Connor and Pedro Collins, all had plenty in them but their injury prone bodies curtailed their careers prematurely.

Only the wily Chaminda Vaas was a left-arm pace bowler alongside Wasim who wore the rigors of international cricket on his body for any time length of time. Even Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra had jittery starts to their respective careers due to injuries.

However, now it appears as if left-arm seamers are cropping up all around the world. India harvested a crop of them in the early 2000s. Almost each one these lefties showed plenty of promise and had their moments too. Zaheer announced his arrival on the world stage with blistering yorkers at a terrorizing pace at Nairobi in 2000. Nehra swung the ball with skates in the ICC World cup 2003 — his spell against England at Durban still comes to mind as one of the greatest in the showpiece event’s history.

Irfan Pathan was heading nowhere but the peaks of greatness in ’04. RP Singh had the same story. Sadly, almost all of them fell apart in middle of their take-off. Zaheer finally resurrected his career plagued by injuries and went on to be a phenomenal performer. In fact, he ended up as the most prolific fast bowler to have emerged from India. Now, the very raw Jaydev Unadkat is the next Indian leftie on the block looking to break the jinx.

Even the late bloomers like Nathan Bracken, Ian Bradshaw and Ryan Sidebottom all had pretty successful careers. These days, the Tasman Sea is ushering out left-arm pacers vigorously. Since Bracken’s return to the Australian fold back in ’05, Australia have been affluent in left-arm pacers. Mitchell Johnson‘s topsy-turvy career has a few more ebbs and flows in it as he continues to echo between splendid to scrappy.

Recently, he is reborn as a fast bowler, and has swiftly perched himself at the pedestal of the most terrifying pace bowler in the cricketing world. Going by his history though, it would not be surprising if his form changes color. Both nippy left-arm pacers Dirk Nannes and Doug Bollinger had good, sturdy stints.

Now, the fortunes of the left-arm angle rest in the hands of Mitchel Starc and James Faulkner. Starc had a dream start to his career, and his ability to swing the ball back into the right-hander at a threatening pace makes him an irresistible prospect. Faulkner is more out of the book of Bracken, with a full repertoire of all sort of variations making him a handful limited overs campaigner.

The Kiwis are not lagging behind their cousins by any means in terms of southpaw pacers. James Franklin is not interested in bowling anymore but New Zealand have plenty more to choose from. Neil Wagner is another typical modern pacey left-armer who hits the deck hard without getting much movement back into right-handers. Mitchell McClenaghan is probably the best of the lot; he certainly brought back the reminiscences of Allott in his short career.

Trent Boult might be less on the muscle, but has no less of an ability to swing the ball at good pace and do the damage. At the moment he is perhaps the best all-round left-arm fast bowler in New Zealand. He has a bit of everything; pace, movement, bounce and decent control. Young Corey Andersen is another one of the left-arm seamers at New Zealand’s disposal.

In Sri Lanka, the selectors have still not given up on the return of Chanaka Welegadara after Thilan Thurshara slipped out of the scene rather sedately. South Africa are not very rich in left-arm seamers like the other countries, but they are relishing a good One-Day International (ODI) bowler in Lonwabo Tsotsobe. Wayne Parnell has not lived up to the promise that he showed in the World T20 2009 in England where he, along with Mohammad Aamer, were  discoveries of the tournament. That being said, he is still the go-to man in T20s for South Africa.

The cricketing world was already perplexed by the lack of control and consistency of Wahab Riaz and Mitchell Johnson. Then along came Caribbean, Sheldon Cottrell, who added to the array of erratic slingy left-arm quickies. In the last World T20, Krishmar Santokie came on the scene out of nowhere and surprised the opposition with his slowish pace and slingy action. Tymall Mills might be still on the fringes of the England side, but he is making his presence felt by bruising batsmen in the nets with his raw pace. Harry Gurney, recently broke into the England ODI side to keep the left-armer’s flag flying.

Sohail Tanvir’s rollicking yorker to rip apart Sanath Jayasuria’s defenses in the inaugural World T20 in South Africa opened the floodgates for left-armers in Pakistan cricket. Pakistan had fielded three left-arm pacers in the 2013 Champions Trophy: Junaid Khan, Wahab and Mohammad Irfan, while Rahat Ali was in the Test squad and Sohail Tanvir is still going strong in T20Is.

As a bonus, Aamer’s return in the game is not out of question, and Pakistan’s stocks are brimming with prodigious left-arm quicks. Such is the domination that even in the absence of Umar Gul, hardly any right-arm fast bowler looks like fitting into the side. In the junior ranks, Zia-ul-Haq and Aftab Ahmed impressed even the master, Wasim Akram, in the camp.

The domination of left-arm pacers in Pakistan is quite lucid because of Wasim. It is understandable, being a third world country, that personalities have always had a huge impact in Pakistan due to a lack of structure. Personalities are usually the only driving force, but it is still flummoxing to see the overwhelming number of left-arm fast bowlers hovering around on the international scene. Wasim’s voodoo has far reaching lures, well beyond the borders. Imran Khan erupted the tsunami of fast bowlers in Pakistan, of which Wasim himself was a feature.

However, as is seen in most walks of life, after a stellar protagonist, a whole generation is coaxed towards the craft. For instance, after Sobers, the world of cricket saw the era of some great all-rounders, while Dennis Lillee allured a generation to genuine pace. Similarly after Abdul Qadir revived the dying art of leg-spin, the epoch of great leg-spinners took over to enlighten the greatest era of leg-spin having Shane Warne, Mushtaq Ahmed , Stuart McGill and Anil Kumble. Emerging from the shadow of Imran, Wasim has left his own glittering legacy; his voodoo is burgeoning and bewitching young southpaws all over the world.

(Umer Rana is an Electrical Engineer who graduated from NUST. A club cricketer from Islamabad, he fell in love with the beautiful game at the tender age of six. Wasim Akram’s Pakistan’s road to the marvelous triumph in the 1997 World Series, is his first cricketing memory. He is always up for a chat about cricket, captaincy and tactics)