Pakistan hero in their 1992 World Cup triumph, Wasim Akram, recalled fond memories of touring Sri Lanka as a Test cricketer and claimed the future is bright for country’s cricket during a media briefing at SLC headquarters at Maitland Place, Colombo yesterday.
Former great Aravinda de Silva, who heads SLC’s Cricket Committee, had requested Akram’s services to conduct a workshop for the national cricket team, SLC coaches and fast bowlers. Akram is expected to do a couple of more stints next year as well.
"I first toured Sri Lanka in 1986 with Pakistan Under-23 team. I have happy memories here of lovely places and people. Sri Lanka is heaven on earth," Akram said addressing the media briefing.
"What I look for in a fast bowler is pace and swing. There’s no point in changing the action after someone has played at top level. Changing action should happen when someone is under 16," Akram noted.
Elaborating further on the ability to swing the ball, he said, "Pace alone is not going to do you any good. Often you play on slow wickets in Asia and you should be skilful as a bowler to outsmart the batsman. The idea is to fox out the batsman. You need to have back-up plans.
"Sri Lankan cricket is in good hands. There are couple of very good fast bowlers who have pace at your under-19 level. Now the important thing is to teach them to swing the ball," Akram, known as Sultan of Swing, said.
"You have some great guys working hard for your cricket. There’s Chaminda Vaas, there’s Aravinda and Sanath Jayasuriya, as Chairman of Selectors."
Commenting on the upcoming tour of South Africa, Akram was confident that the Sri Lankans will do well. "You guys have a good chance in South Africa. Just believe in yourselves."
Akram took 414 Test wickets at 23 and 502 wickets in ODIs, also at 23. He raised the standards playing against Sri Lanka as he averaged 21 in Tests with the ball against them and an even impressive average of 20 in ODIs.
"As I walked into the SSC, some old memories flooded in. My 400th wicket was taken in this ground. I remember I took a five-wicket haul and scored 70 odd runs in that Test match.
"I also remember guys like Aravinda and Arjuna smashing me all over the park. It’s tough for a fast bowler here as it’s hot and humid. Aravinda is one of the true greats of the game," Akram added.
Akram earned the admiration of Sri Lankans as he travelled to Colombo together with several team-mates to be part of joint India – Pakistan team that played a friendly match at RPS ahead of the 1996 World Cup after Australia and West Indies pulled out citing security concerns.
SLC chief Thilanga Sumathipala called Akram, ‘a friend of Sri Lanka’.
"We are sitting down and planning what I can do here next year. Karachi is just two and half hours away from Colombo. So I can come here at the drop of a hat," Akram further said.
Aravinda addressing the media briefing pointed out that Akram was a great example as he represented his country for two decades putting up with serious injuries.
"Every time when a journalist asks me who was the toughest bowler I played against, I say it was Wasim Akram. It was a huge challenge playing against Wasim."
"Physios and trainers these days say a bowler should not bowl more than a certain amount of overs due to the fear of injury. But if you ask Wasim, when you are a fast bowler you will have niggles. Injuries are part and parcel of the game. I remember getting as many as 18 injections on my groin so that I could play a game. So it’s tough life. I remember Arjuna once played with a broken hand against medical advice and won us a Test match," Aravinda said. Eight of Aravinda’s 20 Test centuries were against Pakistan.
Akram endorsed Aravinda’s thoughts. "When you are a fast bowler, you will have niggles. You can’t pull out saying it’s hard. There will be stiffness on the shoulder, hamstring and so on. You have to play with pain. You have to be mentally tough and be prepared for the challenge. Once you bowl a spell, everything will fall back to normal."
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews thanked SLC for the opportunity. "We are honoured and privileged to have Wasim here. We thank SLC for bringing him down. I am glad he will come back and work with our fast bowlers."
Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford echoed similar sentiments. "It was a fantastic interaction. Nothing like getting face to face with a legend of the game."