A number of Pakistan fast bowlers have left the cricketing world spell-bound with their sheer skill and pace over the years.
From the days of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis creating a menace in the late 80s and 90s, to the towering presence of modern-day stars like Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf and youngster Naseem Shah, this is a country renowned for its pacers.
For a long period of time in the 21st century, Pakistan lacked the finesse to go all the way in multiple major tournaments because their batting department wasn’t quite up to the task, but their bowling has always been top-notch. To pin down the 10 best fast bowlers of Pakistan can be a task, but here’s our list of the best pacers produced by the 1992 ICC World Cup champions.
10. Wahab Riaz
Riaz might not be one of the most consistent bowlers for Pakistan, who had his share of injuries ruining what could’ve been a glittering career. But the left-arm pacer was box office and when he was in full flow, no batter came close to getting any control in the game. He would dictate what would happen and continue to dominate with sensational pace and accuracy.
He rose to the limelight when he picked up a five-wicket haul against India in the semifinal of the ICC World Cup 2011. On a day where Indian batters were heavily concentrated on Umar Gul, Riaz picked up the big wickets of Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh to break the Indian flow, and later completed his five-fer.
He also had a memorable spell against Shane Watson in the 2015 World Cup in Adelaide, where his ferocious pace left the Aussie batter in splits. The duo had plenty of heated exchanges during the game, but as it turned out, despite his magnificent efforts, Australia pulled through.
He picked up 83 wickets in Tests and 120 wickets in ODIs for the Men in Green.
9. Mohammad Amir
When Amir burst onto the scene as a teenage sensation, not just Pakistan, but the entire cricketing world was left gasping at his magnificent talent. He was unlike most bowlers they had seen before. He had the raw pace entangled with terrific control over his swing, making him one of the most unplayable bowlers.
However, the spot-fixing scandal put a pretty lengthy break on his career. He returned in 2016 after serving a long punishment for his involvement in notorious activities and although he did not gain acceptance instantly, his terrific performances in the Asia Cup 2016, the ICC T20 World Cup that followed and a couple of other bilateral tours won over the fans of hearts.
To cement his fairytale return, Amir was a star in Pakistan’s 2017 ICC Champions Trophy win, where he picked up three huge wickets in the final, including that of skipper Kohli and Rohit Sharma. He has had some trouble getting back into the side after his form took a hit, but he has maintained a special place among fans, especially after his imperious comeback.
He has picked up 259 wickets across all three formats. He will be eligible for UK passport in 2024, and, unfortunately, it is the last we have seen of Amir in Pakistan colours.
8. Mohammad Asif
Across all three formats, Asif played just 91 times for Pakistan, but he left his mark as one of the most difficult bowlers to face. His control of pace and swing was easily one of the best the game has seen and if not for the controversies that kept him out of the game. Many experts believe he was the most talented fast bowler Pakistan produced after Akram.
His USP was his ability to move the ball off the surface in any direction he wanted, whenever he wanted. He was also a master manipulator, known to plan and bait his prey over many overs until he finally got his man.
Unfortunately, his international career was intermittently troubled by doping and drug offences before it was cut short for good after the 2010 spot-fixing scandal. In 2015, the ICC lifted the ban imposed on him but he never played for Pakistan again. Legends like Hashim Amla have termed Asif as the toughest bowler they faced, and it is unfortunate that a blooming career ended due to off-field temptations.
For Pakistan, Asif picked up 169 wickets across all formats.
7. Umar Gul
In T20 cricket, possibly the Pakistan fast bowler of all time, Umar Gul has had a remarkable career, but it could’ve been even more eventful and he would’ve ranked higher up in this list if not for the injuries that never left him.
Gul was brought into the side after the disastrous 2003 World Cup to replace their long-serving legends Akram and Waqar. He instantly announced himself on the big stage with a devastating five-for against a robust Indian batting line-up in 2003 in Lahore but injured his back soon after and was sidelined for more than a year.
He returned stronger but in the next few years, he realised that the five-day format was too gruelling for him to carry the team on his back. The ODIs, and especially the T20Is, were a better fit for him. Thus, he focused on shorter formats, mastered the art of bowling swinging yorkers and at one long stretch was the best T20 bowler in the world.
A wicket-taking nightmare at the death, Gul was instrumental in Pakistan’s march to World T20 final in 2007 and eventual win in 2009 — finishing as the highest wicket-taker on both occasions. Though still active and just 35, Gul’s career faded after 2013 due to another set of injuries. He picked up 163 wickets in Tests, 179 wickets in ODIs and 85 in the shortest format.
6. Fazal Mahmood
A first-generation superstar among Pakistan fast bowlers, who pioneered some of the biggest changes in their cricketing ecosystem, Mahmood played just over 30 Tests for Pakistan but had a massive impact on the future that was to follow.
Mahmood, back in the day, had his share of destructive spells, a famous one coming against India in Pakistan’s first-ever Test victory, picking up 5-26 way back in 1960. He also went on to pick up 10-wicket hauls against the mighty teams of Australia, India, West Indies and England, all of whom had excellent batters back in the day.
His finest hour came against England at The Oval in 1954 when he took a six-for while spearheading a weak bowling unit against the star-studded inventors of the game. ESPN ranked it number nine on its greatest bowling performances of all time in Tests. He had his fair share of successes and had he been born a couple of decades later, he could’ve ended up as their greatest ever fast bowler.
5. Sarfaraz Nawaz
One of the greatest Pakistan fast bowlers of all time, Sarfaraz Nawaz was quick, strong and tall, with his pace troubling the best in his heyday. Hailed by many experts as the first big superstar from the country among fast bowlers, Sarfaraz Nawaz often drove the public to the stadium, with his aura forcing them to throng the grounds.
The 6’6 Nawaz, according to many experts, was the first bowler to expert the art of reverse swing, on whose foundation so many great careers (Imran Khan, Akram, Younis) later blossomed. But Nawaz’s contribution wasn’t just limited to being a pioneer of a weapon. He caused plenty of tangible damage too, especially against the Aussies.
He also bowled arguably the most devastating spell ever witnessed in cricket history, dismissing seven Australian batsmen for just one run over 33 deliveries in 1979 at Melbourne. The Aussies went from being 305/3 to 310 all-out. Nawaz picked up nine wickets in that innings. The only batsman that escaped his wrath was run out, as he missed an envious record of picking up all ten wickets.
4. Shoaib Akhtar
With Akhtar, there is controversy and there is plenty of entertainment. He would race up to the bowling mark from over 50 yards, with a run up so menacing it would have the batters thinking. Not to forget, there have been very few cricketers in the game’s history who have been able to bowl as quickly as him. One of the elite members of the 100mph club, Akhtar’s prolonged career has seen plenty of ups and downs, but at his best, he was lethal.
Even on the not-so-pacer-friendly Asian wickets, which were almost impossible to be won singlehandedly by fast bowlers, Akhtar’s extra pace always had a say. Away in India against names like Sachin Tendulkar, under the scoring heat, the Rawalpindi Express silenced the hostile Kolkata crowd in one of his best games for the country back in 1998/99, where his eight wickets in the match helped Pakistan win the Test against a strong Indian batting line-up.
Against New Zealand in Lahore in 2002 where Pakistan had amassed 643 in the first innings, he took a six-for, of which he blew over the stumps five times and the other was an LBW. Then against South Africa in 2000 he removed three batsmen in a single over and helped Pakistan defend a 169-run target in an ODI.
Possibly the most imperious of all the names mentioned in this list, Akhtar went on to pick up 178 Test wickets and 247 ODI wickets.
3. Imran Khan
With a series against West Indies around the corner, Imran had announced his retirement to concentrate further on his political career. This was before the 1992 World Cup. The country’s politicians got involved to prevent Imran from giving up on the game, as they wanted him to feature for the country a bit longer and reluctantly, he returned. What followed was history as his charismatic presence led Pakistan to their first, and only World Cup title.
In the twilight of his career, with the cricketer losing plenty of his pace already, not many put money on him to do well against the mighty West Indies away from home in 1987/88. But he returned with 11 wickets in the first Test at Georgetown and also got a crucial cameo, as Pakistan registered a rare win for an Asian side in West Indies. The series finished in a draw, Imran was the leading wicket-taker with 23 wickets, and that series gave him the motivation to continue further.
He went on to lift the World Cup in 1992, which was his final cricketing act. But he was the testament to grit and determination, who inspired many young cricketers to take the sport as a profession. In his prime, he was the fastest and most devastating fast bowler who terrorised every major opposition. He picked up wickets all around the world across both formats, also scoring vital runs with the bat.
Imran finished his career with 362 Test wickets and 182 wickets in the one-day format.
2. Waqar Younis
The sheer pace and accuracy of Waqar were enough to devastate the batter. Just when you thought this bowler was all about pace and proper channels, he ended up mastering several other arts, most notably, the reverse swing, which played a huge role in helping Pakistan triumph across all formats multiple times.
Waqar famously made his debut in the same Test as Indian great Tendulkar in 1989 and even managed to hit the young Indian batter on his chin. His pace, right from the outset, was considered unplayable even by the best of batters. He kept growing in stature with every passing year, and though he had his set of minor weaknesses, he overcame them with great skill and dedication.
His repertoire wasn’t as deep as Akram’s but he still had plenty of tricks, all of which had rapid pace at the core. He was at his most lethal when bowling full and targeting the wickets, which was every single time. When facing an in-form Waqar, batsmen had a simple choice to make: save their studs or stumps. Perhaps the only disappointment for Waqar was the fact that he couldn’t contribute significantly in the ODI World Cups for Pakistan, where his performances were below the standards that he himself set.
Waqar retired in 2003 with a whopping 789 international wickets to his credit, a tally bettered only by his long-term fast-bowling companion, who takes the top spot in this list for more reasons than just the statistics.
1. Wasim Akram
Akram is not just the greatest among Pakistan fast bowlers of all time, but stands a great shout at being called the greatest fast bowler to have ever lived, keeping his name right in the bracket of the greats like Malcolm Marshall, Dennis Lillee, Glenn McGrath and Dale Steyn. He had the wickets, he had the longevity and not to forget, he rose up for his side just when it mattered the most, producing some memorable spells to help them win the 1992 World Cup.
Akram was fast or could have been fast, but it wasn’t his USP. His speciality was his swing and variety. Most bowlers have a trick or two or three in their repertoire. They can mix and match but eventually have to return to what’s already been tried before. Akram could bowl six completely different balls in an over. Only a six-ball limitation in an over kept him from bowling a seventh different one. He was that good.
Akram often contributed with the bat as well, with a best score of 257* in Test cricket, a landmark even Tendulkar couldn’t reach in Test cricket. Akram’s legendary status elevates another level when you consider the fact that he has gone to Australia, South Africa, and England and mastered those tracks, while also producing top-notch performances in spinner-friendly conditions of India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.