Wahab Riaz Is u p There w ith t he Best Left-Arm Quicks... Don't Be Fooled b y His Stats
By Lawrence Booth
In a year in which England have faced Trent Boult, Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc, on green pitches and under grey clouds, it says much for Wahab Riaz that their trial by left-arm pace has just become a little more exacting. You can forgive them for suspecting that life can be tough.
First Boult softened up Gary Ballance, paving the way for his dropping after two Tests of the Ashes. Then Starc took care of Adam Lyth.
And if Johnson was never quite the Johnson of 2013-14, his (very) quick burst on the second morning at Edgbaston, when he rip-snorted out Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes in the same over, was in itself enough to induce nervous twitches in the England dressing-room.
If the Barmy Army taunted him throughout the summer, it stemmed as much from relief that he had not destroyed England as it did from genuine ridicule.
Now, in a part of the world where spin is supposed to be the lingua franca, Wahab is speaking a tongue which many thought had died a death with Wasim Akram.
His series stats tell a misleading tale: eight wickets at 36, while conceding nearly 3.5 an over, sound like the work of a jobbing change bowler. And yet in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the cricket has rarely felt more alive than when Wahab is tearing in, reversing it, bouncing it, hurling it down at 90mph.
The latest rankings have him up nine places to No 35, in which case Test cricket is far more blessed than we all realized.
In Abu Dhabi, Wahab served notice with two wickets on the third evening, when the England innings was threatening to drift beyond Pakistan’s control. Creating his own desert storm, he removed Ian Bell and nightwatchman Mark Wood, and next day brushed aside Bairstow.
But it was his spell on the third morning in Dubai that may well have secured another series win for Pakistan in the UAE.
England had moved, full of hope, to 206 for 3 in reply to Pakistan’s 378. Not long after, Wahab was completing a spell of 9-5-15-3, roughly twice as long as most seamers have managed in 36 degree heat, and about three times as venomous.
And it meant England spent the rest of the Test clinging on, as if suspended from the Burj Khalifa by their fingertips.
Joe Root was lured into a loose drive, Stokes suckered into a wayward prod, and Jos Buttler undone by a half-volley whose menace lay in the mind. It’s what the best fast bowlers do.
And it was a glorious reminder of Pakistan’s age-old capacity to turn a match in a couple of hours – one of those clichés that exist for a reason.
With Yasir Shah a leg-spinning assassin at the other end, England fans might have recalled trials at the hands of Wasim and Mushtaq Ahmed – not least the 1992 World Cup final. We shouldn’t be too critical of England for failing to cope.
Like all the most engaging fast bowlers, of course, Wahab comes with a glint in his eye, and a hint of the bad boy.
Amid the chaos of Pakistan’s no-ball tour of England in 2010, he was interviewed by Scotland Yard before being released without charge .
And, when the first flashpoint of this otherwise good-spirited series occurred on Sunday, it was Wahab whose footballing skills upset Root and encouraged England coach Trevor Bayliss to visit the match referee.
Again, there was no suggestion of wrongdoing, but England’s reaction said something about the manner in which Wahab has imposed himself on a series apparently designed for careful batsmen and probing spinners.
The talk ahead of Sunday’s third Test in Sharjah is about the kind of pitch that awaits England’s attempts to square the series. Wahab, you feel, won’t particularly care. - Courtesy The Daily Mail