Published in 2009
Before I start, I must make a confession. When I was asked to think of the player that has most inspired me, the man in question did not grace the greensward that is Lord’s. Nor did he ever score a century, or take five wickets. He did, however, perform miracles. Darius ‘Jackie’ Dzeikanowski (Bristol City 1992–1993) was my childhood hero.
My early sporting experiences centred around the hallowed turf of Ashton Gate, and for the first ten years of my life, I hardly knew cricket existed. No matter how pristine the lawn my mother had lovingly prepared, it would soon resemble a mudbath. Goalmouth scrambles were the order of the day, and I was ‘Jackie’, flicking the ball over my head and smashing it exquisitely into the roof of the net – or at least trying to.
My ‘talents’ took me as far as a single Shrewsbury Town school of excellence session, and they swiftly reached the conclusion that a centre back with a penchant for a Pele-style flick in his own six-yard box was not for them. Hence, upon realising my footballing abilities were not going to see me wear the famous red shirt of Bristol’s number one football club, I began concentrating more on cricket.
After watching the summer’s Test matches on the television, the lawn was given a break and the driveway became the scene for some of the most compelling cricket action of all time. Scorecards were drawn up with my brother’s all-star team locking horns with my superstar selection, both of us mimicking the players’ individual styles and bowling actions.
Play would last for hours, halted only by either the loss of the last tennis ball in a grumpy neighbour’s garden, or an anguished scream from a mother whose metal garage door was being pounded into submission and retirement. Little did she know the garage door had had it easy until then…
When Pakistan toured in 1996 I had a new hero: Wasim Akram. I normally wanted to see the opposition bowlers put to the sword by the England batsmen, but when he came on to bowl, I was praying for wickets. Almost regal in his manner, he had everything. Pace, movement, accuracy, and a famed will to win sometimes showed itself as a nasty streak. Countless opponents would have been subjected to his verbals and his bouncer.
Some bowlers I watched had moved the ball around a bit, some had bowled quickly, but none had done both like Wasim did. What was more, he was a left-armer. I was amazed by the things he did with the ball. On his day – which were rather frequent – he was literally unplayable. One delivery would jag past the edge of the right-hander, one would brush the nose of the batsman without him so much as seeing it, and the next would hoop back in from outside off stump and rent the timber asunder.
Happy birthday, Wasim Akram!
Just how good was he in the 1992 World Cup!pic.twitter.com/ekh9MuwsdV
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) June 3, 2020
It was little surprise that he became a regular feature in my brother v brother line-up. Previously the bulk of my overs were bowled with a fluffy tennis ball by Messrs Tufnell and Croft resulting in nothing more than a gentle ‘dink’ on the metal doors that doubled as wicketkeeper. My new ‘signing’ changed all that. Having graduated from said tennis ball to a harder windball, the poor garage door was now in an utterly shambolic state, due exclusively to the emergence of Wasim and his thunderbolts. Had anyone wanted to break in, instead of unlocking – now a door in name only – they could have quite easily walked through one of the gaping holes.
What mystified so many people is just how easy he made it look. He achieved effortless pace and swing from such a short run-up. While us mere mortals strain every sinew as we charge in for 20 metres or so, huffing and puffing in a sea of perspiration, Wasim appeared to float to the crease, inches above the ground, propelled by an imaginary zephyr before unleashing one arcing heatseeker after another – all differing in some magical way from the ball that went before. He hit the keeper’s gloves as hard as anyone – and the batsman’s ribs even harder.
Like all the greats he made the sublime simple, and left the rest of us floundering in our own mediocrity.
I now purvey my own brand of left-arm swing, albeit at a pace considerably slower than that of the great man, and I owe a great deal to Wasim for inspiring me to pursue cricket as a career. In my opinion, not only does he clearly go down as the best left-arm bowler of all time, but the best bowler. Full stop.
Published in 2009