Cricket: Wasim has pride in his brood

Stephen Fay finds Pakistan's captain fostering a fearsome future

WASIM AKRAM is behaving like a mother hen clucking over the chicks. He worries because they must play in England in May; he harbours dark thoughts about Pakistan having been sent to watch the rain fall in the north while England nestle warmly in the south. As for the white ball, he warns that it is swinging extravagantly, and calls for flatter wickets.

He makes it sound so unfair, as though there was a conspiracy against his brood of promising young men. There are plenty of them for Wasim to worry about. Two of the 11 who played Scotland on Thursday are teenagers (Shahid Afridi and Abdur Razzaq); four more are under 25 (Yousuf Youhana, Azhar Mahmood, Saqlain Mushtaq and Shoaib Akhtar.)

They have "suffered a lot," Wasim says, from lack of practice: "I have been playing here for 10 years, and it takes me three of four games to get my length right." But he is proud as well as protective: "They have been doing well. They're mentally very tough," he says. They need to be; without mature performances from these boys, Pakistan cannot win the World Cup.

One is a celebrity already. The reputation of Shoaib Akhtar preceded him to Chester-le-Street for Thursday's game against Scotland, and Ladbrokes were offering odds against him taking any number from one to 10 wickets - 1,000-1 against all 10. He looks fearsome, arms swinging low during a 20-pace run-up which ends with a furious sideways action.

Gavin Hamilton, who survived Shoaib's opening spell of 3 for 6 from five overs, could feel the bruises on his thighs that evening, and raised an eyebrow when he learned that Wasim had said Shoaib had not been bowling flat out: "He's a quick learner, and he changed his length today. He was three feet further up than in the previous game. The way the ball is swinging, you have to control it rather than bowl quick, but he'll be quicker against Australia."

Shoaib is 23, and he is already well on the way to becoming precious, like all great fast bowlers. He left the field on Thursday complaining of "sore shins". Wasim reacted as if he had heard that one before, and expected to hear it again. He was not at all concerned, however. With Scotland at 19 for 5, Wasim was able to give a long bowl to two more young pace bowlers, Abdur Razzaq and Akhar Mahmood.

England and Australia are strong on the theory of the role of all-rounder in one-day internationals; Pakistan are stronger on the practice. Abdur Razzaq, a modest looking figure, is trusted to bat first wicket down - without success so far; seven in Bristol, 12 in Chester-le-Street - but he has taken 3 for 32 off 10 overs against the West Indies and 3 for 38 off 10 against Scotland. "He's a young boy," says Wasim. "He looks OK, and we're trying him out right now."

Wasim must be more concerned about Shahid Afridi, Saeed Anwar's opening partner. Afridi is a handsome young man, black hair with a middle parting; conscious, you think, of his good looks. He looks older than 19, and the word, as it often is with brilliant Pakistani prospects, is that you can add three or four years to that. But he is still a kid.

Afridi plays the way he looks, opening his shoulders and swinging his bat boldly. But the ball has swung more, and he has been out for 11 and seven. Afridi bowls a bit too, leg breaks.

Azhar Mahmood bowled tidily on Thursday, having scored a vital 37 down the order against the West Indies. The only one of Wasim's boys who is a specialist cricketer is Yousuf Youhana, whose 81 not out after he came in when Pakistan were 60 for 4 won him the man-of-the-match against Scotland. He is a neat, orthodox batsman who waits patiently before hitting out, and he secured the middle order, saving Pakistan from a serious embarrassment.

And we have not even mentioned Saqlain Mustaq, the 22-year-old off spinner who was hit for two sixes on Thursday and conceded 46 runs off six overs, compared to 22 off nine at Bristol. Between clouting him to the boundary, the Scots were impressed by his variety and movement. As well they might be; Saqlain is capable of winning matches.

Pakistan's problem has been unreliable batting at the top of the order (apart from England, whose hasn't?). If the young boys and the old men can sort that out, the young bowlers - plus Wasim himself - can do the rest, and Pakistan could well be on the way to winning the cup. Then Wasim could stop clucking, and start to crow.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living