Pakistan find a second Wasim

At 20, Abdur Razzaq is on an amazing journey from rural poverty to the very top of his sport

For millions of Pakistani kids cricket is not simply a passion but a way to a better life. It is what, in legend, boxing did for young Americans getting out of the Bronx.

For millions of Pakistani kids cricket is not simply a passion but a way to a better life. It is what, in legend, boxing did for young Americans getting out of the Bronx.

Few of them make it because few of them are ever discovered. They can but dream, like poor kids everywhere. Abdur Razzaq is, if you like, living the dream. He is 20, he first played for Pakistan when he was 16 and every movement, each nuance in the way he plays suggests that he will move to the highest places and that he will arrive there one day soon.

They talk a good game of cricket in this country but they can actually play one as well. When they say that Razzaq could be the new Wasim Akram, or even, one day, match the noble Imran Khan himself, they are neither exaggerating nor pretending.

He is already a key member of their one-day side. He has played 67 matches and in the first match against England in Karachi the other night, he made an astonishing 75 from 40 balls of clean, uncluttered hitting. Andrew Flintoff's 85 from 60 edged it out because that was a match-winning knock, but nobody who saw it would be prepared to deny that Razzaq will win plenty of matches on his own.

He is now established in the Test side where he bats at No 6 and is the third seamer. There is a hat-trick already to his name. Razzaq is handsome with chiselled features, a glint in his eye and he breaks into a gentle smile frequently. His English is broken but clear and he is studying again.

The all-rounder with the potential to break all the all-rounders' records can hardly believe this has happened to him and says so frequently. "I spent a lot of hard times. I did not expect to play for Pakistan in international cricket."

Razzaq was brought up in a village a few miles outside Lahore called Shahdre. He was the third of four brothers and a sister and they lived with their parents in a one-bedroomed house. It had running water and electricity, but not very much of either.

"I come from a very poor family," said Razzaq, taking a breather from net practice in Lahore last week. "My father was a builder in small way. He built houses. We never had had much food. I never had breakfast in my life."

Razzaq's parents are now both dead. His father died of kidney failure at the age of 45 after an injection went wrong, while his mother was involved in a collision between two motorcycles and suffered ir-reparable brain damage. She was 43.

They did see their rarely, richly talented son appear for Pakistan, but only on somebody else's television set. Razzaq said: "They didn't know about cricket."

He was inspired by Imran when his side of cornered tigers won the World Cup in 1992, beating England in the final. That prompted him to play street cricket with an intensity. There it might have stayed. It is entirely possible that there are 20, 50, 100 boys in this country with the timing, the strength, the wrists to make them naturals at the game. Razzaq got lucky. He had a cousin who took him along to some Under-16 trials. It was, virtually, just a case of showing up and taking it from there. How quickly it all moved from then.

This callow youth with the knack of swinging the ball both ways was shortly after selected for a Pakistan Under-19 tour of West Indies. He had hardly played an organised game in his life but the coach, Haroon Rashid, recognised what was before him.

Not long after he was in the Pakistan senior side in a one-day international against Zimbabwe. "I was very nervous. I couldn't believe this." If the opposition were not the most formidable, their best batsman, David Houghton, was not a bad first wicket to claim. Razzaq remembers it proudly.

He was omitted soon after for more Under-19 cricket. Almost untouchable, he was back in the senior team for the 1999 World Cup. You may remember he batted at No 3 and made 60 against Australia in the group match. He will not be easily left out again.

This young man's life has now changed beyond compare. It was not so long ago that he had no cricket kit and it was provided for him by the Lahore club captain Azhar Zaidi. Now he is having a six-bedroomed house built in Lahore, which will be completed soon.

Moin Khan, his current national captain, speaks of him almost blithely as a future champion. "He is the next Wasim of the Pakistani team. He is a quick bowler - he does not look quick but off the pitch he is quick, 85mph. When he took a hat-trick at Galle he was swinging like anything, like Waqar in his peak. I like his batting. You saw how hard he can hit. He is getting better."

Razzaq, almost uncoached in the early fundamentals, said he learned to bat by observing others closely. His stance seems low for one who stands so upright in the shot but it obviously works (though like others he seemed all at sea against Saqlain Mushtaq in the nets the other evening).

He also has the fearlessness of youth. "I always try to play according to the situation of the match. When I went in on Tuesday I realised there was no time to play myself in and I had to go for big boundaries. I don't feel any pressure."

Razzaq misses his parents, especially his mother, but he is not dedicating his career to them. They were proud but they did not know cricket, he repeated.

Razzaq has played in a dozen Tests so far with a highest score of 87. His 17 wickets have cost 37 runs each. He is not the completed article, not by a long chalk yet, but England will experience quite a lot more of him this winter.

"My grandfather, who has now passed on, told me when I was 10 years old that I would play for Pakistan. I smiled at him but I didn't think it would happen."

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