A Guest Post by Imran Aslam
Ask any Pakistani cricket fan who our best 3 fast bowlers have been and the answer will almost certainly be unanimous – Wasim, Waqar and Imran. Probe a bit deeper and opinions will start to get divided – while a vast majority will pick Wasim as their favorite and as Pakistan’s best ever, there will be a group more inclined towards Waqar, whereas an earlier generation might lean towards the great Khan.
I am going to exclude Imran Khan from this article but before doing that I just want to say that Imran Khan is by far the most talented and best cricketer to have been produced not just by Pakistan but by the Asian continent!
Now let’s take a deeper look at Wasim vs. Waqar – from here-on my analysis and opinion is solely restricted to test cricket. First the simple statistics:
The simple numbers make for an interesting comparison. Their averages are very similar but Waqar has a much better strike rate than Wasim, needing almost 2 overs less to pick up a wicket. Their 5 wickets/innings stats are also pretty similar, with Waqar having a slightly better rate than Wasim and there is hardly anything to separate the two in terms of wickets per innings. So while Waqar needed 2 overs less than Wasim to pick up a wicket their wickets/innings numbers are very similar implying Wasim could bowl longer spells and pick up similar number of wickets as Waqar.
Now let’s dig a bit deeper and start bisecting their statistics.
First of all I will look at their stats in matches that both of them played in together:
Again they both have very similar numbers, picking up almost the same number of wickets at similar averages but with Waqar having a superior strike rate to Wasim.
An interesting observation here is that Wasim’s stats in matches where Waqar was involved are a significant improvement in comparison to his overall numbers; whereas the difference in Waqar’s performance is marginal. This could be due to Wasim’s skills improving in the later part of his career (post-1989 when Waqar was around) and it could also be due to having Waqar bowling at the other end and putting more pressure on the batsmen.
Test match cricket is all about picking up 20 wickets and it is bowlers who win matches for their teams in this format of the game. Therefore it only makes sense to see the impact of their performances in matches that Pakistan won:
Now this is where it starts getting interesting and there appear some differences between the performances of the two.
Pakistan won 45% of the test matches Waqar played in whereas we won 38% of the games Wasim played in. When we look at their contributions in wins, Waqar has significantly better stats and performances than Wasim does:
- 4 out of 5 10-wicket hauls for Waqar came in wins; whereas the corresponding figure for Wasim is 2 out of 5.
- 14 out of 22 5-wicket hauls for Waqar were achieved in games Pakistan went on to win; whereas Wasim has 13 5-wicket hauls in wins from a total of 25.
- Overall 60% of Waqar’s wickets were taken in matches Pakistan won; whereas 51% of Wasim’s wickets were in wins.
From the numbers above I think it is a logical conclusion that Waqar had a more significant contribution to wins for Pakistan over his career than Wasim did.
Taking the filter another level deeper, I’m now going to look at performance in matches Pakistan won in which both Wasim and Waqar played.
Once again, eerily similar stats with the only differentiator being the strike rate, as Waqar needed about an over less to strike than Wasim did.
The interesting thing here is again the improvement in Wasim’s stats, especially his wickets per innings in wins where Waqar was involved compared to all wins. This clearly shows that there was a significant positive impact on Wasim’s performance in matches involving Waqar (there could be other factors such as form, stage of Wasim’s career, etc. at play here) over matches not involving Waqar.
As yet another way of looking at their performances I’m going to filter their records by opposition. Few would argue that Australia, England, South Africa and West Indies were all very strong teams during the time Wasim and Waqar played their cricket. So I’m going to look at performance against these 4 opponents only (I have purposefully excluded India here since Waqar only played 4 matches against them, 2 in his debut series in 89 and another 2 in 99).
Though there is not much to set them apart yet again, it is interesting to note that Waqar’s stats take a bigger hit when looking at his performance against the 4 best sides of the time whereas Wasim’s numbers are relatively closer to his overall performance. However, again Waqar maintains a much better strike rate, which to me is one of the most important indicators for a good test match bowler.
Wasim has performed admirably well against the West Indies (average 21 / SR 45) but has strike rates of 60 or above against the other 3 opponents. Waqar struggled badly against Australia (average 34 / SR 63), performed well against the West Indies (average 23 / SR 39), whereas his stats against England and South Africa are better than Wasim (average 28 / SR 50).
One of the definitive measures of individual performances are the ICC player rankings, and looking at these it is again Waqar who supersedes Wasim. Waqar achieved a career best rating of 909 and achieved the number 1 ranking while Wasim’s best rating was 830 and his best ranking was number 2.
Waqar is actually part of a very select group of 21 bowlers in the history of the game who have crossed the 900 mark whereas there are only 9 bowlers who have achieved more than the 909 points that Waqar managed (Barnes, Lohman, Imran Khan, Murali, McGrath, Lock, Ambrose, Botham and Marshal).
Let me end by saying that in my view, both Wasim and Waqar were terrific bowlers and there is not much between them in their stats. However, in my book, Waqar’s better strike-rate and his significantly superior contribution in wins puts him marginally above Wasim as Pakistan’s premier test match fast bowler.
I long for the day when Pakistan has an opening pair even half as good as the 2 Ws!
ADDENDUM by Q
Besides being pace spearheads and arguably the best fast bowling pair ever to hunt together, Wasim and Waqar were great rivals too. It is no secret that Waqar Younis led a revolt against Wasim Akram to remove the latter from the captaincy in 1993-94, and since then their relationship was never the same.
It is quite astonishing that both Wasim and Waqar formed the most lethal pace partnership during a time when they hated each other. Wasim has openly talked about his rivalry with Waqar in many interviews and his autobiography, and he also explained how Pakistan benefited from this rivalry.
Wasim has stated that both him and Waqar were always looking to go one up on the other. If one would take a wicket, the other would try extra hard to get one too. And both wanted to get more wickets than the other to show who is better.
This professional rivalry did wonders for Pakistan as both Wasim and Waqar took wickets in heaps and won many a game for Pakistan.
Imran Aslam has already shown that Waqar's presence in the team had a significant positive impact on Wasim Akram's performance. This can be further elaborated by comparing Wasim's stats in tests played before Waqar's debut and after:
There is a drastic improvement. Surely Wasim became a far better bowler in the 90s than in the earlier part of his career, but Waqar's presence had a lot to do with it. The professional rivalry had a lot to do with it. The jealousy of now being shared as Imran Khan's go to bowler had a lot to do with it. The ambition to be the best bowler in Pakistan, the best bowler in the world, had a lot to do with it. Undoubtedly, Waqar Younis brought out the best in Wasim Akram.
Wasim & Waqar will forever remain the best pace bowling duo ever in the history of Pakistan cricket, arguably the world as well.