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They are known for producing some of the most fearsome fast bowlers in world cricket. Speed, seam and swing are their weapons but who are the best Pakistani fast bowlers of all time?
Greatest Pakistani Fast Bowlers of All Time
There’s only one place to start. Imran Khan made his reputation as a great leader on the field and he was one of cricket’s greatest all rounders. Because of that, it can be easy to forget just how effective he was with the ball in hand.
He had speed and steep bounce and was effective at swinging the ball prodigiously when the conditions were with him. Imran played in 88 tests and was one of the leading wicket takers of his day with 362 victims.
His finest moment came when he led Pakistan to victory at the 1992 World Cup. In 175 ODI matches he claimed 182 victims with a best of 6/14.
The fastest of them all, Shoaib Akhtar was capable of cranking up the pace to the extent that he was touching the 100mph mark. Fitness could be an issue but when he was at his best, Shoaib was unplayable.
His best test figures of 6/11 against New Zealand included a devastating opening spell of 4/4. Shoaib would eventually claim 178 wickets in 46 tests while his ratio of victims to games in ODIs was impressive. In 163 50-Over internationals, he claimed a further 247 wickets.
Along with his opening partner Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram was the scourge of opposition batting line ups in the 1980s and into the 1990s. A left armer, Wasim had genuine pace, but his main weapon was the prodigious swing that he could generate when conditions were in his favour.
All of those qualities helped him to claim 414 wickets in 104 test matches and that’s still a record for all Pakistani bowlers. Wasim can also add 502 victims in 356 ODIs and that’s another national record.
Wasim and Waqar Younis were fearsome bowlers who complemented each other perfectly. Waqar was a right arm bowler who could swing the ball both ways and he possessed a devastating inswinging yorker which he seemed to be able to bowl at will.
Waqar made his international debut in an ODI against the West Indies in October 1989. In his first test against India a month later, he took four wickets in his debut innings and his reputation was set. Eventually, Waqar would finish with 789 international wickets in two formats and his best figures of 7/36 came in an ODI against England in 2001.
Because he played around the same time as Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, Aaqib Javed tended to go under the radar, but he was a high quality fast bowler. He had that pace and also an ability to swing the ball both ways.
Those qualities helped Aaqib to shine in international cricket. His options in tests were limited and he only played in 22 games, but he did claim 54 wickets with a best of 5/84. Aaqib was more of a regular in the ODI team where he took 182 wickets in 163 matches.
Before Imran Khan became established in the Pakistan team, Sarfraz Nawaz was largely carrying the pace attack on his own. He was capable of good speeds but could also swing the ball late which proved to be a devastating weapon.
Perhaps the highlight of his career came against Australia on the 1978/79 tour. In the first test at Melbourne, Sarfraz took 11 wickets in the match including a devastating spell of seven wickets for one run. In total, he claimed 240 international victims and his best figures of 9/86 came in that 1978 Melbourne test.
One of Pakistan’s earliest great fast bowlers, Fazal Mahmood was the first of his countrymen to reach 100 test wickets. After making his debut in 1952, he would reach that milestone in his 22nd match before going on to claim 139 wickets in 34 games.
He had an ability to seam the ball that made him particularly effective in English conditions and on the artificial surfaces that were widely in use in Pakistan. Had he not been sacked as international captain, he may have played for longer.
Those 139 wickets came with best innings figures of 7/42 and an excellent average of 24.70.
As a teenager, Mohammad Amir had to serve a suspension from the game, but he did get the chance to return and prove himself as a world class fast bowler. A left armer, he bowled with pace and had a fearsome inswinger.
His time out of the game, coupled with a premature international retirement, meant that he only featured in 36 tests. He claimed 119 wickets and had best figures of 6/44. In the limited overs arena, Mohammad Amir played 111 times and took 140 wickets. Those are impressive returns, but we are all left wondering as to what might have been.
Mohammad Asif is another player whose reputation was tarnished by actions off the pitch, but this round up is only here to talk about quality of bowling. Asif played in 72 international games between 2005 and 2010. He was a tall man who could generate good bounce as well as seam and swing.
In those 72 matches, he took 162 wickets with a best in tests of 6/41. He only has himself to blame for the fact that he didn’t play more for Pakistan, but he has some seriously good figures that merit a place here.
He was more widely known for his effectiveness in limited overs cricket but Azhar Mahmood did play 21 tests for Pakistan. He was a strong all-rounder who made three test hundreds, but he was a solid seam bowler who was especially good in English conditions.
In those 21 tests, he took just 39 wickets with a best of 4/50 but he was better in ODIs where he claimed 123 wickets in 143 games. Azhar seemed to fall out of favour with the selectors but he did later return as the national bowling coach.
A big left armer with an awkward action, Wahab Riaz may have reached the final stages of his career but he remains an effective force in franchise cricket around the world. His international figures may not do him justice, but he can be a force in any format when the conditions are in his favour.
Wahab has played in just 27 tests where he took 83 wickets with a best of 5/63. He was used more extensively in limited overs formats where he played 127 times for Pakistan, claiming 154 wickets.
I can recall Umar Gul being Pakistan’s ‘go to’ bowler in the death overs of one day games and I think that’s how he’ll be remembered. He was certainly used more in the limited overs arena, appearing in 190 games across two formats.
Gul also featured in 47 test matches where he claimed 163 wickets with a best of 6/135. In limited overs games, he could provide good variations while sending down fast yorkers at will. Umar Gul took 264 wickets across the two formats and has the remarkable figures of 5/6 in a T20 international.
Talented Pakistani Young Bowlers
Shaheen Shah Afridi
There are some talented Pakistani fast bowlers moving through the ranks and Shaheen Shah Afridi may well make it onto the main list very soon. Afridi has also been entrusted with some captaincy at domestic level, so he’s seen as a man of the future in many ways.
At the time of writing in July 2022, Afridi has played in 24 test matches and has taken 95 wickets. He’s taken five wickets in an innings on four occasions and has best figures of 6/51.
Afridi can also add 109 wickets in 72 limited overs internationals across the two formats.
In 2019 at the age of just 19, Mohammad Hasnain bowled the fastest delivery in the history of the Caribbean Premier League so it’s clear that we are talking about some serious talent.
That talent had already been recognised by the national selectors who had given Hasnain his debut in an ODI against Australia in March 2019. In his first 26 limited overs internationals, the young paceman had claimed 29 wickets with impressive best figures of 5/26.
Perhaps the fastest of all current Pakistan bowlers, Naseem Shah can regularly hit the 145kph mark. It’s raw pace and he needs to add more accuracy into his play, but Naseem has made an impressive start to his international career.
To date, he’s taken 26 wickets in his first 11 tests and has best figures of 5/31.
His exploits in the Pakistan Super League earned Shahnawaz Dahani a T20i debut against Bangladesh in 2021. He is having to battle against a number of more established pacemen, but he has the quality to play more international games in the future.
Those international figures will improve if he gets a chance but a best return of 4/5 in domestic T20 cricket suggests that Dahani is an exceptional talent.
He may not be the fastest bowler on the list, but Arshad Iqbal can add swing and seam to his armoury. He made an international debut for Pakistan in a T20i against Zimbabwe in 2021 and returned economical figures of 1/16 from four overs.
He’s another bowler who will need to be patient, but Arshad Iqbal should have a big future in the game.
Even the most casual of cricket fans should know that Pakistan are renowned for producing some of the world’s greatest fast bowlers and this list tells us why. It’s packed with world class talent from the past while there are some exceptional bowlers coming through.
If we were to revisit the list in the near future, surely some of those newer bowlers would be
included. It’s a real Hall of Fame and I hope you’ve enjoyed looking through it.