No delivery, arguably, has been as feared in the history of the game as the late-swinging, toe-crushing yorker and no one, arguably, bowled that delivery better than Waqar Younis.
There have been faster bowlers, there have been more aggressive bowlers, there have been bowlers with better control. But hand a reverse-swinging ball to Younis and the terror reached unmatched proportions.
The sight of Younis charging in, his cheeks bobbing up and down with each step left little doubt of his intentions. He wanted the batsman gone and he was going to attack the stumps. And fittingly, as many as 212 out of this 373 career Test wickets came either bowled or leg before the wicket.
Of course, he owed a lot to the discovery of reverse swing by Pakistan’s Sarfraz Khan.
“Sarfraz discovered reverse swing by bowling with balls of all conditions, new, semi-new and old,” wrote Peter Oborne in his 2014 book Wounded Tiger.
“He began on matting wickets, where he could cut the ball. ‘One day, I shone one side of a very old ball and it swung. It was rough on both sides, but I shone one side and it swung towards the shine. It should not have done this.’ In that Eureka moment, reverse swing was born.”
Imran Khan perfected the art before passing on the skill to Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. The duo, in turn, became two of the early greats to master the skill.
A team of scientists from Imperial College, London decided in 1982 in a paper titled ‘An experimental study of cricket ball swing’ that optimum swing was achieved at around 60 mph with the seam at 20 degrees from the line of flight.
And it all seemed to make perfect logical sense until the English summer of 1992, when Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis managed to achieve late swing at 80 mph despite ignoring three basic principles that had been mentioned in the 1982 study.
In the 1992 series against England, Akram and Younis bowled 334.5 overs for 1,019 runs and took 43 of the 71 wickets to fall. They took a wicket every 46.72 balls. These were stunning numbers that were highlighted perhaps by Miandad’s refusal to take the second new ball.
England often reach 100 relatively easily but then succumbed once the ball started to reverse. Akram could seemingly do it all – with new ball and old but it was Younis who seemed to make the most of the reverse swing with his pace and accuracy. His slingy action allowed him to get close to the stumps and still impart a certain shape to the ball.
Jack Bannister wrote for Wisden Almanack in a feature titled Pakistani bowling - fair or foul?:
- “Particularly in the case of Waqar, the ball is not held loosely by the first two fingers and a thumb, but often wedged firmly into the palm of the hand, baseball pitchers’ fashion. The loose grip has always been thought to give a bowler the best chance of keeping the ball in its own vertical axis. Richard Hadlee, with a classic upright hand action, could hit the seam more often and had the chance to swing the ball, whereas Greg Thomas, for instance, who had a tight grip, often found the ball rotating through the air laterally, which reduced the chance of getting the movement he wanted.”
Simply put, the ball just came out differently with Waqar Younis.
Former Australian keeper Ian Healy described just what Younis did to the Sydney Morning Herald:
“Waqar Younis had the big inswinger which you really had to guard your pad and stumps for. And then not necessarily an away swinger to a right-hander but one that he used to hang out wide and you really had to decide as late as you could, ‘Is this the one that could hurtle back at me or is it something I can play a shot at?’ That split second is what can get you out, and Waqar did that pretty regularly.”
Injuries came into the pictures and robbed Younis of pace after 1995 but his career still produced some pretty startling numbers.
Waqar Younis - career numbers
But to truly appreciate just how deadly a Younis yorker was, one just needs to watch them. Over and over again, he would get it right and send either the batsmen or the stumps for a walk.
Here’s a (pretty detailed) look at the Waqar Younis yorker: