Islamabad : Like life itself, and like most things in life, sports is also susceptible to evolution. In fact, it’s not uncommon in most sports for technical and stylistical developments to reach such a point that it renders one era almost unrecognisable from the other.
In the world’s biggest and perhaps the greatest sport – football – the evolution has seen full-blooded defending featuring flying tackles and generally rough tactics replaced by slick play and an increased emphasis on offense.
In basketball, the evolution is even clearer, with the quicker, pass-heavy style of play now reigning supreme as opposed to the conventional isolation schemes of the 90s.
Cricket, too, has undergone a transformation in the last 10 years, with much of its modern face attributed to the advent and subsequent popularity of T20 cricket.
It’s been well documented how the batsmen of the 2000s score runs at a frenzied pace and hit sixes more frequently than their predecessors ever did — or could.
But while that evolution on part of the batters has been highlighted time and again, very few have noted the changes on the other end.
The increased urgency to score in the batsmen has forced remarkable changes in bowlers as well. The 20th century needed its fast bowlers to live up to their names and be towering speedsters with matching attitude.
To be a frontline fast bowler then, the primary prerequisite used to be height — the longer the better. The West Indian pacers of the 70s, the Thompson-Lille duo out of Australia or the two Pakistan W’s of the 90s — all had all or either of height, pace or aggression in abundance.
That is no more the case in modern cricket. Bowlers these days aren’t man-mountains or 100 mile pace merchants. Instead, the bowlers today are more cerebral and reliant on how they control their delivery rather than how fast they can hurl the ball.
Mohammad Abbas — the rising star of Pakistan cricket in the five-day format — represents this shift in fast bowlers’ evolution like few others have.
The Sialkot-born does not have any notable physical gifts and he can barely hit 80 mph. He also appears to have a very calm demeanor and has not been tainted by the fame and glam that comes with stardom — at least not yet.
Such an unassuming personality he has that until 2016 very few even knew of him. For a talent this ready to go unnoticed until the age of 26 reiterates things about the system but also tells about his own way of being.
When back-to-back chart-topping performances in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy did get him noticed and earned him a maiden call to the Test side, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Few newbies have burst on the international scene like Abbas has.
Had Abbas been born 20 years earlier, he would have never made it to the national team, for which the criteria was for bowlers to bowl fast and have imposing, hostile personalities. But the fast bowler of 2018 is a much more cerebral animal – a role for which Abbas is perfect.
He bowls with dead accuracy, hits just the right areas long enough for the ball to extract any movement out of the pitch and do the damage.
A common theme across the globe has been to make sports more inclusive. The emergence of Abbas, Hasan Ali and other non-imposing pacers is perhaps cricket’s contribution in this regard.