Catching up with Cricket Royalty

SPORTING LEGEND: JCNN reporters stopped Akram for a quick chat at the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Townsville

As the ICC Under-19 World Cup wrapped up in Townsville on August 29, JCNN grabbed fast bowler legend Wasim Akram for a chat about his career and the future of cricket.

SPORTING LEGEND: JCNN reporters stopped Akram for a quick chat at the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Townsville

By Joel Preston

Sitting in the shade beside the commentary box, a true legend of the game watched as South Africa and Australia battled it out on the pitch.

Retired Pakistani fast bowler Wasim Akram, known as the King of Swing, was one of Pakistan’s deadliest players, and he has a list of achievements longer than most. These include 17 man-of-the-match awards in 104 Test matches and 22 in one-day internationals at the height of his career.

Akram also scored four hat-tricks in international Test cricket and held the record for highest innings by a number eight batsman for his 257 not-out run against Zimbabwe. He is still regarded as one of the best fast bowlers in the world despite retiring in 2003.

Akram made the transition from playing cricket to commentating in 2009 and flew to Australia in August to attend the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Townsville.

“I work for ESPN Star Sports and our channel has the rights for all of the ICC World Cups – I am here as a commentator,” he said.

“It’s very exciting for me to see the young talent from every country.”

Akram’s post-retirement media career has allowed him to work and watch most of the world’s cricket competitions over the past three years, including last year’s ICC World Cups in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

He said compared to larger competitions later this year, the ICC Under-19 competition is relatively stress-free and enjoyable to watch.

“The T20 World Cup is coming up this September in Sri Lanka and every game will have 50,000 to 70,000 people spectating,” Akram said.

“India will play Pakistan. South Africa will play Australia and there will be a lot more noise on the ground and a lot more entertainment.

“When you’re working for a television channel, they have a pre-show, a lunch show and a post-match show so we get quite busy.

“Here (Townsville) it is quiet and that’s what I enjoy – to come and actually watch cricket.”

Akram first visited Australia in 1985 when he toured with Pakistan and has been back many times over the past 27 years.

He said Australia was “a big, beautiful country” but this was the first time he had visited Townsville.

“Townsville is quiet, the food is excellent and it’s very scenic as well,” he said.

“I climbed the mountain twice, the Castle Rock, is it?”

Akram said exercising during his days off from the World Cup was important but Castle Hill had him stumped.

“I think I left at 10 o’clock one morning and came down at about an hour-and-a-half later, so it was a tough walk,” he said.

“The first time was difficult, but the second time was much easier.”

Aside from his work commentating international cricketing events, Akram also acts as one of the coaches for Indian Premier League team Kolkata Knight Riders.

The team includes some famous international cricketers on its roster, including Australia’s Brett Lee.

Akram has been with the team for the past three years and said they are great company during the two-and-a-half months of the year he is with them.

“They are professionals, but we have a good laugh at times,” he said.

He said his heavy travel schedule commentating and coaching conflicts with his family life at times.

“It is difficult because I’m a single dad,” Akram said.

“About three years ago, my wife passed away and I have two sons.”

He may be a world-renowned fast bowler, but Akram said it’s unlikely either of his sons will follow in his footsteps.

“I think in this day and age, the youngsters have so many gadgets to play with.

“When I was young, I just had to go outside and play. But these guys have the PS3s, Xbox, BlackBerrys and iPhones so I don’t think they have an interest in cricket at all.

“They come back at four o’clock, the tutor comes and then they are on the computer Facebooking or playing World of Warcraft – I think that’s what it’s called.

“They have to do what they want to do – you can’t just push them to play any sport if they don’t want to do it.”

Akram said South Africa is looking like a strong contender as the winning team at this year’s U19 World Cup.

He said he would use his remaining days in Townsville to see as much of the locale as possible.

The ICC U19 World Cup finished on Monday with India the victors over Australia.

Confused about cricket? See our story Cricket for Dummies to find out more about this iconic Australian game.