Wahab Riaz: A profile

Wahab Riaz plays his first match of the World Cup.

His first-ball dismissal of Yuvraj Singh at Mohali will forever shine in the memories of millions of Pakistani fans who sat on the edge of their seats throughout that tantalising semi-final in the World Cup 2011.

With their team putting up a lacklustre show in the most awaited clash of the mega event, there was not much to cheer about for the Pakistanis that day but for young Wahab Riaz`s heroics as he ripped through the strongest batting line-ups in the game with a five-wicket haul that included the prized scalps of Sehwag, Yuvraj and Kohli.

The tall, well-built pacer from Lahore clearly came of age that sultry afternoon in Mohali. He literally made the ball dance about in front of a packed yet partisan crowd in a tension-filled game that spoke volumes of his mental strength.

“I had prepared a strategy for Yuvraj which worked well that day, thank god for that,” says Wahab while recalling the World Cup semi-final. “He had been playing very well in previous games but I noticed that a yorker length ball was his weakness. So I decided to bowl him one first up and the result was fantastic.”

To begin with, Wahab was under lot of pressure to perform in the semi-final as the critics as well as thousands of charged up fans had scoffed his inclusion over veteran Shoaib Akhtar to play the big game. They were favouring Shoaib to bamboozle the Indians with a match-winning show in what was to be his last international game for Pakistan.

Captain Shahid Afridi, however, made the unpopular decision of retaining Wahab from the previous game against the West Indies. And just how well the youngster vindicated his skipper`s faith in him is now history.

When reminded of the selection drama, Wahab said he got relaxed after Shoaib`s magnanimous gesture in the nets prior to the semi-final. “Shoaib Akhtar came up to me during the pre-match nets session and said `It`s not about you and me, it`s about Pakistan! Do your best!` What a fine gesture on his part,” narrated Wahab.

The equation in the semi-final was uncannily similar for Wahab to his debut at The Oval last year. Then, he had come in for the injured Umar Gul with everyone expecting him to pull off something out of the ordinary against a rampaging England side that had dominated the four-Test series.

Unfazed by the odds, Wahab began the day by running through the England top order, claiming Andrew Strauss (15) as his first Test victim and following that with the wickets of Jonathan Trott (12), Kevin Pietersen (six) and Eoin Morgan (17) before breaking the partnership between Prior and Broad (48) to bring to an end a frustrating couple of hours for Pakistan.

The left-arm paceman finally finished with impressive first innings figures of 5-63. Both at The Oval and in Mohali Wahab had proved himself to be a worthy replacement of his senior, more seasoned campaigners — Gul and Shoaib.

But it is not as if Wahab got his success on a platter. The 25-year-old had to wait a long time for making his mark. He had been around for a long time in domestic cricket besides doing a few Pakistan `A` tours before making the national side and going through the grind has clearly done him a world of good.

Wahab took to the game when he started playing with his cousins at his home every Friday. Later at the Aitchison College, he enrolled as a wicket-keeper-cum-opening batsman. But it was his fast bowling that nudged the selectors Wahab was soon playing under-17 cricket for his country. He improved with each passing year and in 2004, was part of the Pakistan squad that won the U-19 World Cup.

In the 2007-8 domestic season, he emerged as the second highest wicket taker which led to his selection for the ODI series against Zimbabwe in Feb 2008. He finally made his international debut in the 5th ODI and did well by capturing 2-19 in his eight overs.

The Bangladesh tri-series was Wahab`s next international assignment in June 2008 but he failed to find his rhythm in the game against India (86 runs in 9.2 overs) and got axed for the rest of the matches.

He returned to the national team for the Asia Cup in 2008 but the year was not exactly a bright one for Wahab and he could not make an impression in the Cup and was subsequently dropped.

The young bowler, undeterred by the setbacks, continued to work hard in the first-class contests. He worked on his pace and action to return strongly with an emphatic display against Australia `A`, taking the highest number of wickets (19) while representing Pakistan `A`.

In the `A` series that followed against Sri Lanka, Wahab was again the top wicket-taker with as many as 20 wickets. In 2010, he took seven wickets against England Lions and, from then on, there was no looking back for him.

Today, Wahab is one of Pakistan`s brightest prospects for the future.