If one were to create a list of the most exciting individuals in an undoubtedly talented Pakistan side, chances are high that the name of Imad Wasim would miss it. For Imad holds almost an invisible presence in what is essentially an in-your-face side that could try but not avoid the spotlight.
Through thick and thin, Pakistan is always the talking point. Which, by nature, makes Imad a very unPakistani character of the lot.
At least from the outside, and across the border, you get this ‘feel’ about him that he is not as valued as he should be. That he is a hero without fanfare. That darkhorse that we love to explore and highlight the narrative around.
Still, as an Indian, we might never be able to understand what Imad Wasim truly means for Pakistan fans. What the narrative around him tends to be. But this is him now over 53 innings worth of T20I bowling for Pakistan: 52 wickets; average of 23.30; economy rate of 6.37.
Only eight men in Pakistan’s history have taken more T20I wickets and none of them has been as economical as him. In matches that Imad has played, no one with a minimum of 30 overs worth of bowling, has been as economical as the Wales-born left-arm spinner.
That in itself is incredible but then what makes it remarkable is the fact that Imad has cultivated and maintained this record despite bowling an astonishing number of his overs inside the powerplay.
A whopping 47.3% of all of Imad Wasim’s deliveries in T20Is for Pakistan have been inside the powerplay. At a sample size of 44 innings, Imad has bowled 2.04 overs per innings inside the powerplay. Over one-third of the first six overs. Yet, his economy rate in those innings is only 6.58.
At a minimum of 20 innings, Imad’s economy rate of 6.58 is the fourth-best among spinners inside the powerplay in the history of T20I cricket. Only Saeed Ajmal (4.92), Mohammad Hafeez (5.72) and Samuel Badree (6.29) are ahead of him.
The field restriction phase is Imad’s domain, his zone of expertise where he comes in, delivers two tight overs, and quietly leaves the stage and grins as he sees how his unadventurous but effectual bowling has touched and shaped the rest of the game.
Pakistan’s dependable four-over bank: Imad Wasim
Imad Wasim is unlike most other spinners, who relish getting into the game with the cushion of a spread-out field and extra fielders to protect the boundaries. He is bowling half of his spell when the batters – if not to the degree they do at the death – are pushing on the accelerator and looking to set a foundation by maximising the powerplay overs.
But he is almost taking two overs out of their hands and virtually reducing the powerplay into a four-over phase. An average Imad Wasim spell inside the powerplay goes for just a shade over 13 runs and his average four-over cost is less than 26. That’s him almost reducing it into a 16-over innings for the opposition side and forcing them to take extra risks against the rest of the attack.
In matches that Imad has bowled, with a bar of 30 overs, all other Pakistan bowlers have a better strike-rate than him. But none of them has been as economical as him. Beyond the fact multiple of them have bowled more overs at the fag end of the innings, this shows that opposition batting units have been forced to go after them a lot more and in the process, have conceded wickets.
This is an indirect influence of Imad, who may have never been a wicket-taker himself – he has taken less than a wicket per innings in his career – but by piling on the dots, tightening up the screws and taking a significant portion of the innings away from the opposition at his end, he has tilted the scales heavily in Pakistan’s favour.
Pakistan have lost only 19 and won 33 of the T20Is that Imad has played for them. They’ve had a team economy rate of 7.75 in these games. But Imad alone has been miserly by more than a run from the rest of the attack for over 50 games, which shows his quality and impact.
And that, while posing no sign of mystery or offering any vicious turn away from the right-handers. Imad simply focuses on targetting the stumps and drifting the ball inward from wide of the crease. By doing so, he makes the strokes through the off-side a risky proposition for the batters. And because there are rarely any balls down leg side or something to easily get underneath, right-handers almost approach their innings against Imad with their hands cuffed behind.
He has had a jaw-dropping economy rate of 5.89 inside the powerplay against righties. Overall, his RPO versus them stands at 5.86. Any team with right-handers starting their innings against Pakistan have their work cut out because of Imad. Against lefties, he is almost two runs more expensive but that is still an economy rate of just over 7.5 – you’ll take that any day of the week.
In the ongoing T20 World Cup, Imad has bowled spells of 0/10 and 1/24. In the first one, he ensured India had no pressure let off inside the powerplay after the wickets of Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul and in the second, he simply gave no breathing space to a vulnerable Kiwi batting line-up, playing a his role in keeping them down to 135.
All barring one of the rest of the Pakistani bowlers has had a lesser strike-rate than him but Imad has been Pakistan’s most economical bowler on show. That’s his role. And he has been playing it to perfection for the whole of his career without anyone talking about him.
In a team of Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Shaheen Afridi, Fakhar Zaman among others, it is so easy to forget Imad Wasim. But if Pakistan do go on to reclaim the world champions tag, rest assured a certain innocuous, unadventurous but mighty effective left-arm spinner would’ve had a significant part to play in it.