NOTTINGHAM: Dale Steyn might be busy going the extra yard at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, but his presence was felt almost 170 miles away in Nottingham. A day before England and Pakistan were to battle it out at the Trent Bridge, it was believed, albeit for a brief while, that Steyn was at the venue, in the middle of something supremely bizarre. He was offering throw-downs to Pakistan’s batsmen in the nets, up and running for their practice against the short ball.
Clearly, it wasn’t Steyn. It couldn’t have been. He hasn’t featured in South Africa’s either game and remains in doubt for the India encounter. This is someone with an action identical to that of the South Africa great. Carefully examine him walking back to his mark as he starts his run-up – a black Steyn-like wrist band placed between his left elbow and fist. The build is indistinguishable. Watch him run in to the batsman and release the ball with the same smoothness, swiftness and accuracy as Steyn.
You’d never believe it wasn’t the great man himself. Neither did the media, until it was informed that the bowler in focus is Yasir Jan, one of the nets bowlers who bowls to players regularly at Trent Bridge. Yasir is a 23-year-old bowler from Pakistan who made headlines due to a unique skillset. Yasir can bowl with both arms, capable of generating serious pace with either, and was unearthed by the Lahore Qalandars, the Pakistan Premiere League franchise. He can clock around 145kmph with his right arm, and no less than 135kmph with his left.
But as unique a talent it is to be able to operate with both arms, Yasir’s bowling action, an exact replica of the great Steyn’s is equally distinctive.
“I’ve really worked hard on this; he’s my idol,” Yasir tells CricketCountry. “I have been following him for the last six-seven years, ever since I started taking cricket seriously. The Lahore Qalandars sent me to England in 2017 and I have undergone training at Lord’s. Post that, Derbyshire invited me to their club to play for them. My coach asked me to come to Trent Bridge and bowl to the Pakistan batsmen so I am here.”
Besides their bowling action, Steyn and Yasir share another thing in common. Both are currently injured. While Steyn continues to nurse his shoulder, Yasir was out for a month due to a lower back niggle. On Pakistan’s request, Yasir opted to bowl with his left arm but that’s where the problem still persists. Once he recovers completely though, Yasir plans on impressing Steyn.
“I haven’t met him yet. I’ve had a life-long dream to meet him and get his opinion on what he thinks of my action. He is injured currently, but the World Cup is a long tournament. Hopefully, I will meet him by the end of it. I want to bowl to him once, so that he knows what it’s like to face the best bowler in the world, at least in terms of action,” Yasir says.
Imitating Steyn frame-by-frame has landed Yasir in hot water but doesn’t mind. In fact, his action has managed to fetch him followers from India and it fills his heart with immense joy.
“A few of my videos are on YouTube, where I have been shot from the back. That particular video has received the maximum numbers of comments from India, praising me for pulling off Steyn’s action so remarkably. It wasn’t until I saw these comments that I knew how close I look like him when bowling,” he says.
Yasir reveals he is a fan of the Pakistan’s current fast bowling stock. Hasan Ali, Mohammad Hasnain and Wahab Riaz impress him. He says he’s learnt a lot from them, while sheepishly admitting he also follows the Indian fast bowling contingent keenly.
“From India, I like Umesh Yadav. His action is extremely smooth. Jasprit Bumrah not so much; I don’t like his action and his run up is also short. I like bowlers with long run-ups; it’s the beauty of fast bowlers. Shoaib Akhtar, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee,” he says.
He grew up playing in the Under-16 and Under-19 tournaments in Rawalpindi, where for the first five years, Yasir aped all-time great.
“I began bowling with Brett Lee’s action; everyone liked it too,” he says. “That’s because I never had my own natural action. But with that action, I was not able to generate much pace. So I dropped it and took up Steyn’s action. He was at his peak back then; I’m talking about 2009-10. His wrists are amazing, unmatched. More than his action, I liked everything he did – his run-up his aggression. But it wasn’t easy. It’s taken me 3-4 years to generate speed with this action, and just now Mickey Arthur, Pakistan’s coach also complemented me for it.
Bowlers having to alter actions is not a new practice. Some have done it to rectify technical flaws, others to justify their action. Though rest assured, they don’t like to do so. Yasir meanwhile, admits impersonating actions of different legendary bowlers is something he’s always thoroughly enjoyed.
“I like copying fast bowlers’ actions. Wasim Akram‘s quick-arm, Vicky bhai Waqar Younis‘ side arm; I do it all. Now I don’t do it often though because I have a set action, but back in the day, I would surprise the batsmen by changing my action in the middle of the over; bowl three-four different actions in one over.”
Of the four matches Trent Bridge is hosting, the final one pits India and New Zealand, and Yasir says he cannot wait bowl to the Indian team, especially to captain Virat Kohli and former skipper MS Dhoni.
“India is playing on the 13th. I’ll be back here a day before,” Yasir says. “If the opportunity presents, I would want to bowl to Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni. They’re both such legends of the game. Even if I can beat them once, I’d go to sleep a content man that night.”