Tony Lock was a fine left-arm spinner for England from 1952 to 1968. In his career he took 174 Test wickets. But what is he arguably most famous for…? Remember Jim Laker’s 19 wickets in the Test match against Australia at Old Trafford in 1956? Well, Lock was the bowler who took the 20th wicket.
Today still, Laker’s performance is astonishing. Even if it was achieved on a pitch, as Wisden described it, “heavily marled and almost devoid of grass”, he must have bowled exceptionally well. In the history of cricket no other bowler has taken more than seventeen wickets in a first-class match, let alone in a Test match. It is a unique feat that, like Sir Donald Bradman’s Test batting average of 99.94, might never be surpassed.
In the Australian second innings, Laker became the first bowler to take all ten wickets in a Test innings. (Fun fact: Did you know that Laker also took all ten Australian wickets in a game for Surrey earlier on the same tour?) In the history of Test cricket only the India legspinner Anil Kumble also took all ten wickets in an innings. It is a feat known to have occurred on only 88 occasions in the history of first-class cricket worldwide – an absolutely miniscule percentage. I would hazard a guess that at all levels of cricket in South Africa (from primary school to Test) it is something that probably happens once every five years.
Against this backdrop, the story of Shaker Ullah Wasiq is special and heart-warming. Shak (as his teammates at Gidea Park & Romford, a club in Essex, call him) arrived in England nine months ago with his mother and brother, joining their father who had preceded them. They are from Kunar, a province north-west of Kabul in Afghanistan. In an interview with Wisden Shak said there was “no peace, no justice, just poverty” in Kunar, but “cricket was everything”.
Bowling the second over in his third game for the club’s second XI against Goresbrook, Shak clean bowled his first seven victims. The next two were caught. By this point Shak had bowled six of his allocated eight overs and was knackered. His seventh over was forgettable. Fortunately, the old hands in his team could sense history was in the making. One of them then bowled a bland maiden over, setting up Shak with six balls to make his name.
The third ball of his final over was a perfect yorker, hitting the batsman on his bootstraps. Plumb LBW! Jubilation on the field! The opposition applauded Shak to a man. In the changeroom the skipper tried to put things in perspective, telling Shak and his teammates to savour the moment: “Most of us will never see it again.” Shak, though, only had one thing on his mind: “In the future I would like to play for England cricket team.”
Stories like Jim Laker’s and Shak’s are what makes cricket great and endearing. They will be remembered long after the likes of Welsh Gwaza and Eugenia Kula-Ameyaw have been forgotten.