Pakistan fast bowler Wahab Riaz has announced his retirement from international cricket, officially ending a 15-year career for his country. In reality, the announcement is a formality, as Wahab has not played an international match for Pakistan in over two years, last appearing in a couple of white-ball games at the end of 2020.
As is the norm now, he will continue playing franchise cricket.
“I have been speaking about my retirement plans past two years, that 2023 is my target to retire from International cricket, and I feel comfortable now more than ever that I have served my country and National team to the best I could have,” Wahab said in a press statement. “It has been an honor and a privilege to represent Pakistan on the international stage. As I bid farewell to this chapter, I am thrilled to embark on a new adventure in franchise cricket, where I hope to entertain and inspire audiences while competing against some of the best talents in the world.”
Wahab’s career has taken an unexpected turn of late, after he was named the caretaker sports minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province in January this year.
The announcement brought to an end a prominent career that never quite hit the sustained heights that had been expected of it at various times. Those expectations were high after a Test debut in 2010 in which he played a starring role in Pakistan’s four-wicket triumph at The Oval against England, on an otherwise ill-fated tour. Wahab’s pace, bounce and angle away produced a five-wicket turn in his first innings, including the dismissals of a formidable England top order of Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen.
Such was the tumult of that tour that less than a month later, he was being questioned by Scotland Yard around the spot-fixing allegations that saw three of his team-mates receive long bans and serve time in prison. Wahab was never accused of any wrongdoing, or charged with any indiscretion, however.
There would be other highs in that period, notably a five-wicket haul – this time in a losing cause – against India in Mohali, in the 2011 World Cup semi-final. By that time, his effectiveness in white-ball cricket was overtaking his red-ball skills, especially in a Test side led by Misbah-ul-Haq that prized spin and control more than Wahab’s fiery but often erratic bursts. His bad days could be really bad: he conceded 50 off just four overs in an Asia Cup ODI against India in 2012 and was dropped from the side, and when he returned, a year later against South Africa, he had figures of 10-0-93-2.
He returned to the Test side in 2014, brought back by then coach Waqar Younis, who wanted an X-factor in his attack. Mitchell Johnson had run through England in the Ashes the preceding winter and in Wahab’s slingy left-arm action and extreme pace, Waqar saw a weapon. It worked for a while, too. He was immense in Colombo, taking six wickets on a slow, low pitch and generating good heat, especially with his bouncers.
That was the start of his most productive and consistent time with the national side, though it is perhaps appropriate that his best-remembered spell was one that ended in a defeat to Australia in the 2015 ODI World Cup in Adelaide. That was his electric duel with Shane Watson, in which he did everything to Watson except take his wicket – though even that could have happened had Rahat Ali not dropped a sitter at deep square-leg.
Later that year, however, Wahab played a key part in a Test win against England in Dubai, a searing spell of reverse swing in extreme heat turning the game Pakistan’s way. England were useful opponents – another Wahab intervention at The Oval in 2016 helped secure Pakistan a famous series-levelling win that took them to the top of the Test rankings. It was a typical Wahab spell that turned the game: pace, issues with no-balls, but two moments in two balls of genuine quality, the first an athletic run-out off his own bowling of Chris Woakes and then, next ball, sending back Jonny Bairstow. Not long after, he was out of the attack by the umpires, having followed-through on to the pitch once too often.
His international career continued for another couple of years and with some highlights: a second Test five-for in Sharjah, a four-wicket haul in Brisbane (in an otherwise disastrous series for Pakistan’s bowlers, he stood out in Australia) and another short, sharp burst against Sri Lanka in Dubai in what was, eventually, his penultimate Test. He took four wickets in nine overs to help skittle Sri Lanka for 96 and bring Pakistan back into the game, but an equal highlight from the Test was him losing his run-up entirely and aborting his approach five consecutive times in one over in the first innings.
He has since forged a solid T20 career, most notably with Peshawar Zalmi in the PSL. He ended with 27 Tests, 91 ODIs and 36 T20Is for Pakistan, taking 83 Test wickets at an average of 34.50, 120 in ODIs at 34.30 and 34 T20I wickets at 28.55, numbers which do not capture the impact he was often capable of making.