Wasim Akram had to simultaneously fight two battles to become successful in international cricket. The first, of course, was his duels with the greatest batsmen of his time, the majority of which he won with his bewitching skills as a left-arm fast bowler.

The other battle demanded a lot of sacrifice and discipline from him. He won that one too convincingly by keeping his diabetes level in control as he delivered — with a very short run-up for a genuine fast bowler —master classes in the art of swing bowling across the world.

The only non-debatable choice apart from the incomparable Don Bradman in all Dream XIs of cricket fans and pundits, Wasim has seamlessly adapted to his role as a broadcaster since hanging up his boots.

During an interview with the City Times, the former Pakistan captain, who was recently in the UAE to commentate on the ILT20, opened up about his memories of playing cricket at the historic Sharjah Cricket Stadium, Dubai’s glorious transformation as the world’s most famous city and the importance of raising awareness about a silent killer called diabetes.

You have been on many cricket grounds as a commentator where you have done some amazing things as a player. But the Sharjah Cricket Stadium is different. This is where it all started, the whole cricket revolution in the desert. What memories does this ground bring to you?

First of all, when I enter the Sharjah Stadium, I feel a different vibe from any other cricket stadium in the world. It feels like I have arrived home. This is one of the grounds where spectators can really enjoy the cricket. On other big grounds, you can’t really see the players, they are so far away, but on this ground, it’s so close.

None of these tournaments would have happened if not for the vision of Abdul Rahman Bukhatir who built this stadium in the early 1980s and brought international cricket to the UAE…

Yes, he has done wonders for cricket in the UAE. I remember coming here for the first time in 1985 as a 17-year-old kid; there was nothing around here, from Sharjah to Dubai, there was desert on each side of the road and now look where Dubai and Sharjah have reached. All credit to Bukhatir that cricket is happening in the UAE now the way it is happening, the World Cups, IPLs, the PSLs, the ILT20s. He is the pioneer when it comes to promoting the beautiful game of cricket in this part of the world. He also took international cricket to Morocco. We played one tournament there, so his vision is incredible. Cricket in this part of the world is reaping the fruits of what he did about 40 years ago.

40 years ago, there was not much for tourists even in Dubai. Now it has probably become the most famous city in the world. Also, no other city probably brought so many tourists after the first Covid lockdown was lifted…

Yes, Dubai is THE city in the world now. Everyone loves it. No one who comes here can forget that experience. That rarely happens in other cities. I remember, in 1985 when I came here for the first time, we saw the Dubai World Trade Centre. It was the tallest building in the UAE. There was nothing else to do, so we drove from Sharjah to Dubai just to see the Trade Centre Building. Now Dubai has the tallest building in the world, and the best restaurants in the world. Also, the best thing about this place for foodies is that it has options for all people, from fine dining to affordable restaurants. You get all the best cuisines from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Philippines. Dubai is a one-stop shop.

Talking about being spoilt for choice when it comes to food, your story is truly inspiring. You fought diabetes during your career, which required a lot of sacrifice from you. You remained incredibly fit, which allowed you to perform at the highest level for such a long time. Now you are probably aware that Dubai also encourages residents to lead a healthy lifestyle through various initiatives, with the most famous being the Dubai Fitness Challenge….

Look, in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, diabetes is a kind of pandemic, it’s called the silent killer in our countries because there is no pain. And Type 2 diabetes is on the rise worldwide, especially in our part of the world, including the UAE. That’s because of the lifestyle. So I think this kind of initiative from the Dubai and the UAE government — to get people together, to raise awareness — it’s amazing. I understand that the young generation is totally into their gadgets and social media. In our time, we had to go out and play sports. Now they just play sports on the computer. So it’s truly commendable what the government is doing in the UAE because raising awareness about lifestyle diseases like diabetes is important.

Do also encourage your children to lead a healthy lifestyle, do outdoor physical activities?

Yes, my sons, one is 23 and the other is 26, do spend time playing video games, but they also go to the gym regularly. My elder one is an amateur mixed martial arts athlete. He is in the US. The younger one goes to the gym every day. It’s a habit; they do what they see their parents do. Even when I travel for commentary assignments, I wake up early, go for a walk and then start my gym session. That’s a healthy lifestyle. You have got to sleep early, and wake up early and the whole day is yours.

While you were here as a commentator for the ILT20, you also had an interactive session with fans in Dubai where you shared a lot of great stories from your playing days. How was that experience?

Look, I am not Shah Rukh Khan that there would be queues outside, you know, people wanting to see me. But whoever came, it was great fun. I got to mix up with all the people, and speak to them according to their age, according to their mindset. And I have a lot of stories, I played for 20 years and then I have been broadcasting for 20 years. You know, you lead by example. I try to have a healthy life. Anybody can learn from me and be disciplined in life. The young generation, they must do their homework, be punctual, you know, the normal stuff and that’s very rare nowadays. Punctuality is not part of our culture, unfortunately. But one day, hopefully, we will get there.

We have seen you as a commentator in the last few years. But is there a chance for fans to see you in the dugout again as a coach?

Well, I am done with coaching roles. I have done it and I don’t want to take stress again; coaching is a stressful job, especially in my country. You have to go to practice sessions; you have to do meetings. I would like to teach cricket to youngsters who come up to me for a chat, but I think broadcasting is my future now. I just want to chill, I have a nine-year-old daughter, and I want to spend time with her. I want to do the normal things, drop her at school, pick her up from school, take her for swimming and stuff like that.

Many years ago, I had an opportunity to interview Shafqat Rana (former Pakistan Test player and former selector). He told me that he was the one who picked you first for the Pakistan team in 1985. He has absolutely no doubts in his mind that you were the greatest and the most versatile fast bowler in history. He actually got offended when I said you were the Shane Warne of fast bowling. He retorted, ‘No, Shane Warne was the Wasim Akram of spin bowling’...

(Laughs) Shafqat was one of my mentors. He was the one who picked me in the team when he was the selector. He and the other selectors in that selection committee had the eye. You know, in those days it was being a selector was an honorary job . They used to watch a lot of first-class matches and sit there on the ground to see young talents. So yes, thank you very much, Mr Shafqat, I always have that sense of gratitude for you.

Final question and we have to ask you this. Do you believe that you would have been celebrated even more if you were born as a cricketer in Australia or England, the two financial powerhouses in the first 10 years of your career?

Look, I am fine, I am happy with everything that I have achieved as a cricketer for Pakistan. I am Wasim Akram because of Pakistan. And if I am born again, I would love to play for Pakistan again.

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