ADELAIDE - It is 11am the morning after Pakistan's elimination, and Wahab Riaz is watching his spell to Shane Watson on television in his room at the Intercontinental Hotel. Was that really him? Bleary-eyed and unfailingly courteous, this Wahab seems totally at odds with the warlike Wahab who charged through David Warner, Michael Clarke and so nearly Watson.
Barring three things, last night could have been a dream and the fast bowler could be any man. They are Wahab's phone, buzzing incessantly, the television, confirming it all happened, and his eyes, which are still a little red. In the minutes after Australia completed Pakistan's elimination, Wahab shed tears of pain and the traces of hurt are still there. "I'm not feeling good," he says softly. "We lost the game, so it's heartbreaking."
But once the pain of defeat subsides, the memories of Wahab's bowling will remain. Not only was it a performance that instantly made him one of the game's most distinctive figures, it was a suggestion he has it in him to be a worthy successor to Pakistan's rich pace bowling lineage. As a six-year-old, Wahab watched Wasim Akram at the 1992 World Cup and decided that he would be a left-arm fast bowler. As a man, he is watching himself put on a show very nearly as memorable as Wasim's 23 years before.
"We have a lot of legends," Wahab says. "Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, these guys were the greats. Shoaib Akhtar was one of the best bowlers as well in the world. The guy who really inspired me was Wasim Akram. I was a very young boy when I watched the 1992 World Cup, and when I saw him bowling I loved to copy because I was left-handed too. I want to be someone like Wasim Akram in my life and he really inspired me."
"Starc said something to me, he was bowling well and it was difficult for me to play him," Wahab says. "But in the end he exchanged a few words and I got really angry. I tried to answer him back, and then Shane Watson said to me 'you don't have the bat in your hand'. They were trying to put pressure on me by their words, but once Watson said that, I said 'it's time to pay back now'. When I am bowling I will try to bowl something which really frustrates them and puts them under pressure."
So it was that Wahab walked out to bowl, in his customary first change position, with the full backing of his team. They had faced him at home and in the nets. They knew how quick he could be. Warner found that out in Wahab's first over, unable to ride the bounce of a short ball that flew into the hands of Rahat Ali at third man. In his second, a flinching Clarke deflected to short leg. Watson walked to the crease expecting pressure, but nothing quite like the assault that transpired.
Wahab had been waiting for this all innings. "What he [Watson] said was in my mind and when he came to bat I was just thinking I'm going to give him something really special and then I went up to him saying that 'I think you forgot your bat back in the dressing room too'."
In the following overs, Watson used his bat as much for self-preservation as attack, and when he did uncoil a pull shot it was a hurried top edge that swirled towards fine leg. So cool when he had pouched Warner, Rahat's hands suddenly became glaringly and damagingly porous. As the chance went down and the crowd gasped, Wahab spun around in the most intense burst of anger. Instinctively, it felt like the exhilaration he had generated would be remembered without the accompanying ecstasy of victory.
"It was just the heat of the moment," he says of that painful instant. "I was working hard. No-one drops catches on purpose, but that was a crucial time because they might be 80 for 4 and then Glenn Maxwell coming in under pressure… You don't know, we might have won. But regardless he tried his level best and it's all right." Watson, previously implacable in the face of Wahab's histrionics, found his voice again when he found the strokes to back it up. It seems ludicrous to think the Cup's most memorable confrontation would result in a fine for the two combatants. "He was just looking at me, he didn't answer me at all," Wahab says of Watson's initial reaction. "In the last over, when he hit me for a four and a six, then he said something. I told him 'it's too late, buddy'." Too late indeed. Too late to change the fact that the earlier spell will not be forgotten, and too late to stop Wahab from making an indelible mark on this tournament and the game.
Wahab's best had not always been quite so eye-catching. The son of one of Lahore's wealthier families, his early efforts as a fast bowler were anything but. Where the likes of Waqar, Aqib Javed and M Amir excelled even as teenagers, Wahab was initially the very model of the modest medium-pacer. He can remember being logged as bowling around 110kph as a 17-year-old. Pace came gradually, as it did for Ryan Harris.
"When I started I was really, really a medium-pace bowler, very slow," Wahab says. "But Aqib Javed worked on me. He always said if you don't bowl fast, you can't be a fast bowler. So he really pushed me, made me work hard for six, seven years and then I started to bowl fast. You start enjoying it when you bowl fast, and suddenly when I was bowling fast, I always tried to bowl fast.”"I didn't know where I was bowling, but I just tried to bowl fast. That's how I developed my pace. I might have been like 110-112kph when I started my career in Under-17 and Under-19. Aqib knew what I was and he had a big role to play in my career; to make me play for Pakistan because he worked a lot on me. At times he took his hand off and said 'I cannot work with you', but he never gave up on me."