Memorable innings

A book on the history of cricket in Pakistan, well researched with attention to detail but often given to hyperbole and gushing admiration.

Published : Sep 17, 2014 12:30 IST

W OUNDED Tiger by Peter Oborne is a history of cricket in Pakistan. It is a book written with scrupulous attention to detail but is often surprisingly “un-British” in its gushing admiration for Pakistani cricketers and certain aspects of the country’s cricket. Oborne is the chief political commentator of The Daily Telegraph , a leading English daily. How he came to write this meticulously researched work on cricket is anyone’s guess; it is not his area of expertise, though he did write Basil D’Oliveira, Cricket and Conspiracy: The Untold Story (on that fine and exceptionally brave black South African cricketer, Basil D’Oliveira, who migrated to England, made his Test debut at 37 for his adopted country and played in 40 matches as an eminently successful all-rounder). The book on D’Oliveira was more of a political exercise, but this one, while being aware of Pakistan’s volatile socio-political environment, is firmly fixed on its cricketing history.

Pakistan was carved out of the Indian subcontinent in the aftermath of the bloodiest partition in human history in 1947, when the British left India after having ruled the country for 190 years. Mian Mohammad Saeed, a hard-hitting batsman who had played before Partition for the Maharaja of Patiala’s team, then in his early forties, found himself as the first captain of the Pakistan cricket team. He led the team in the unofficial Test played at Lahore against the visiting West Indies team, captained by John Goddard, which was on its way to India. Saeed soon found himself ousted by Abdul Hafeez Kardar, a former Indian Test player who had toured England in 1946 under Nawab Iftikhar Ali Pataudi and who came into the limelight as a reliable slow orthodox left-arm spinner and a fighting middle-order batsman. He was an Oxford Blue and had played for Warwickshire. He was a sophisticated man and, in later years, came to be accepted as a devoted servant of Pakistan cricket even by his detractors.

Kardar led the Pakistan team to India in 1951-52, and lost a five-Test series by a 2-1 margin. The brilliant fast-medium swing bowler Fazal Mahmood, son-in-law of Mian Mohammad Saeed, bowled Pakistan to victory against impossible odds in the Lucknow Test. He recalled in his memoirs, written in Urdu, years later: “When I went in to bowl, it felt extremely difficult, as there was jute matting on the wicket instead of coir matting. I had no prior experience of playing on such a wicket and I had no inkling of the difference between the two” (page 83, my translation from the Urdu original). But being uniquely gifted, Fazal Mahmood quickly figured out how to bowl on that surface. An incident not mentioned in the book was narrated to me by a senior friend of mine, the late Sudhir Pant, who was present when Fazal left the ground singing “Dil Mein Chhupa Ke Pyaar Ka Toofan Le Chale”, from the super hit Hindi film Aan , after winning the match off his own bowling for Pakistan.

Fazal Mahmood became the first legend of Pakistan cricket and Hanif Mohammad, the second, but, of that, later. In 1953, Fazal toured England with the Pakistan Eaglets. On that three-month tour, he prudently sought guidance from Alf Gover, former England fast bowler and an astute coach, who said: “He [Fazal] had an unorthodox action: when his bowling arm was about to begin its upward swing from behind he would check and do a twirl of his hand and wrist and then go on with the upward swing, ready to deliver the ball. Any alterations to his action would have ruined him, so I decided to improve his repertoire by teaching him away-swing.”

In Pakistan’s inaugural tour of England in 1954, in the fourth Test at The Oval, Fazal Mahmood created history against an unbeatable English side led by Len Hutton, one of the most reliable opening batsmen in the history of cricket. Fazal took 12 wickets for 99 runs, and bowled Pakistan to a sensational 24-run victory. Mahmood Hussain, bowling fast-medium, lent invaluable support by taking four wickets in the first innings. Yawar Saeed, a promising fast bowler and Mian Saeed’s son, was kept out of the team by Kardar, who, ironically, was dependent on Fazal’s bowling skills, and he happened to be Saeed’s son-in-law.

Rise of new players

When Pakistan toured the West Indies in 1958, two of the legendary three “W”s were in the West Indies team, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott; the third, Frank Worrell, was away in Manchester, England, studying for his master’s in economics. This series saw the rise of three outstanding players, Garfield Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and O.G. (Collie) Smith, not to forget Roy Gilchrist, the fastest and most-feared fast bowler in the world. Given the quality of the opposition, Pakistan performed very well indeed. They drew the first Test in Bridgetown, Barbados, thanks to a miraculous performance with the bat by Hanif Mohammad. Pakistan lost the next three Tests and won the fifth and final one.

Coming back to Hanif Mohammad, he batted like all his colleagues from the cricket fraternity did, without a helmet, chest and back guards and a forearm protector. These aids came only after Kerry Packer, the Australian business tycoon, brought large sums of money into the game when he staged his own World Series in defiance of the Australian Cricket Board, which did not give his TV network exclusive telecast rights for a Test series at home. The year was 1977, and the lives of cricketers suddenly became worth protecting. It was the case of the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg.

In the second innings of the first Test at the Kensington Oval in Barbados, Pakistan faced certain defeat. There was no hope in sight.

Hanif, who stood five feet three inches in his socks, facing Roy Gilchrist at his nastiest on one of the quickest and most bouncy pitches in the world, scored 337 runs before he got out, caught behind trying to glide a Denis Atkinson delivery past the slips. He was so tired that he could fall asleep on his feet. Not until 2002 did another Pakistan cricketer make a triple century in Test cricket. Inzamam-ul-Haq, a great batsman, made 329 against a passable New Zealand bowling attack —only left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori posed a few problems—on a docile pitch in Lahore. Without taking anything away from Inzamam’s achievement, it can be said that Hanif Mohammad got his runs under far more difficult circumstances and against much stronger bowling.

Cricket in Pakistan has always been faction-ridden, even more so than in India. Abdul Hafeez Kardar, the sophisticate, snatching the captaincy away from the “rooted” Mian Mohammad Saeed was never forgiven by the deposed man’s son-in-law, Fazal Mahmood. It did not matter that Saeed was in his early forties, after the formation of Pakistan. Fazal, through the sheer merit of performance, got rid of Kardar. “In the final Test, Fazal produced his old magic to bowl the West Indies out cheaply, and Pakistan won by an innings and one run. When Kardar announced his retirement, Fazal Mahmood was his natural successor” (page 155).

The story, however, does not end here. Just before the 1960-61 Test tour of India, Kardar appeared in a trial match, in Lahore, against his better judgment. He had just returned from England after an exhausting flight delayed by seven hours. He captained one team, and Fazal the other. “Kardar’s play seemed listless: a great player fighting a cruel battle against time, exhaustion, and a chronic lack of match practice. ... Fazal showed no mercy. He at once brought on Mohammad Farooq from the Gymkhana Club end. Farooq was a promising youngster and arguably Pakistan’s best pace bowler of the time, but at his peak Kardar would have handled him with relative ease. Now he struggled to see the ball. He slashed one boundary between the slips to the third man boundary. Then he lunged forward and missed hopelessly, to see his stumps shattered. His innings had lasted 13 minutes. Spectators recall that Kardar walked back from the middle slowly, head bowed and crestfallen, and made no eye contact with anyone. He knew his days of big-time cricket were over” (page 166).

Two heroes

The first phase of Pakistan cricket produced two heroes, Fazal Mahmood and Hanif Mohammad. There were others who followed in the next 54 years. The names of Mushtaq Mohammad, Asif Iqbal, Majid Khan, Wasim Raja, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Mohammad Yousuf (Yousuf Youhana), Inzamam-ul-Haq and Younis Khan come readily to mind as ones who have batted with great distinction often under trying conditions for their country. Among the fast bowlers, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis are certainly amongst the greats, as is the fast-medium Sarfraz Nawaz.

The leg-spinner Abdul Qadir is far and away the finest that Pakistan has produced; after him would be Mushtaq Ahmed, and, of course, Intikhab Alam, who made his debut against India in the 1960-61 Test series. In the off-spin department, Saqlain Mushtaq has been an exceptional performer, though Tauseef Ahmed, his senior by many years, was very good too. Iqbal Qasim, the orthodox slow left-arm spinner, was a bowler of high quality, as was Pervez Sajjad.

Wasim Bari, who kept wicket to Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Abdul Qadir and others, was a truly world-class wicketkeeper but an indifferent batsman, except on a couple of occasions. His senior and role model Imtiaz Ahmed was a good wicketkeeper and, when in the mood, a terrific stroke player.

Pakistan has been riddled with political problems ever since the assassination of Liaqat Ali Khan, the first elected Prime Minister, in 1956. General Ayub Khan took over as military dictator in 1958, and since then the Pakistan Army has run the country, mostly overtly and sometimes covertly. Civilian politicians like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto were killed off by the Army. Nawaz Sharif, once a toppled Prime Minister, has now come back and is being given a pretty thin time by Imran Khan, the cricket great who now sees himself as the saviour of Pakistan. The political party that he founded, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, promises to bring social justice to the masses. There is also the growing threat from the medieval-minded Taliban that feels that only Islam in its most conservative form can ensure social, political and economic justice.

Islam and cricket

Islam has been both an inspiration and a consolation for Pakistani cricketers for over six decades. Fazal Mahmood, always a strong believer, became almost a theologian in his old age; his teammate Saeed Ahmed became a lay preacher; Saeed Anwar, a scintillating batsman, on losing his infant daughter, turned to religion to assuage his grief. Inzamam-ul-Haq has also become deeply religious. Saqlain Mushtaq migrated to England with his flowing beard intact and even tried to qualify for an England cap. Mushtaq Ahmed, as well-bearded as Saqlain, is now a bowling coach of the English team.

Given the volatile political and economic conditions in Pakistan, cricket is like a promise of salvation, bringing large sums of money and the tempting possibility of settling down in England after playing for a county for a number of years. Many Pakistani cricketers have, after all, played first-class cricket in England in the last six and a half decades, beginning with Abdul Hafeez Kardar.

The egalitarian aspect of Islam includes the dignity of honest labour. Long before gyms, physios and sports psychology became fashionable, Pakistani cricketers were training hard to withstand the rigours of a five-day Test match. Running long distances, skipping rope and stretching exercises were integral to their fitness programme. Perhaps for this reason, Pakistan continues to produce a number of fine, physically fit bowlers capable of bowling out the strongest opposition twice in a Test match.

Peter Oborne’s book is meticulously researched and deserves to be widely read by those interested in the history of cricket in general and Pakistan cricket in particular. There is, however, a small caveat: Oborne is often given to hyperbole, a trait not associated with English writers.

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