From the archives

Hero worship: A tribute to Pakistan's cricket captains

Updated Dec 11, 2016 01:49am


Javed Miandad | White Star
Javed Miandad | White Star

On November 8 [1997], the seemingly indomitable South Africans lifted the Golden Jubilee trophy by comfortably beating Sri Lanka at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium, the venue of the latter's most memorable triumph in cricket. Rolling the final, the Pakistan Cricket Board added to the festivities by putting up a memorable show replete with fireworks, music and all.

Present or represented were all the captains of Pakistan cricket, save one noticeable exception, and they were all given golden mementos in recognition of their services. The late Mian Mohammad Saeed, who led the country immediately after independence in unofficial Tests, and Abdul Hafeez Kardar, also deceased, were represented by grand-sons. The third absentee was Imran Khan, inarguably the most successful of all those cricketers who have had the good fortune of captaining Pakistan. Always preferring to stand alone than in a crowd, it was perhaps characteristic of Imran to abstain. But still his decision to stay away, for whatever reason, did not go too well with the public.

On the same starry but rainy night, the PCB also honoured nine cricketers with Life Achievement Awards. Eight of them, not surprisingly, were former captains while leg-spin wizard Abdul Qadir was the ninth.

The Herald profiles these nine distinct cricketers.

Abdul Hafeez Kardar at Lord's | White Star
Abdul Hafeez Kardar at Lord's | White Star

Pakistan has been led by as many as 19 Test captains, and the very first on the list is the redoubtable Abdul Hafeez Kardar. Of the remaining dozen and a half, Imran Khan is the only other former captain who was so universally and unquestionably accepted by his mates as the one and only Skipper.

This is not the only similarity between Kardar and Khan. Both were all-rounders but, more importantly, they were gifted leaders who achieved a very high degree of success. A.H. Kardar, not unlike Imran much after him, commanded such respect among his charges that each member of the side gave everything, and then some, to the cause of the team.

The newly-born nation of Pakistan craved recognition, and it was Kardar’s personality that guided the country to a string of successes, winning at least one Test match against all the established cricketing nations. This included away Test victories against India, former colonial rulers England and the West Indies. The 1954 victory at the Oval, a remarkable achievement that put the babes of cricket on the world map right off the bat, had as much to do with Kardar’s leadership as Fazal Mahmood’s superlative figures of 12 for 99. That is not to mention Kardar’s top score of 36 in a total of 133 in the first innings. This also was the first, and to date the only, instance of any country beating England in the latter’s own backyard on a debut trip.

His contributions with both bat and ball were steady without being spectacular.

With an aristocratic mien which brooked no non-sense, Kardar was an excellent strategist and valuable all-minder who, before leading Pakistan, had already earned the distinction of representing united India on the 1946 tour of England. In addition, he was an Oxford Blue and also played for Warwickshire.

Kardar is most famous for his leadership abilities, captaining Pakistan in 23 Tests on the trot during the first decade, but he was also an aggressive, quality left-handed batsman and an accurate slow left-arm bowler. His contributions with both bat and ball were steady without being spectacular. The important thing, though, was that he almost always performed with either the willow or the leather wherever the chips were down.

In the seventies, Kardar went into politics for a spell and also served as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan. In the latter capacity, he was one of the most vocal critics of the ICC s policy of ignoring the smaller cricketing nations, and ultimately played a large role in winning them their due share. It was also in Kardar’s tenure, incidentally, that Pakistan’s first managed to get its long term cricketing calendar approved by the ICC.

For one who had ruled Pakistan cricket with an iron hand, Kardar’s stint as president of the BCCP, ironically came to an end after the first real show of player-power during the 1976-77 pay dispute. He then faded 0ut of cricket, and not much later from politics, but he was never one to remain idle. He did social work and followed intellectual pursuits, and at the very fag end also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Switzerland.

Fazal Mahmood |
Fazal Mahmood |

Along with Hanif Mohammad, the tall and handsome Fazal Mahmood was Pakistan’s most outstanding cricketer of the 50s. If Hanif was sometimes the first and last line of defence against defeat, Fazal was the artillery that set up many a famous victory by destroying the opposition.

The most renowned of these wins came at the Oval in 1954, a triumph that is now a much cherished chapter of or cricketing folklore. England Fazalled out was how one English newspaper described Pakistan’s conquest the next morning, an unexpectedly ungrudging tribute from the otherwise hopelessly condescending former masters of the subcontinent in those early post-Raj years. Fazal, however, deserved his place in the sun. He was an extraordinary match winner who was acknowledged as one of the very best swing bowlers of his era, with perhaps only England's Alec Bedser a shade superior.

The Oval in 1954 may have seen Fazal Mahmood at his devastating best, but that was by no means his last great performance. Fazal had great control over his swing and he possessed an absolutely lethal leg-cutter. Although he carried the reputation of being deadly on matting, three of his four 12-wicket hauls came abroad on turf pitches. This bears ample testimony to the fact that he was an exceptional bowler regardless of the surface.

Fazal Mahmood was a much sought after commodity in India, where he was selected in the national team for the 1947-48 tour of Australia, but he rejected the offer and instead opted for Pakistan. And right until he called it a day, after the rather unsuccessful 62 tour of England, he remained an integral part of the team. He took over the reigns of captaincy from Kardar, and stayed at the helm for 10 Tests winning two and losing two. Another remarkable aspect of that as a bowler he received little support from the other end. Not surprisingly, Fazal Mahmood’s record of 139 wickets in only 34 Tests remained intact until the mid-seventies.

US President Dwight D. Eisenhower shakes the hand of Hanif Mohammed in Karachi on December 1959 | White Star
US President Dwight D. Eisenhower shakes the hand of Hanif Mohammed in Karachi on December 1959 | White Star

On many an occasion, the then nascent cricketing nation’s fortunes depended squarely on this baby-faced, short-statured teenager staying at the wicket.

And rarely did Hanif Mohammad disappoint, playing the role of sheet anchor to near unrivalled perfection. In the bargain, Hanif earned himself the sobriquet of the Little Master, and none of his contemporaries disputed his claim to greatness. The first of the Pakistani greats, Hanif was one of the five illustrious Mohammad brothers, four of whom played Test cricket with varying degrees of distinction while the fifth made it to 12th man. Famous for his batting, Hanif was also a competent wicket-keeper and, rather unusually, ambidextrous as a bowler.

From his school days, so prolific was Hanif that it seemed pre-destined that he would one day represent what was Pakistan’s fist Test at New Delhi’s Feroze Shah Kotla Stadium in 1952-53, and Hanif immediately put his rate into the record books for the first score of fifty plus in a debut innings.

Although he possessed a complete range of strokes, he deliberately cut the risky shots out of his repertoire to ensure that he remained at the wicket. That is why most of his historic innings were defensive in nature, earning him the rather unjustified reputation of being a batsman who knew only how to block. Often overlooked are the moments when he attacked, such as when Brian Statham bowled him two murderous bouncers in one over. Both were hooked for six with wrists of steal.

Also read: Hanif Mohammad - Remembering the "Little Master"

Hanif possessed enormous reserves of stamina and great pays of concentration, coupled with an impeccable technique. This allowed him to absorb whatever the most potent of attacks had to throw at him, and he ended up accumulating huge totals. And it is perhaps in the fitness of things that he still holds the record for the longest Test and first class innings ever, 337 at the Kensington Oval, Bridgetown in a marathon 16 hours and 10 minutes. His 499 for Karachi against Bahawalpur (1958-59) refrained the highest first class innings for more than 35 years until Brian Lara became the first cricketer to go past 500, smashing 501 for Warwickshire against Durham in 1994.

A cidgy knee in the latter part of his career not to mention a hint of politics, brought Hanif’s Test career to a premature end in 1969. By then, however, he had piled up 3,915 runs in 55 Tests at an average of 43.98, with the help of 12 hundreds and 15 fifties. In first class cricket, his record was even more impressive: 238 matches, 17,059 runs, an average of 52.32 and 55 hundreds.

In his last Test, Hanif Mohammad was again a central player in a historic event. Sadiq Mohammad made his debut in that match, making it only the third instant in cricket’s long history when three brothers played together in the same Test.

Wasim Bari | White Star
Wasim Bari | White Star

In a nation that has largely produced competent rather than great wicket-keepers, no one can hold a candle to Wasim Bari. He was not spectacular in the mould of a Rodney Marsh or Jeffery Durjon. But that said, no one can deny that Bari was an exceptionally safe keeper, acknowledged worldwide as one of the very best of his era.

As skipper and the team’s only real fast bowler, Imran Khan trusted Wasim Bari and dissuaded him from calling it quits a couple of times. For someone who was not tested against pace for the most part, it was a great tribute to Wasim Bari that Imran Khan considered him as good as England’s Allan Knott.

Bari went on to play 81 Tests, in which he had 228 victims against his name, 27 of them stumping. In terms of both the number of Tests played and scalps claimed behind the wicket, Bari's exploits still survive as a Pakistan record nearly a dozen years after he hung up his gloves. Bari was also a fairly competent late order batsman whose figures fail to reflect his true ability; his 19 ducks are a Pakistan record. On the whole, though, he made 1,366 runs in 112 outings, six scores of 50-plus being his major innings.

Bari also filled in as a stop-gap captain, on back to back home and away short rubbers against England, when the Kerry Packer controversy was at its height. At home, on wicket’s custom made to ensure dreary draws, Pakistan under Bari did not win or lose any matches. But on the away tour, the side was badly mauled 2-0 with rain ensuring a draw in the third test.

Perhaps more than the sum total of his contribution behind or in front of the stumps, Bari qualified for the Life Achievement Award because he was an integral part of the 70s and 80s sides. He was a team player, one of the best in contemporary cricket.

Javed Miandad | White Star
Javed Miandad | White Star

Javed Miandad is by far the best batsman the country has ever produced. The figures speak for themselves. He has against his name the highest number of runs by any Pakistani in both Tests (8,832) and one-dayers (7,381), and his temperament and commitment to the game were also second to none. Indeed, a match was never over, no matter how arduous the task, as long as Miandad was at the crease. A famous case in point, though by no means the only one, is his last ball six against India in the final of the 1986 Australia Cup, which clinched Pakistan its first major one-day title.

Once Miandad sealed that win with the most memorable shot in recent memory, Pakistan never looked back with victories coming thick and fast in limited overs cricket. That was the kind of impact Miandad had on the fortunes and morale of the team.

Javed Miandad had many things in common with the legendary Hanif Mohammad. Both represented Karachi in their formative years, they were both great players on bad wickets, and both had a penchant for runs and a habit of finding their way into the record books. But they were very dissimilar too. While Hanif was elegance personified, Javed was quite the opposite. In the latter’s book, effectiveness by far outweighed stylishness. He was willing to try anything, often changing his stance from delivery to delivery to unsettle the bowler. That wasn’t so common then, just like the reverse sweep that Miandad frequently used to good effect.

He had the instincts of a pugnacious street fighter, at and out aggression being his modus operandi in the early days. His intensity got him into many a fracas, such as the infamous incident with Dennis Lillee, and twice resulted in revolts against him when he was captain. As a batman, however, he remains without peer in Pakistan. Such was his command that he would concurrently be the accumulator and the aggressor, a grafter and a destroyer of bowling. He was, in short, a nightmare for bowlers all over the world, who often found it impossible to contain him. At his peak, he was perhaps the fastest runner between the wickets, converting singles into twos and stealing one where there was none to be had.

Also read: Younis Khan, the man in a glass cage

A shrewd tactician, his success rate as captain in Test matches (14 won and six lost cut of 34) is superior even to Imran Khan. And the input that he provided as Khan’s deputy was so valuable that one noted scribe commented: Miandad is a very good captain with Imran leading the side.

Miandad’s feats are legion. When he was not yet 17, he made 311 for Karachi Whites versus National Bank. On his Test debut against New Zealand, he made a big hundred, 163 to be precise, and less than a month later became the youngest double centurion. In all he made six double centuries, which is a Pakistan record, as are his 23 tons. In one-day cricket, his 50 scores of 50-plus also remain unmatched in Pakistan. Records are made to be broken, but Miandad has two other honours to his name which will be difficult for anyone to claim. He is the only cricketer to have played in all the six World Cups held so far, and his Test average never dropped below 50.

Despite these accomplishments, Miandad is a person who harbours lifelong regrets. His dream of becoming the highest run-getter in international cricket remained unfulfilled owing to a number of factors, not least being harsh selection committees and untimely injuries towards the end of his career. His other main gripe is not being allowed to make a triple hundred and to a have crack at the highest Test innings ever. He was denied that opportunity at Hyderabad by Imran Khan, who declared the innings when he was unbeaten on 280. By then, Javed Miandad had mastered the Indian bowling and looked set for greater things. He rues that missed chance to this day.

Imran Khan | White Star
Imran Khan | White Star

Imran Khan made it into the 1971 side to England primarily because of his connections rather than pure merit. This handsome and shy young man came from a family of accomplished cricketers, and his influential friends and relatives were intent on pushing him to the top.

But by the time he called it a day 21 years on, Imran Khan was hailed as one of the greatest cricketers the world has ever seen. From a hapless rookie who made his Test debut when he didn’t know the basics of the game, such as how to treasure his run-up or bowl straight, Imran Khan had transformed himself into a fast bowling all-rounder of superior class. Given that he started out as a player with little or no natural ability, his achievements in the field are truly amazing. Whatever he accomplished in his long and glorious career, it came out by dint of sheer hard work and an insuperable will to conquer.

In 1982, when he took over as skipper, Imran tried to devise a recipe for success and, in the process, identified two basic ingredients that the team lacked: self-belief and the killer instinct. He himself had plenty of both, and he went about instilling these qualities into the rest of the side. In the end, the same outfit which was infamous for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory metamorphosed into an all-conquering one under Imran Khan.

Rarely was Imran unprepared for any contingency. He had an analytical mind and tremendous heart and never shied from taking on the competition. At the same time, he possessed an intuitive ability to identify talent and take youngsters under his wings to groom them as he wished. Since he was indispensable as both player and captain, he wielded great power over the cricket board and its selectors, who had no option but to bow to his dictates. This ensured that he always got the combinations he wanted. In administrative matters, his influence also resulted in Pakistan becoming the first country to play a home Test series supervised by neutral third country umpires.

Also read: "Public speaking is not my strength"- Imran Khan

Moreover, Imran had that all-important element of luck on his side more often than not. That was one reason why he achieved so many firsts as captain, among them beating both India and England in their home soil in Test series and coming close to achieving the same feat twice against the then invincible West Indians. He also saw his dream of a World Cup triumph materialise at the very fag end of an extraordinary career.

Though this particular milestone may soon be surpassed by his protégé Wasim Akram, Imran Khan’s 362 Test wickets is still a Pakistan record. So is the number of matches in which he captained the side: 48 in Tests (14 won, 8 lost) and 139 in one-dayers (75 won, 59 lost, 182 wickets). Add to these feats the 3,807 runs he piled on in Tests and the 3,709 he scored in the instant version and you have an all-rounder who can rightly claim to be one of the game’s all-time greats. These remarkable figures may have been even more phenomenal had he not missed two years of cricket due to a shin injury when he was at the very peak of his career.

Never shy of taking up a challenge, Imran took up the task of building a state of the art cancer hospital in Pakistan after his mother succumbed to the terminal disease. After a global fund-raising campaign spanning over 12 years, the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital is now operational. His foray into politics, meanwhile, has not met with any tangible success so far, but Imran has refused to call it quits even though his party was routed in the last elections.

Zaheer Abbas | White Star
Zaheer Abbas | White Star

In the mould of the greats of the golden era, Zaheer Abbas was a stylish, elegant batsman. In full flow, he was a sight for sore eyes. His avarice for runs matched that of the Aussie legend, and fans in the subcontinent were quick to dub him as the Asian Bradman.

There was not so much a touch of arrogance about Zaheer’s batting but an almost lyrical fluency that is simply unforgettable. His strength was precision and timing. He could go on to the back or front foot with equal facility, an occasion doing both in the course of one stroke to send the ball crashing to the fence. A high backlift gave him a touch of elegance, and combined with powerful and supple wrists, he scored a very high proportion of his runs in boundaries. When the going was good, he was a maestro at work, leaving connoisseurs awestruck all over the globe.

Zaheer’s first big score, 274, came at Edgbaston, England, in only his second test. With that effort, he proved all those pundits wrong who felt that his technique and high backlift would make him suspect against the seaming ball. Such was his complete mastery in that knock, so profound his concentration, that he never seemed like getting out. Eventually, sheer exhaustion got the better of him of after nine hours and 10 minutes.

The English counties immediately lined up to recruit this bespectacled, lean and wiry youth. In the end Zaheer opted for Gloucestershire, not a very fashionable choice but one which he never regretted. He never switched to another county, playing for Gloucester right to the end and piling in the runs year in and year out. A thousand per season became almost routine, but in 1976 and 1981 he outdid even himself by accumulating a staggering 2,544 and 2,305 runs respectively.

The only Asian to date to make a century of centuries in first class cricket, he really did have a Bradmanesque appetite for runs.

Having produced another double hundred (240) in the Oval Test in 1974 and then some big scores on the Australian tour of 1976-77, he was signed up by the Kerry Packer circus. This move cost Zaheer two rubbers against England. But when the Packer bunch was welcomed back into the fold for the first series against India in 18 years, Zaheer was back to his majestic best in time. He put the feared Indian spin quartet to sword like a man possessed, notching up scores of 176, 96 and 235 in successive innings. His tally of 583 runs in a short rubber was then a world record.

The only Asian to date to make a century of centuries in first class cricket, he really did have a Bradmanesque appetite for runs. He made a century in each innings of a first class match as many as eight times, which is a world record. On four of these occasions, he scored a double hundred and a century. His 100th hundred was also a double century (215), at the cost of India in the 1982-83 Lahore Test. This was followed by two more Test tons in the same series.

That was his last great series, and though he got the captaincy which he so coveted when Imran Khan broke down with his famous shin injury, he played only one more major innings, an unbeaten 168, again at Lahore, again against India. Never really comfortable against genuine pace, age was catching up with him and his reflexes had deteriorated a great deal.

For one who was the epitome of grace in his batting, his exit was rather unseemly as he opted out of what should have been the last Test of his career at Karachi in 1985-86 against Sri Lanka. Indirectly, Zaheer blamed senior players like Imran Khan for this final, unsavoury twist. But perhaps he did what he did in a fit of pique although he had announced his impending retirement from Test cricket, he still wanted to remain active in the one-day version. And the selectors, with Imran prompting them, would have none of it. Whatever the reason, Zaheer Abbas certainly deserved a better send-off than he received.

Abdul Qadir (right) with Imran Khan (left) | White Star
Abdul Qadir (right) with Imran Khan (left) | White Star

In his bowling action, Abdul Qadir had the air of a shaman about to conjure up something particularly devilish. Ridnie Benaud, himself a noted practitioner of the art of leg-spin, described it this way: He bowls, and bowls again. Qadir has a unique place in leg-spin bowling's hall of fame for a variety of reasons, not least of them being that he revived what had become a dying art. Qadir also shattered the myth that attacking spin bowling was of no use in one-dayers, and formed a lethal combination with Imran Khan hurling down the fast stuff at the other end. In the process, he also dispelled the than popular impression that fast bowlers hit only in pairs.

Qadir had been around since 1977-78, when he made his debut against England at home and took 6 for 44 in the first innings at Hyderabad. He did not play as much cricket after that, until Imran got the captaincy and immediately had him drafted into the side for the 1982 tour of England. Qadir mesmerized England. Although he did not get many wickets, the English ware absolutely clueless against him. He did bag six though in the Lord’s Test, which Pakistan won to record only their second victory on English soil.

Having received excellent notices in England, and his morale sky high, Qadir snared 22 wickets against Australia in the series that followed. With Imran Khan also in good form, the two together downed Australia 3-0, Pakistan’s first ever clean sweep of a rubber. Abdul Qadir never looked back, winning many a match for Pakistan in both versions of the game. He also came to be known as a bit of a character, often moody, sometimes over-exuberant, but always in the thick of things.

Qadir had great variety; he bowled two googlies, a deadly flipper, a whizzing top-spinner and new variations thereof. Some, in fact, claim that he could bowl a dozen different types of deliveries. At the same time, he was consistently accurate and daring to boot. He was not, however, a huge spinner of the ball. Later on, he was countered well by the Aussies and the Indians. On the 1986-87 tour of India, in particular, Qadir was reduced to virtually a bystander as the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohammad Azharuddin swept him to distraction. They applied three kinds of sweeps just to ensure that Qadir didn’t return to his wicket taking ways. The first, of course, was the regulation sweep, the second a paddle shot and the third was played square of the wicket.

Abdul Qadir is still, and always will be, rated in the top bracket. However, those who followed him such as Shane Warren and to a lesser extent Mushtaq Ahmed look destined for greater things. The moot point, however, is that if Qadir the magician had not brought leg-spin back into the limelight, would they even be out there?

Wasim Akram | White Star
Wasim Akram | White Star

Wasim Akram is arguably the most valuable cricketer of his generation. Genuinely quick bowlers have always been a handful, capable of running shivers down the spines of batsmen and changing the course of a match in the space of a few deliveries. Akram is all that and more. He is, perhaps, the best left-arm pace bowler in cricketing history.

There are only a few other fast bowlers who have had such a telling impact on the game and that too over a dozen long years. Add to that Akram’s worth as a batsman, an area where he is yet to deliver to his enormous potential, and he comes out as a cricketer of overwhelming value. Akram is the only bowler in the world who has 300 plus wickets in both forms of cricket. And in one-dayers, no one else has reached that milestone. Now that he has regained full fitness after an operation on his bowling shoulder, he is all fired up to add significantly to the pile despite the fact that he is now 31 years of age.

Given the economy of effort with which he bowls, and the great variety and experience that he possesses, he can be a potent force for at least another three to four years if he stays free of further injury.

Akram has everything that a speedster can possibly aspire to: genuine pace, variety, guile, control and temperament. Even as a teenager, he had greatness written all over him. He had yet to appear in a Test when he was being compared to the legendary Australian Allan Davidson, and Akram confirmed all the predictions by becoming the youngest bowler to take 10 wickets in a match in only his second Test.

A natural if there ever was one, Akram was a quick learner from the start. When all the fast bowlers in the country, him and Waqar Younis included, were learning the tricks of the trade from Imran Khan, he was the first to master the Yorker. That added yet another dimension to his lethal repertoire, making him virtually unplayable in the slog overs in one-day cricket and getting him many wickets in the bargain, including two hattricks on Sharjah’s dead batting tracks.

Wasim Akram’s only regret might be that he has not been able to establish himself as an all-rounder of class in the image of his mentor, lmran Khan. He has shown flashes of brilliance, such as in the 92 World Cup final and the Sheikhupura Test against Zimbabwe when he made 257, but he has never been consistent enough. Recently reinstalled as captain, his third time stint in the job, he did not live up to expectations during the Golden Jubilee Quadrangular. But that outing came soon after a long lay-off, and even then he was not altogether disappointing. Later, in the first two Tests against the Windies, he seemed to be getting back to his best. In Akram’s case, sooner or later, class is bound to show and make all the difference.

This article was originally published in the Herald's December 1997 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.