EXACTLY sixty years ago, on Oct 16, 1952, Pakistan played their first official Test at the Feroze Shah Kotla Stadium against India in Delhi on their inaugural tour. India then had an emphatic victory by an innings and 70 runs against an inexperienced Pakistan side which, except for captain Abdul Hafeez Kardar and the leg-spinner Amir Elahi, had nine debutants in their ranks.
Khan Mohammad, a medium-fast bowler, had bowled the first ball in Test cricket for his country to one of the game’s great all-rounders — India’s Vinoo Mankad. When batting, the tall and good-looking batsman from Lahore, Nazar Mohammad faced the first ball in Test cricket for Pakistan from Gulabrai Ramchand and a seventeen-year-old youngster Hanif Mohammad had become the first batsman from Pakistan to score a half-century in a Test.
It, however, did not take long for Pakistan to avenge their defeat as they struck back in only their second Test when they thrashed India by an innings and 43 runs at the University Ground in Lucknow where Nazar Mohammad scored an unbeaten 124 to carry his bat through an innings, thus becoming the first to make a hundred in Tests for the newly-created country.
Curling and whistling leg-cutters from the tall and handsome medium-fast bowler Fazal Mahmood had accounted for twelve Indian wickets in the match for just 94 runs. Pakistan, though lost the series in the end, it was indeed a grand beginning.
While India, West Indies, New Zealand and South Africa had taken more than two decades to register their first win in a Test, Pakistan triumphed in only their second Test, undoubtedly a proud and memorable feat.
Pakistan, in fact, had inherited a ready-made cricket culture. The parts that became a new country had already established cricket centres. The hub was of course cities like Lahore and Karachi where even before the creation of Pakistan, clubs, colleges, universities and provincial teams played regular matches and also played against the visiting teams.
Sixty years on is a long journey which has had its own ups and downs. It has been in fact worth savouring with trials, tribulations and triumphs being part of it.
With the passage of time Pakistan hosted India, New Zealand, Australia and the West Indies in its year of infancy and performed with distinction against all of them.
In the earlier phase in unofficial Tests against the West Indies, Commonwealth and Ceylon in the late 1940s and early 50s, Pakistan did not lag behind with stalwarts like Mian Mohammad Saeed, Munawar Ali Khan, a genuine fast bowler, Imtiaz Ahmed, Abdul Hafeez Kardar, Waqar Hasan and the teenaged prodigy Hanif Mohammad on call.
Going through the pages of cricket history of this country, one would no doubt feel proud of the cricketers we produced, mostly grown on home soil who over the years honed their skills playing at international level and on the county circuits.
In the mid-1950s and early 60s, I was a part of the scene myself as a cricketer at university and first-class levels and later as a journalist of this game I did have this golden opportunity watching the greats of Pakistan cricket and their achievements around the globe.
The first of many greats of this country was indeed Hanif Mohammad and Fazal Mahmood, the first Pakistani to take hundred or more wickets in Tests. Hanif, I still rate as Pakistan’s greatest batsman. In skill, footwork and in concentration no batsman came anywhere near him. I think no batsman in the history of Pakistan or of the world had such endurance, stamina and focus as he had.
He remains the only batsman amongst the triple centurions to have made a triple century (337) after being asked to follow on 473 runs behind in the first ever Tests against the West Indies at Bridgetown, Barbados. He saved the six-day Test having batted for 999 minutes, that is three and a half days — still the longest individual innings in Tests.
Amongst the most elegant and graceful was obviously Zaheer Abbas whose unforgettable 274 and 240 against England in 1971 and in 1974 remain etched in everyone’s mind who witnessed it. Or for that matter his run-spree against the Indian spinners in the home series against India in 1978-79 and 1982-83.
In between was Javed Miandad, a fighter to the core and the most successful batsman of Pakistan who would not give an inch to any bowler whether fast or slow. He was the master of every situation. Once in his element he would destroy a bowler at will with his bullish and cocky approach to the game.
Majid Khan was majestic. He was entertaining as well as serious when it came to open the innings. His historic belligerent century before lunch on the first day of the Test against New Zealand at the National Stadium, Karachi in 1976 still remains fresh in my mind.
The ever-stylish Mohsin Khan, Wasim Raja, the rock-solid Asif Iqbal, Mushtaq Mohammad, Mudassar Nazar and the towering figure of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Salim Malik, Ijaz Ahmed, Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan could have been the proud possession for any country.
When the all-rounders like Richard Hadlee, Ian Botham, Kapil Dev ruled, I suppose the best was Imran Khan. Both as a fast bowler, as leader of men and as batsman he could make the difference with his charismatic presence. I rated him high. Before him Hafeez Kardar and Mushtaq Mohammad had as much sharp who also led by example.
Pakistan was also lucky to have produced great fast bowlers. Over the years I have watched Lindwall and Miller, Trueman and Statham, Hall and Griffith, Lillee and Thomson, Holding and Marshall, Croft and Garner. They were all a handful and fearsome but I suppose none at par with Wasim and Waqar while bowling in tandem. They were fast, fiery with all the tricks up their sleeves to bring the downfall of even the greatest of batsmen. Their tally of wickets and strike rate speaks a thousand words.
And Sarfraz Nawaz, the master of swing and reverse swing. The tall bowler’s nine wickets against Australia in an innings at the MCG is still talked about, undoubtedly one of the finest spells of controlled medium-pace bowling. There were not many who could match his skill during his time.
Intikhab Alam was the first amongst the Pakistan spinners to take hundred wickets or more in Tests but then how can you forget near-immaculate Iqbal Qasim, wily Abdul Qadir and their successors Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq, Danish Kaneria and Saeed Ajmal.
The best wicket-keeper we had in sixty years was the ever-nimble Wasim Bari who featured in 81 Tests from 1967 to 1984, claiming 228 victims behind the stumps.
A victory in a 1-0 series against India in India in 1987 under Imran Khan and against England (1-0) the same year under and the World Cup victory at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1992 I suppose were the crowning moments of Pakistan cricket.
Sadly we also had embarrassing moments as well. The Shakoor Rana-Mike Gatting affair of 1987 and the recent conviction of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir and their imprisonment dented our pride. They are now convicted criminals and will remain with that tag under their collar for life. The hall of shame is now joined by spinner Abdur Rehman now banned for using drugs.
Despite all the mind-boggling decisions made over the years by those who managed the affairs of this game in the country, Pakistan has managed to maintain a high-profile team in Test cricket, the traditional five-day format. Pakistan’s overall Test record (matches 370, won 115, lost 101, drawn 154) explicitly denotes that.
Admittedly, presently we do not have a star-value team like yester years but there is no lack of fire within the bones even now. It is only a matter of tapping the right talent and channelling them in the right direction.