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THE shining light of Pakistan cricket and a legendary batsman of his era, Hanif Mohammad is sadly no more with us. Liver cancer, for which he was operated upon in London three years ago, finally took its toll on him as he breathed his last at the Aga Khan Hospital on Thursday to leave millions of fans in mourning.

His death is a huge loss for the game and a personal loss for me because having played against as well as alongside him at the first-class level, I had developed a very close relationship with the great man.

Born on December 21, 1934 in the state of Junagadh, he along with his parents and four brothers Wazir Mohammad, Raees Mohammad, Mushtaq Mohammad and Sadiq Mohammad migrated to Pakistan in 1947 to settle down in Karachi. It was here in this city that he honed his skills in batting and rose to become one of the greats of his time to be dubbed as the first ‘Little Master’ of the game.

At 13 when he enrolled into Sind Madressah-tul-Islam school where the father of the nation Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had also studied, Hanif was lucky to get under the tutelage of a former Indian wicket-keeper Abdul Aziz Durrani who before partition had played in an unofficial Test in 1936 before migrating to Pakistan.

Master Aziz, as he was popularly known, was the father of Salim Durrani who in later years played as an all-rounder for India.

A child prodigy, Hanif’s concentration and technical brilliance started to earn him a name with the critics. While at school, he scored a triple century (309*) in an inter-school match to announce himself. A young nation like Pakistan couldn’t have asked for more to strengthen their cricketing culture than to induct him at the top level to play for his country.

Earlier, when he was sent to London to be coached by Alf Gover, a former England fast bowler who ran a reputable coaching school at Wandsworth. After a good look at Hanif’s style of play and his repertoire, Gover told the cricket authorities in Pakistan: ‘This boy is so good technically that I can not teach him anything more. Just keep him playing.’ Gover was not wrong.

Pakistan was not a Test playing country then and was struggling to find its feet to establish itself at every level including sports.

As word got around about the youngster’s talent with the bat, he was invited to play for Bahawalpur and Karachi team against the 1951 MCC team, led by Nigel Howard.

Playing for the first time on a turf wicket at Dring Stadium, Bahawalpur, Hanif opened the batting with Nazar Mohammad to make 26 against the pace of Brian Statham and Derek Shakelton. He was soon invited to play for his country in an unofficial Test against the MCC at Karachi Gymkhana where Pakistan defeated the MCC by four wickets. It was this victory that in fact earned Pakistan the full membership of the ICC and the Test status along with it.

Hanif’s innings of 64 in the second innings while chasing 288 to win had laid the foundation of a Pakistan win as his captain Abdul Hafeez Kardar also made a fifty.

On Pakistan’s first tour of India in 1952 as a full-fledged Test playing nation, Hanif and Pakistan were launched on the cricket world’s stage. Little Master’s handsome contribution along with that of lion-hearted pace bowler Fazal Mhamood and Pakistan’s first century maker Nazar Mohammad made the critics sit up and take note of the team despite the series loss.

Hanif started the tour with century in each innings at Amritsar against the North Zone (121 & 109*) to become the youngest at 17 to achieve that feat. He gained the distinction of being the first Pakistan batsman to score a half century in a Test when playing at Delhi’s the Feroze Shah Kotla ground. In the third Test at Bombay Hanif narrowly missed his first hundred when he fell at 96.

It did not take him long though to score a hundred in Tests when India visited Pakistan in 1955 and became the first century maker in Tests on home soil. But what really launched him on the world stage was Pakistan’s first tour to the West Indies in 1957-58 under Hafeez Kardar.

At Barbados in the first ever Test against the West Indies, Pakistan, trailing behind by 473 runs after West Indies had scored 579, were made to follow on in the six-day Test and the defeat was imminent.

Only a miracle could save Pakistan and that miracle came in the shape of this 5’ feet 6 inch batsman Hanif who ended up making 337 runs, staying at the crease for 970 minutes (16 hours 10 minutes) to record the longest innings played in Test cricket history and the first triple hundred scored in the second innings of a match.

Only couple of years ago, in 2014, Brendon McCullum of New Zealand became only the second player to score a triple century in the second innings of a Test when he achieved the feat against India.

Hanif, facing the pace and fury of tearaway pacer Roy Gilchrist and Dewdney, defied West Indians for more than three days to earn an impossible draw for Pakistan. And that was without a helmet or a shoulder or thigh guard mind you.

In his autobiography ‘Playing for Pakistan’ which I assisted him to write, he told me how a young spectator in that match perched on a branch of tree outside the ground watched him bat for three days, dozed off and fell from the tree to break his arm. When the story got into the paper, the boy was invited inside the ground by Kardar to sit in the pavilion and watch Hanif bat.

Pakistan lost that series of five matches in which Garfield Sobers also scored 365 at Jamaica to hold the record of the highest individual score in a Test passing Sir Len Hutton’s 364 against Australia in 1938.

Hanif’s status as a top batsmen in the world was firmly established after that monumental knock.

Only a year later, he surpassed Sir Don Bradman’s record of highest individual first class score of 452 when he scored 499 for Karachi against Bahawalpur in a Quaid-e-Azam Trophy first-class match. The record stood for 35 years before it was overtaken by Brian Lara when he made 501 in a county match against Durham in 1994.

Hanif was run out in the last over of the match when attempting get to 500 mark. He, however, maintained till the end that it was a scoreboard error. “I was 498 and two balls were left for the day but the scorecard showed 496, so I decided to get those four runs and ran but before the second run I was run out off a throw form Mohammad Ramazan.

‘It was when I got out I discovered that I had made 499 and not 497. I was really angry then.”

I am privileged to say that prior to that marathon innings I had him caught off my bowling while playing for Sind at Hyderabad after he had made 129 against us. That was the only time I took his wicket in eight seasons of first-class cricket.

On his only tour to Australia as a captain, when Pakistan played only one Test in 1964-65, Hanif scored a brilliant century in the first innings and a fluent 93 in the second before getting dismissed in a controversial fashion when ‘keeper Barry Jarman claimed to have stumped him but there were no replays to confirm that.

The former Australian captain Ian Chappell who was making his debut in that Test clearly told me that Hanif was wrongly given out in the second innings. “I was standing in the slips and the keeper didn’t have the ball in his gloves when he removed the bails.” said Chappell.

In 1967 I witnessed his 187 not out at Lord’s when he toured England as captain. That was one of the most remarkable innings that I ever watched.

Hanif was, indeed, a genius of a batsman in every way. Solid in defence with unmatched skills and technique, a cool temperament combined with his incredible powers of concentration.

After taking guard he would touch his cap, stroke his right thigh with his gloves and then twirl his bat right round before facing a bowler. A trait he displayed all his life when batting. He was the first to play a reverse sweep in a Test match, a shot which was later perfected by his younger brother Mushtaq Mohammad and now a common sight in the game, especially in the limited overs cricket.Hanif’s last Test was against New Zealand in 1969 at home in which all the three brothers — Hanif, Mushtaq Mohammad and Sadiq Mohammad played together. This was Sadiq’s debut and Hanif’s last Test.

A reciepient of Pride of Performance and featuring as the Wisden’s Cricketers of the year in 1968, Hanif along with Imran Khan and Javed Miandad was first of 55 inductees in the ICC Hall of Fame in 2009.

Great indian opener Sunil Gavaskar once told me how he first met Hanif. “I was at the Heathrow Airport waiting to take a flight home when I saw Hanif in a duty free shop and I immediately rushed to meet my childhood idol,” recalled Gavaskar. ‘I told him I am Gavaskar and had watched him as a schoolboy when he was batting at the Brabourne Stadium. Hanif turned around and said ‘Oh, you are a great batsman Sunil’ and I said ‘Sir, not better than you.’

May he live in eternal bliss.

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2016