If selecting Pakistani players was food, then we have a katakut (or takatuk) on our hands. In Tests, Pakistan have handed out 229 caps, the latest being Haris Sohail. In One-day Internationals, Usman Khan was the 216th player to have received the privilege. Not all of them who were inducted made it, even though there were some outstanding talents among them. Consider Umer Akmal and Ahmed Shahzad, the latest to lose their places in the team. When they made their debuts, the great hope was that the two would anchor the next generation that was coming through.
It wasn’t to be.
Both are now on the plate of katakut that will be swallowed whole, remembered only in passing as flavours of the moment or perhaps as analysts on the idiot box. But there were many others who lost their place despite needing more time to settle in or to sort their issues out. Below are seven batsmen who graced Pakistan cricket but were ushered out for one reason or the other, well before their Pakistan careers should have ended.
Umer Akmal and Ahmed Shahzad have seemingly batted themselves out of contention but who were the other Pakistani batsmen whose promising careers were nipped in the bud?
There were murmurs that Yasir Hameed was addicted to naswar. Some believed the rumours, others didn’t. But among the believers was the coach, Waqar Younis. Irked by having to constantly chide Hameed for his indulgences, Younis lost his cool when told that the batsman was now chewing naswar while on the crease.
The next time Hameed was padding up, Younis entered the dressing room and asked him to empty his pockets. Nothing there. Then the coach asked him to strip. Hameed did. Inside his undergarments was a packet of naswar, neatly stashed away from the prying eyes of his coach. That was the end of Yasir Hameed, a stylish batsman with a cover drive to die for but who became an advertisement for why professional sportsmen should stay away from drugs.
The year was 1997 and South Africa had arrived in Pakistan for a tour that included three Test matches. Pakistan were searching for an opener and in came 20-year-old Ali Naqvi to partner skipper Saeed Anwar at the top of the order. Naqvi was so raw at the international level that the side match which got him selected was his first taste of first-class cricket in Pakistan (he had only played Grade-II cricket till then).
The first match of the series was played in Rawalpindi. Pakistan handed debuts to three young men: Naqvi, Mohammad Ramzan and Azhar Mahmood. The first innings of the match was held together by two centuries, scored by Naqvi and Mahmood. While Mahmood batted supremely with the tail, Naqvi had been a constant as senior batmen around him came and went. The two ensured that Pakistan drew the match against a team led by Hansie Cronje and which boasted Alan Donald and Shaun Pollock in its bowling attack.
But this sparkling beginning to his Test career proved to be a false start. He failed to score a 50 in the rest of the Test series, and although he was taken to tour Zimbabwe and South Africa in 1998, he didn’t get a chance in the South African series and failed to impress in Zimbabwe. After playing five matches, Naqvi was dropped. He never returned to the team and another promising talent went to waste.
There was a time when the national selection committee was distributing Test caps like sweets, in the hopes of finding successors and backups to the batting line-up. Young Mohammad Wasim was the skipper of the Pakistan U-19 team, a technically correct batsman with style and elegance to boot. He got his chance against the visiting New Zealand team back in 1996, at the Gaddafi Stadium, after Wasim Akram pulled out of the match at the last minute. The 19-year-old’s first outing bagged him a duck, but the second innings — a hundred in a losing cause — showcased the range of shots he could play in the ‘V.’ The on-drive in particular was divine as was his cover drive, both of which some believed were reminiscent of Zaheer Abbas.
And while some of us believed that Pakistan’s next big thing had been discovered, things didn’t pan out that way.
The 19-year-old got about a four-year look-in for the team, though never as a regular, but after 2000, he was summarily deemed not good enough. The numbers backed the selectors too: a Test average of just above 30 runs did not justify the bags of talent that Wasim had. His last Test was against Sri Lanka at Galle, where he scored a paltry 29 in what would become his last Test innings.
Out of favour and perhaps out of luck too, Wasim headed to New Zealand in 2002 to play first-class cricket. With bags of runs under his belt, he was encouraged to return to Pakistan in 2005 so that he may be considered again for selection. But Inzamam-ul-Haq had become captain in 2003 and an air of religiosity now engulfed the team. The board and team management at the time believed that Wasim’s dalliance with women fans and followers would inevitably drag the team into scandal. The captain’s morality thus had the last laugh, depriving Pakistan of arguably the most aesthetic on-drives and cover drives since Zaheer Abbas graced the field.
He was the second coming of Javed Miandad, while the original Miandad was still playing. On his day, he was as audacious as Miandad, could drag his team to victory from the jaws of defeat, and exasperated the opposition with his neat stroke-play. Ali was the like-for-like replacement for Miandad that Pakistan hoped would anchor the batting order for the next generation.
But like many others, Ali scored a duck on his first outing against the West Indies in Port-of-Spain in 1993. The second innings saw Ali score a gritty 37 in a losing cause. Two more 50s followed in the remaining matches but over time, his inconsistency would go against him.
But his debut series was also the one that arguably shaped his opinion about captain Wasim Akram as well as then vice-captain Waqar Younis. This was a time when there was no internet and news filtered through ever so slowly from other parts of the world. One morning, Pakistan woke up to news that Akram, Younis, fast-bowler Aqib Javed and leggie Mushtaq Ahmed had been arrested in Grenada. They were accompanied by two women tourists and a local man, on charges of “being in possession of a controlled drug” believed to be marijuana.
Diplomatic intervention saved the Pakistanis of any major embarrassment but later on, the golden generation of Pakistan cricket became embroiled in match-fixing controversies. Ali eventually handed the following statement to a 1998 probe into match-fixing allegations: “It is absolutely false that I made some statement before Intikhab Alam confessing that I indulged in betting or match-fixing. It is also wrong that I retired because of the betting or match-fixing. As a matter of fact, circumstances created by the captain and the management were such that I had no option but to resign. Our team was divided into various groups after 1995. One comprising [Salim] Malik, Ijaz, Akram Raza, Ata-ur-Rehman and [Wasim] Akram and the other of Inzamam, myself, Mushtaq Ahmed and Waqar.”
Basit played his last Test in 1995 against New Zealand in New Zealand, and his last ODI in 1996 against South Africa in Sharjah.
Do you remember Graeme Hick? Yes the English batsman with 26 first-class centuries and widely considered to be a monster batsman at that level. Although Hick played 65 Test matches, his average of 31.32 was far below his 52.23 average at first-class level. The suspicion about him was that, as good a batsman as Hick was, he couldn’t translate it on to international level because the standard of bowler at that level was a cut above the county level that he was used to.
Many years later, in 2003, young Fawad Alam broke on to the first-class scene in Pakistan. His consistent scoring and handy left-arm spin would earn him a look-in at the national level in 2009, but as fate would have it, he never became a fixture in the squad let alone the team.
In fact, under the captaincy of Misbah-ul-Haq when Pakistan’s ODI team were struggling with their middle-order unable to rotate the strike, Alam remained in exile. Consider the talent that was introduced to the ODI team in Alam’s place: Nasir Jamshed, Khalid Latif, Khurram Manzoor, Ahmed Shahzad, Umer Akmal, Umer Amin, Sohaib Maqsood, Mohammad Rizwan and Mohammad Nawaz to name a few. None of them could milk the bowlers for singles and doubles as effectively as Alam could.
Perhaps it was Pakistan’s desire to have boundary-hitters across their line-up. But it was a flawed strategy because often enough, the top would be wiped off by the opposition but not before the batsman had chewed up many overs in trying to get set. As a result, it came down to the likes of Misbah and Younis Khan to play the ‘tuk-tuk’ game to provide some respectability to the score. In the ODI game, in particular, Alam was and arguably still is a necessity.
But his game isn’t just restricted to ODIs, his Test average of 41.66 indicates solidity if not flamboyance. Alam was different to Graeme Hick in that he was translating his talent on to the international scene. And while Younis Khan in his brief stint as captain backed Alam, the selectors weren’t convinced. Both his Test debut and his last Test came in the same year, 2009. His last Test, in New Zealand, was also Umer Amal’s debut Test.
The grapevine in the Karachi cricket circuit is that Alam’s continued absence from the scene is because of his father — Tariq Alam made some friends in his playing days but seemingly made more enemies. Some also allege that a Karachi-Lahore rivalry is at play, with the Lahore-based PCB reluctant to hand over more Karachi-based players with responsibility. Notwithstanding the veracity of these claims, what we can all agree on is that one of Pakistan cricket’s cult heroes has been hard done by.
At a time when Pakistan were struggling for some guts and consistency to the lower middle-order, they discovered Asim Kamal. The year was 2003 and a gritty 99 on Test debut at the Gaddafi Stadium against South Africa proved that a special player had just entered the fray. He manoeuvred the field like Salim Malik, finding singles and doubles at will, and before the opposition knew it, Kamal was already batting on 30. The tour to India in 2005 confirmed that he was Pakistan’s Wall. In a very short span of time, Kamal made a cult following.
But Kamal was also a bit of a purist — given that he had established his credentials, he didn’t take too kindly to the selectors putting him in the team for one series and dropping him the next. His last Test innings was also in Lahore, against England in 2005, where he scored a paltry five runs. A career average of 37.33 with no centuries in two years bear testament to another what-if story in Pakistan cricket. The worst part? So depressed was Kamal at his exclusion, at the Board, and at the system that he took a hiatus from cricket to rediscover his love for the game. He retired in 2015.
Never has a Pakistani hero gone out of limelight as quickly as Zulqarnain Haider did. The young wicketkeeper-batsman turned into a heartthrob overnight back in 2010 as he replaced Kamran Akmal in the line-up at Edgbaston and played a gritty innings of 88 in the second innings of his Test debut.
The wicket-keeping mess seemed to have been resolved.
But this was the summer of shame, as Pakistan cricket was buffeted by news that three of its superstars and match-winners were involved in fixing proceedings of a match. There was anxiety, there was fear, and there was suspicion. While Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were banned and put in jail, it was Haider whose career seemed to have nosedived the most.
Selectors believed he had more wicket-keeping potential than Kamran Akmal and stuck by him for a one-day series against South Africa in November. Midway through the series, however, Haider packed his bags, left the team hotel, and went to the United Kingdom in search of asylum. Nobody quite knows what transpired but the murmurs were that bookies had approached him and threatened him of dire consequences if he didn’t relent. Much later, though, Haider said in an interview that he had “specific issues with a few players whom I won’t like to name.”
Haider made his debut in the August of 2010. His international career was over in four months.
The writer is a member of staff. He tweets @ASYusuf
Published in Dawn, EOS, October 29th, 2017