When Abdul Qadir bowled his last for Pakistan, I wasn’t around.
As a 90s kid, I know what his protege Mushtaq Ahmed was like, especially in England. I know what Shane Warne was like, especially everywhere. Anil Kumble showed me something different. I lived through Danish Kaneria. Yasir Shah gave me a new lease of life, and now I live for Shadab Khan.
But Qadir, I never saw.
Adding to my sense of deprivation all those years were my pre-90s uncles, who would take out their Qadir-long yardsticks every time a bowler bowled with a pronated hand.
“He is good, but Abdul Qadir was better. He is almost as good as Abdul Qadir. If he keeps doing this, then one day he might surpass Abdul Qadir,” is what I had to endure when spin-bowlers would appear on TV screens.
When or where there was a leg-spinner, there was a Qadir mention.
Qadir this, Qadir that. Qadir what? I had little idea. And I could only go so far animating an image from a limited supply of grainy YouTube videos and stats — stats that may quantify talent, but also reduce its je ne sais quoi to mere numbers.
So I had to dig a little, do my research and devour back-in-the-day tales to find out why Qadir had the reputation he had. Without turning this into a fluff tribute for a man whom I never saw and is no longer among us, here's an objective review of Qadir’s career.
As a 22-year-old, Qadir’s first-ever appearance in a Pakistan shirt was unremarkable. That Test in Lahore against England got him just the sole wicket of number 10 batsman Bob Willis for 82 runs. But it did not take long for him to make his mark. In the very next match — his second — he took a six-for in Hyderabad.
Qadir had arrived.
The English have proved profitable opponents for several Pakistan leggies, but Qadir was the first who made them bleed. His finest hour, too, would came against England exactly a decade later when he would dismiss all English batsman buy David Capel (why Tauseef Ahmed, why?).
But more than Qadir’s own emergence, it was his alternative storyline that matters more for our purposes. The 1970s and 80s were dominated by fast bowlers. The brutal art of hurling nasty things had been so effective and been in vogue so long, it had pretty much become an unwritten principle that matches can only be won by quicks.
The legspin niche, which had not seen any prominent practitioners for years, was dying. The role was going extinct like the role of a traditional centre in modern basketball.
Few tried their hand at wrist spin, and those who did were ineffective (and certainly not match-winners).
Qadir bucked the trend.
For the next 13 years, he was the leader of the unit that operated after new-ball bowlers, mesmerising viewers with his hop-heavy action and duping batters with both stock balls and googlies.
His influence was such that Sanjay Manjrekar said, "Every Pakistani leg-spinner that came after Qadir had a bit of Qadir in him".
But the brightest of Qadir's pupils was Mushtaq Ahmed — a walking, talking tribute to the man himself.
It was ironic, then, that the mentor — at the age of 35 — was edged out of the Pakistan side by the mentee himself. His final two years for Pakistan may have showed a statistical decline, but there is enough evidence that he had game in him as late as 1998.
Of no more use to the country, Qadir opened a free, virtual clinic (not the literal kind) for the leg spin community, always sharing the tricks of the trade. Legend has it that he even taught a young Warne his googly in 1994.
Even decades after he last played for Pakistan, Qadir’s influence is still producing leggies, with Imran Tahir — arguably the most identical clone — the latest example.
And while Qadir’s numbers, though impressive, may not be as astronomical as Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Anil Kumble, etc — but back then, cricket was not played as frantically and frequently as today. For instance, Qadir played 10 Tests a year just once in his career; India’s Virat Kohli has been in double figures for a year four times already in nine years.
When stats don’t compare, it’s the influence and the anecdotes you have to go back to to measure a man’s legacy. And Qadir’s legacy, among all the leggies, is right up there.