CRICKET: THE UNFORGETTABLE XI

February 23, 2020

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Hanif Mohammad
Hanif Mohammad

Just about two weeks ago Pakistan mourned the death of Waqar Hasan, the only surviving member of the playing XI which represented the country in its inaugural Test match in October 1952. The sad occasion in Karachi — where the late Waqar spent the better part of his life after moving from Lahore in the early 1960s — finally closed a glittering chapter of Pakistan’s cricketing history.

Statistically speaking, Waqar probably never really did any justice to his reputation as one of the most elegant batsmen to play Test cricket. He made an inauspicious debut against archrivals India at the Ferozshah Kotla Stadium, which was recently renamed after the late Indian politician Arun Jaitley.

Batting in both innings at No 8, the right-hander was dismissed for just 8 and 5 while Pakistan capitulated to an innings and 70-run defeat. Waqar remained a modest achiever who managed to make only 1,071 runs in his 21 Tests and scored just one century (189 against New Zealand in 1955-56).

Imtiaz Ahmed
Imtiaz Ahmed

But that debuting Pakistan team had several players who, with the passage of time, blossomed into world class cricketers. Prominent among the XI were Hanif Mohammad and Fazal Mahmood. One fascinating trivia to emerge from that game was that actually only nine players from the visiting side made their debut then at the highest level. Abdul Hafeez Kardar — who because of his Oxford University background and authoritative personality was named to lead the team — and Amir Elahi had both represented India at the Test level before Partition.

Kardar and Elahi were not the only cricketers — in that Test who would go on to represent both India and Pakistan; the diminutive Gul Mohammad — who was in the opposition camp — played eight times for India between 1946 and 1952-53 before switching his allegiance to Pakistan. He participated in one further Test, against Australia at Karachi in 1956.

The death of the distinguished cricketer Waqar Hasan, the last remaining member of Pakistan’s first Test squad, brings back memories of his illustrious team-mates and their achievements

The Lahore-born Gul, classified in that era among the finest fielders of that generation, was primarily a left-handed batsman but had modest returns with the bat. However, he was far more successful at the first-class level and scored 319 for Baroda against Holkar while sharing the highest partnership — 577 for the fourth-wicket with Vijay Hazare — for any wicket at the time during the Ranji Trophy final at Baroda during the 1946-47 season.

Kardar was a colossal figure. His no-nonsense attitude made everyone take notice of him wherever he went. No wonder Pakistan chalked up notable Test victories in their early years of going international, chiefly because of the dynamic leadership attributes this man possessed. Now when we think what it was like in those days, one can’t help but say that, without the inspirational presence of Kardar at the helm, Pakistan would have not made the rest of the cricketing world sit up and take serious notice of his team.

Waqar Hasan
Waqar Hasan

The most unique feature of Kardar — who later entered the world of politics and also served as a minister — was that he captained Pakistan in all of the 23 Tests he played for them, after representing India under the name ‘Abdul Hafeez’ in three Tests in the pre-1947 period. He is rightly acclaimed as the father figure of Pakistan cricket.

A gutsy left-handed batsman and a more than useful left-arm seamer, Kardar also plied his trade in the English County Championship for Warwickshire where he learnt the art of captaincy under astute brains such as Martin Donnelly and Tom Dollery. His CV as Pakistan captain speaks for itself — leading the side to victory in Pakistan’s second Test and also captioning the first team in history to defeat England in the latter’s backyard while drawing the unforgettable 1954 series 1-1.

Post-retirement, Kardar became a powerful administrator and headed the then Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP) for a five-year period from 1972. He was the one who promoted departmental cricket because he believed the departments had a big role to play in inculcating the culture of professionalism which was clearly lacking at the time. Now it’s an irony the system initiated by Kardar has been put in the deep freezer for as long as Imran Khan rules the country.

Fazal Mahmood
Fazal Mahmood

Going to that famous win at The Oval, the architect was the charismatic Fazal Mahmood. A tall, well-built, handsome individual with blue eyes, he was the catalyst with the ball on whose broad shoulders Pakistan heavily depended. Fazal played havoc with the England batsmen in that game, picking up six wickets in each innings with his deadly assortment of leg-cutters and seamers. England were on course for a 2-0 series triumph at 109-2 while chasing a modest 168. But Fazal dashed their hopes in spectacular fashion as the hosts lost their final eight wickets for the addition of only 34 runs.

Fazal was virtually unplayable on matting pitches — a norm in Pakistan and to some extent in India then — and created havoc among the opposing teams. First up he destroyed India on the artificial pitch in Lucknow, to enable Pakistan to enjoy its maiden victory in only their second Test. And then Australia had no answers to his mixed bag of cutters and backbreakers during their first-ever visit here in 1956 and succumbed to the wily Fazal who finished them off with an incredible match analysis of 13 for 114.

A debonair character, Fazal — the first Pakistani to register 100 Test wickets (in 22 matches) — was easily identifiable wherever he went and was arguably the first ‘poster-boy’ of Pakistan cricket, who also featured prominently in commercials. Fazal also had great admiration for Alec Bedser, who had a distinguished Test career for England and a bowler who was remarkably similar in type. Some cricket writers used to refer to these two legends in funny ways. While Fazal was often mentioned as the Alec Bedser of Pakistan, the latter was occasionally addressed as the Fazal Mahmood of England whenever they claimed a stack full of wickets.

Abdul Hafeez Kardar
Abdul Hafeez Kardar

The batting equivalent of Fazal in the Pakistan side was a teenaged prodigy who later earned the sobriquet of ‘Little Master’. To this day, Hanif Mohammad is described as technically the greatest Pakistani batsman to play at the highest level. Hailing from a family of five cricket-playing brothers, of whom four played Test cricket, little Hanif was just 17 when he was picked for the inaugural Test as the wicket-keeper and the opener.

Hanif’s contribution of 51 in the first innings of the Delhi Test turned out to be the highest individual score for the visitors. His defence was akin to the wall of Gibraltar, according to many experts, because he was immovable and exhibited tremendous powers of concentration. Who can ever forget his Herculean achievement during the Test at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, when Hanif batted on and on and on for no less than 970 minutes after West Indies forced Pakistan to follow on. The slim right-handed opener accumulated 337 and eventually secured an honourable draw for his team. That stupendous knock still occupies the top spot in the list of Pakistan’s highest individual Test scores.

Hanif also held the record of posting the highest score in first-class cricket when he was run out for 499 after hitting 64 boundaries and batting for 635 minutes, while playing for Karachi against Bahawalpur at the Karachi Parsi Institute (KPI) Ground in January 1959, almost a year after his heroics in the Caribbean.

Another star player to make his debut in Pakistan’s inaugural Test was Imtiaz Ahmed, the nation’s first regular wicketkeeper who was equally proficient and daring with the bat as well. He had a great penchant for the hook, a difficult stroke which Imtiaz had mastered so well that even Majid Khan — that graceful batsman of the 1970s — often said he drew inspiration after watching Imtiaz taking on the West Indies pace legend Wesley Hall during the Lahore Test in 1958-59.

And although none of the Pakistan XI — which consisted of Nazar Mohammad (who scored Pakistan’s first century while carrying his bat for 124 in Lucknow), Hanif, Israr Ali, Imtiaz, Maqsood Ahmed, Kardar, Anwar Hussain, Waqar, Fazal, Khan Mohammad and Elahi — from the 1952 Delhi Test is alive, the majority of them left behind a legacy that will surely live on forever.

The writer is a member of staff

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 23rd, 2020