PAKISTAN as a newly created country was fortunate enough to have inherited a readymade cricket culture with Lahore being the hub of most of the cricket activity.
Men like Jahangir Khan, tearaway fast bowler Mohammad Nisar, Dilawar Hussain, Wazir Ali and his brother Nazir Ali, Abdul Hafeez Kardar, Amir Elahi and Gul Mohammad had played at Test level for India already at different times and were readily available to lend a helping hand to those who aspired to wear the national colours.
Besides, there were others too who had the experience of handling the game and its players. But the man who stood out as the leader of the pack was one who after leading Pakistan to victory in an unofficial Test against the visiting MCC team at Karachi Gymkhana in 1951, became his country’s first captain in official Tests, which indeed was Abdul Hafeez Kardar.
For India he played as Abdul Hafeez. Later, while leading Pakistan, he added Kardar to his name. His cousins AR Kardar and AJ Kardar were reputed actors, producers and directors in the Indian movie industry.
He was one of the three players including Amir Elahi and Gul Mohammad who had already played Tests for India and then later played for Pakistan.
Before he took charge as captain of Pakistan in unofficial Tests for his country, Kardar had not only played three Tests for India but also represented Northern India, Muslims, University College Oxford and Warwickshire in county cricket for two season where he also happened to have met his first wife Helen Rosemary Hastilow, the daughter of the County’s chairman Cyril Hastilow.
An Oxford Blue, Kardar served his teams well as a left-handed batsman and as an orthodox left-arm spinner.
But after taking the reins of captaincy for his country, he turned out to be a fine leader of men as long as he played. Kardar led Pakistan in its first 23 Tests and with reasonable amount of success, winning six, losing six and drawing 11 Test matches.
Tall and handsome and with a commanding presence, Kardar made his mark in international cricket, be it as a player or skipper or as administrator. Later, in his life he also excelled as a minister and as ambassador for his country in Switzerland which happened to be his last diplomatic assignment.
I was a schoolboy in 1951 when I saw Kardar bat against MCC at Karachi. I watched him later in Tests against India in Karachi in 1955 and against New Zealand when for the first time Pakistan won a Test series at home. Kardar took 8 wickets in Pakistan’s 2-0 series victory then. And then later, against Australia at the National Stadium in 1956 when Pakistan won the one-off Test.
It was for the first time that I realised watching Kardar bat that how stubborn he could be when in trouble. Australia got bowled out for a mere 80 in the first innings with Fazal Mahmood taking 6 for 34.
However, in reply, Pakistan were soon struggling at 70 for 5 but were fabulously rescued by Kardar (69) and Wazir Mohammad (64) with a 104-run stand that enabled Pakistan to take a sizeable lead of 119.
Fazal again was in his elements and played havoc by taking with 7 for 80 to restrict Australia to just 187. Pakistan easily won the Test.
What impressed me most was Kardar’s brilliant cover driving as well as his solid defence. This was the best of Kardar that I saw.
His earlier exploits as captain of Pakistan were truly memorable too. In his country’s inaugural Test series in 1952 in India, after having lost the first Test, Kardar led his team brilliantly as Pakistan bounced back with a fine Test win by an innings at Lucknow.
Though Pakistan lost the series, Kardar showed how well a new country could cope at that level of cricket.
On the England tour of 1954, he became the first captain of a visiting team in England to draw a Test series on their first tour when at The Oval Pakistan beat England to level the series.
Within four years of Test cricket, Pakistan under the able leadership of Kardar had won a Tests against every nation they played against. On the first tour to West Indies under him, Pakistan beat West Indies by an innings at Port of Spain in Trinidad, thanks to a truly magnificent 189 by Wazir Mohammad and a six wicket haul from Fazal Mahmood.
A strict disciplinarian with a robust presence, Kardar went on to revolutionise Pakistan cricket as a captain and later as chairman of the cricket board.
It was in 1957 that I first met him face to face during the first coaching camp organised by the cricket board which I was a part of as a player and which included promising university players of the country.
This was the camp which unearthed players like Ijaz Butt, Saeed Ahmed, Nasim-ul-Ghani and Haseeb Ahsan who were then picked to tour West Indies in 1957-58.
Kardar, then an education secretary based in Karachi, would visit the camp every afternoon at the NSK to show footage of great cricketers of the past and of the time and later lecture us on skills of the game.
He had his tiffs too with the players and the authorities. In the 1976 Test at Hyderabad against New Zealand, he was faced with a players revolt over match fees. He promised them a fair hearing after the series but the players would not relent.
Kardar then put together a bunch of 11 more players as stand-bys in case the rebels did not agree to play. On the eve of the Test I was in Mushtaq Mohammad’s room at 11pm when Kardar arrived to see him.
The very next day, the entire lot of rebels had bowed down to him and had agreed to play the Test. However, it was not the end of that saga and was followed by a further confrontation between the players and him which ended Kardar’s tenure as president of the board after the government stepped in to support the players.
As PPP’s provincial assembly member for Punjab, Kardar also held Food Minister’s portfolio and later served as an ambassador.
It was in 1995 that I met him last when he came to London to see a specialist for his heart condition. I had a long and interesting chat with him then.
Kardar passed away in 1996 at the age of 71 in his hometown Lahore. His son Shahid Kardar later rose to became Governor of Sate Bank of Pakistan.
Shahid was Kardar’s son from his second wife who was the sister of off-spinner Zulfiqar Ahmad.
Many captains have come and gone but Kardar, in my opinion, would be remembered as one of the best ever to lead the country.
Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2020