HE was so often the boy who stood on the burning deck as Pakistan batting collapsed. None more so than as a 23-year old when at Bridgetown, Barbados in the searing heat and humidity he batted for more than three days to save a Test match for his beloved country. Near the end he was vomiting from the effort but refused to leave the pitch.
Pakistan was following on 473 behind after being bowled out for 106 in their first innings. By the time he returned on 337, Pakistan was 153 ahead with just over an hour left in the match. And those were the days when there were no fitness trainers, nor dieticians and no physiotherapists travelling with the team.
Hanif Mohammad batted in an era of fearsome fast bowlers, a few of whom bent their elbow beyond what is allowed now. When the 5’ 4” Hanif toured a place like West Indies, there were biased home umpires who smiled at you when you were hit on the chest. What today’s fans of gritty openers should know is that there were no chest guards, wrist protectors and, would you believe it, no helmet; just a cotton cap. The gloves he wore were thinly made with rubber stubs on the finger parts. The pads had no backside padding and he had to tie his pads with tin buckles that would rub against his flesh as he ran between wickets. More than two thirds of 337 runs in that innings had come from running between wickets.
When the six foot-plus, 150lb hulks came at him after bowling at his neck and poured expletives in his ear they would be roared all the way back by the mob on the boundary line, much like gladiators in the colosseum. If he evaded one bouncer, there would be as many as the bowler willed. No two bouncers per over rule then. He faced the same 22 yards at speeds touching the same 95 miles an hour that modern batsmen have faced from Jeff Thomson, Shoaib Akhtar, Brett Lee, et al.
It was said by his colleagues that he did not come even close to an lbw or edge, which was enough for home umpire dismissal in those days.
That is Hanif Mohammad for you; a man of honour who represented Pakistan brilliantly from its first Test match (where he also kept wickets) for 17 years until a bad knee forced him out. His other marathons were a fabulous 187 at Lord’s against England, taking Pakistan to 354 from 139-7. A couple of years earlier, on his first exposure to the green and bouncy pitches of Australia, he almost scored a century in each innings at the MCG, being wrongly given out stumped at 93 and the umpire apologizing later
Those who played under him as captain tell of a shrewd cricketing brain that could pick out a batsman’s weakness in minutes.
And yet he remained soft spoken, modest and humble, smiling only at references to Barbados, or MCG or Lord’s. A man who carried the Pakistani flag to the world and remained its most respected ambassador. We salute him on his fourth death anniversary today.
Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2020