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Pakistan cricket: great rivalries and bust ups

Updated Aug 21, 2016 11:45pm

The evolution of Pakistan cricket teams has triggered a rather queer phenomenon: the notorious squabbling within the Pakistan team has turned itself into the kind of personal rivalries between players that have actually helped them perform in the most stunning manner (both in victory and defeat). It is as if to perform at their best, Pakistani cricketers have had to challenge each another first.

Each time Pakistan plays, the question is, will they swallow the opposition, or combust into flames?

Raja vs. Raja

Late Wasim Raja – elder brother of Rameez Raja – was perhaps the most enigmatic cricketer of the 1970s and early 1980s.

In his book, ‘An All-Round View,’ Imran Khan describes Raja to be one of most gifted stroke makers he had ever seen, but someone who never thought he needed any practice - a carefree trait that did not go down well with Raja’s captains. They all described him as a loner who could not bond well with the team.

Raja bloomed under Muhstaq Muhammad’s captaincy, but not without incidence. Dropped from the team (for being irresponsible) during the 1976 home series against New Zealand, Raja was picked (on skipper Mushtaq’s insistence) in the 18-member squad that toured Australia and West indies during the 1976-77 season.

Pakistan drew the series 1-1 against the Aussies, but Raja did not figure in the final IX, despite scoring a hard-hitting century in a side game. Expecting to be picked for the third test, he was ignored.

In his autobiography, ‘Inside Out,’ Mushtaq writes that he was tempted to select Raja, but since Pakistan were 1-0 down in the series, he wanted a more responsible batsman in the side. Then Mushtaq goes on to describe how badly Raja took the decision.

Raja, in a ‘drunken rage,’ smashed a mirror to bits in his hotel room, and then stumbled across the hotel lobby, accusing the team manager, Shujauddin, of favouritism.

Raja was finally selected (in place of an injured Zaheer) on the West Indian leg of the tour. In a closely fought contest, Pakistan went down 2-1, and ironically, Raja topped the batting averages, scoring more than 500 runs in five tests, with a century and five fifties.

Famous West Indian commentator, Tony Cozier, described Raja’s batting on that tour as ‘breathtaking.’

A future Pakistani Test player, who was then a young member of the touring squad, remembered Raja’s batting (and antics) fondly: ‘He was a law unto himself,’ he told this writer in 1997. ‘Five down for 130 odd, and Raja would come in and hit Joel Garner for a straight six, first ball.’

He also affectionately remembered how Raja, while waiting for his turn to bat (during the second Test on the same tour), slipped out, bumped into a few West Indian fans of his outside the stadium, gleefully shared with them a smoking pipe brimming with  ganja, came back, padded up and went on to score a most prodigious fifty!

Javed Miandad in his book, A Cutting Edge, described Raja as one of the hardest-hitting batsmen. But he also thought Raja was his own greatest enemy.

After having a great tour of India in 1979, (where during one side game in Amritsar, he mischievously threaten to grab the groin of an approaching fan), Raja once again became a frustrating in-out case, finally bidding farewell to cricket in 1985.

Sadly, he died at the age of 55 in 2004.


Mushtaq Muhammad vs. Asif Iqbal

Whenever there is talk of great Pakistani cricket captains, three names spontaneously spring to mind: Imran Khan, A H. Kardar and Mushtaq Muhammad.

It was under Mushtaq that a bunch of individualistic talents became a world-beating side. With Mushtaq at the helm, Pakistan managed to beat New Zealand and India, as well the 1970s’ mighty Australian and West Indian sides.

Highly competitive, Mushtaq is also remembered as the captain who had a habit of taking struggling players to hotel bars and discussing their form over a glass of beer. It was also under him that Pakistanis attempted to match the Aussies’ knack for ‘effective sledging,’ and he turned Miandad and Sarfraz Nawaz into sledging machines!

It was Mushtaq’s good luck that his long-time vice-captain, Asif Iqbal, was also one of his best friends. But as Mushtaq explains in his autobiography, after captaining Pakistan for four years (1976-79), he was suddenly replaced due to ‘Asif’s intrigues. He blamed Asif (and Majid Khan) for ‘stabbing him in the back,’ by telling the selectors that he was ‘over the hill.’

Mushtaq was all set to continue as skipper for the 1979 series against India, when he was asked to retire by the selectors. Asif became the new captain, leading Pakistan across the turbulent series that Pakistan lost, 2-0.

Humiliated, Asif decided to retire after the disastrous tour, and Mushtaq was asked to return as captain. He declined, and instead suggested the board make Miandad the new captain, and which it did (in 1980).


Imran Khan vs. Sarfraz Nawaz

Along with the Wasim-Waqar bowling pair, the Imran-Sarfraz bowling duo is considered to be the best Pakistan cricket has produced.

But unlike Wasim and Waqar, Sarfraz and Imran were also considered to be bosom buddies, and on tours the dashing, ‘playboy’ Imran, and the hard-drinking and boisterous Sarfraz were a regular feature at assorted night clubs. It is said that it was Sarfraz who taught the art of reverse swing to Imran.

The long friendship lasted till 1994 – until Imran Khan began planning to join politics, and refused to welcome the then Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, when she made a trip to his charity hospital. A long-time supporter of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Sarfraz had joined the party in 1988.

But what really broke the camel’s back for Nawaz was when Imran (after going through his post-retirement born-again-Muslim routine), started using populist Islamic symbolism and rhetoric. Nawaz went public with his outrage, calling Imran ‘a hypocrite’, saying that a former ‘playboy’ had no right to preach morals. Imran retaliated by calling Nawaz a ‘mad man’ and a ghoonda (scoundrel).

The severe brick baiting between the two has continued unabated.


Javed Miandad vs. Imran Khan

Miandad and Imran are perhaps the two most popular set of cricketers produced by Pakistan. Both served the team together for almost 20 years.

According to a 1996 interview of former Pakistan opener, Mudassar Nazar, Imran and Javed had a ‘classic love-hate relationship’ - a fact that becomes obvious when their assessment of this relationship in their respective autobiographies starts reading like a soggy soap opera! Within a space of a single chapter, Imran in his book, ‘Imran,’ both praises and criticizes Miandad in equal measure. Miandad does the same in his own book, and string after string of sentences showering liberal praise as well as attacks on one another.

Both became friends while playing for Somerset in England in the mid-1970s, where they also shared a flat. However, the friendship began to fall apart after a 23-year-old Miandad replaced Asif Iqbal as captain in 1980.

In 1981, ten players revolted against Miandad’s captaincy and refused to play under him. Miandad blamed Majid Khan and Zaheer Abbas as being the ‘ring leaders’ of the revolt. In his book Miandad suggests that the revolt only became successful when the ‘ring leaders’ convinced Imran to join them. Miandad felt ‘like being stabbed in the back.’

Interestingly, after Miandad stepped down, he told the board that he will not play under either Majid or Zaheer, but will be more than glad to play under Imran. In 1986, Miandad became Imran’s vice-captain.

Some of the most successful ODI and Test cricket by Pakistan was played through the Imran-Miandad ‘think tank,’ an example of which was seen during the fourth Test against England (in England) in 1987.

In an attempt to halt England’s run chase, one side of the wicket was marshaled by captain Imran, while the other side was being maneuvered by his vice-captain, Miandad. The game was saved and Pakistan won the series.

The re-established friendship between the two broke down again when (after Imran’s retirement in 1992), Miandad (as captain) accused Imran of trying to divide the team and get the board to make Wasim Akram captain.

Imran denied the accusation, but in 1993, Miandad stepped down and Akram did become the new skipper.

Miandad retired from cricket in 1996, and has since rekindled his friendship with Imran.


Imran Khan vs. Qasim Umar/Yunus Ahmed

Qasim Umar was a dashing young talent who emerged on the scene in the early 1980s. However, by 1988 he was out, banned by the cricket board.

After a 1986 Australian tour, Umar stunned the media by declaring that Imran and his team were ‘junkies.’ He claimed that most of the players (including Imran) smoked cannabis (hashish) and were involved in prostitution. Umar’s timing couldn’t have been worse. The Pakistan team was on a high (pun not intended), and popularly being led by Imran and his vice-captain, Miandad.

In 1987, after an Indian tour, Yunus Ahmed - who’d been brought out of retirement (by Imran) to play against India - repeated Umar’s accusations, claiming that Imran and his team were ‘drunkards’ and smoked dope.

Ahmed, was banned as well.

Qasim Umar today is a member of the Tableeghi Jamat (Islamic evangelists).


Wasim vs. Waqar

Easily one of the most destructive fast bowling pairs to grace international cricket, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younus were never buddies. According to their own admission, each tried to outdo the other, but of course, it was the team that benefited from this intense rivalry.

Ironically, it was Akram and Waqar who (supposedly on Imran’s instigation), rebelled against Miandad’s captaincy in 1993. Consequently, Akram was named captain, and Waqar became vice-captain.

But the arrangement did not last long. Akram, after being arrested along with a few other Pakistani players, for smoking dope on a Caribbean beach, was disgraced, and Waqar eventually led a players’ revolt against him in 1994.

Akram returned as skipper twice (1996; 1998-99), but his relationship with Waqar remained strained, until both finally reconciled during Waqar’s captaincy (2001-2002).


Inzamam-ul Haq vs. Shoaib Akhtar

Inzamam-ul Haq is ranked up there with greats like Miandad and rightly so. But in spite of captaining Pakistan for three years (2004-2007), he was constantly criticised for being ‘lethargic’ and too defensive.

Some of his critics also point at his born-again religiosity in which he tried to unite the team on the basis of a particular brand of evangelical Islam (tableeghi).

He regularly allowed certain celebrity-turned-preachers into the dressing room. As he went about changing the team’s culture – blaming alcohol, partying and drugs as the main culprits of the team’s problems – he failed on two major counts.

First of all he alienated some players who did not agree with his brand of religion (mainly Abdul Razzaq, Yunus Khan and Shoaib Akhtar); secondly, the ‘Islamisation’ of the team did absolutely nothing to curb the kind of reckless greed that has seen many players fall pray to shady bookies.

Maverick tear-away fast bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, became the most prominent victim of Inzi’s religious dabbling. A throwback of the ‘wild’ Pakistani cricketers of yore, Shoaib constantly squabbled with Inzamam, calling him a hypocrite for dragging religion into sport.

According to cricket journalist, Osman Sammiuddin, Shoaib sometimes openly rebelled against and mocked Inzi’s ‘Raiwind regime.’ Shoaib refused to give up his love of late night partying, saying that it was his personal matter. Then, during a series against England (in 2005), he kept calling Inzamam in the middle of the night, sarcastically asking him to get ready for prayers!

Shoaib remained an outsider in Inzimam’s team, and the tableeghis who became a regular fixture in the dressing room, avoided him like the plague.

‘They found him to be mocking and rude, and stayed clear of him,’ Osman said.

Shoaib lamented that had he been playing under Imran, he would have achieved a lot more as a bowler. Instead, alienated by Inzi and the team’s overt religious fervor, Shoaib stumbled from one controversy to another.

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com. The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.