| Demolition men
My favourite cricketing story, patriots will be pained to hear, has a Pakistani playing the lead role. Not against India, though, but against the West Indies. On a hot day in Bridgetown many years ago, Hanif Mohammad was battling to save a test match. Among those watching him keep out the likes of Roy Gilchrist and Gary Sobers were some young boys. These were not at the ground itself, but were perched high on a coconut tree just outside. They got to their seats in the early morning, and sat there all day, fortified by sandwiches and a casket of palm wine.
Shortly after the boys took their places on the tree, Hanif arrived down below to keep them company. Six hours later they were still there, and so was he. However, his cricket was not particularly to the home crowd’s liking. Some among them booed and jeered. Others reacted more passively. There was a boy on a palm who was dazed and doped by the combination of a hot sun, too much wine, and the relentless thook-thook of Hanif’s defensive bat. He went off to sleep, lost his balance, and fell to the ground, head first. His friends shinnied down the palm to rouse him, but he stayed somnolent. They rushed him to Bridgetown General Hospital, where he was placed in a special ward. On regaining consciousness forty-eight hours later, his first words were: “Is Hanif still batting'” The answer, alas, was in the affirmative.
Without question, Hanif’s would be the first name to be pencilled in while choosing an all-time Pakistan eleven. With him, at the top of the order, would be the left-hander, Saeed Anwar. Anwar was among the most elegant of modern batsmen, at his best, and prettiest, caressing the ball late past point. But he could play the power game too, hitting brutally over midwicket and long-on. Among his contemporaries, only Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting could take apart an attack as effectively as he.
What now of that pivotal position, number three' Were this eleven playing India, then the man for the job must be Zaheer Abbas. Rahul Dravid once claimed that “on the off side, there was only god and Ganguly.” Dravid is too young to have seen Zaheer Abbas at the wicket. It was Zaheer’s batsmanship, and more particularly Zaheer’s cover-driving, that finally brought the reign of the great Indian spin trinity to an end.
That was in the series of 1978, when the secondary demolition man was Javed Miandad. I shall never forget, indeed I have still not overcome, the sight of the twenty-year-old Miandad hoicking my boyhood hero, B.S. Chandrasekhar, for two straight sixes. But the Karachi terrier could play fast bowling too. Where other of his countrymen (including, it must be said, Zaheer) flinched when facing West Indian quicks, Miandad came solidly into line. He was a marvellous all-round player, adept at working the ball for ones and twos, and prepared to take the aerial route when required.
One batting place remains to be filled, and a host of contenders offer themselves. These include those cavaliers of the Seventies — Majid Khan, Asif Iqbal and Mushtaq Mohammad. Majid was the most artistic of the trio, but Mushtaq could bowl (leg-breaks), while Asif was a brilliant fielder. And from a later generation, there is Salim Malik, whose record off the field cannot fully efface his superb stroke-making on it. But above all these batsmen, I shall pick the Butcher of Multan, Inzamam-ul Haq. Choosing him will make the batting as solid as Karakoram rock — this notwithstanding the danger that he might run out the fleet-footed Miandad before running out himself.
The all-rounder’s place belongs, as of right, to a handsome Pathan who now sits as a member of the Pakistan national assembly. The jury is still out on what kind of politician he will make. But what a cricketer was he! His batsmanship was straight out of the MCC coaching book — as befitting a former student of Worcester Royal Grammar School and Keble College, Oxford. But his bowling was wholly untutored. It was spontaneous and elemental, with a rapid run-up culminating in a spectacular final jump. There have been others who bowled as fast as Imran Khan Niazi — but not many who have swung it so much at that pace.
Keeping Imran company will be two other merchants of speed and swing. One, Wasim Akram, bowled fast left-arm; the other, Waqar Younis, bowled fast right-arm. Both moved the ball prodigiously, with the new ball as well as with the old, in an art they had perfected, which has come to be known as “reverse swing”. Batsmen as great as Gordon Greenidge and Sunil Gavaskar treated them with exaggerated respect. But while they undoubtedly troubled those at the top of the order, Wasim and Waqar are to be singled out by the speed at which they got rid of numbers six through eleven. I believe no bowlers in the history of the game have so regularly polished off the tail as quickly as they did.
Lending some variety to this attack shall be the burly police officer, Fazal Mahmood. His forté was not pace, nor movement in the air. Rather, it was the deviation he got off the pitch, again with old ball and new. There were those who thought Fazal to be a matting-wicket bowler. They were to be proved emphatically wrong when he got 14 wickets in the Oval test of 1954, to take Pakistan to a famous win.
Lending more variety still would be that moody muezzin’s son, Abdul Qadir, he of the sharply sideways run, the lick of the fingers, the high leap before letting go of the ball. Unlike an all-time Indian side, an all-time Pakistan side can have only one spin bowler. There are those who will favour, for this spot, the chubby and cheery googly-bowler, Mushtaq Ahmed; others who will press the claims of the sometimes deadly off-break bowler (and master of the doosra), Saqlain Mushtaq. But I think Qadir must be chosen ahead of this undeniably talented duo. No bowler gave more trouble to the master blaster, Vivian Richards. And, well before Shane Warne, it was Qadir who first showed us that spin bowlers could bowl with effect in the dying overs of a one-day innings.
Only the wicket-keeper’s place remains. Those, like the present Indian selectors, who think that the choice should devolve on the best batsman, will plump for Imtiaz Ahmad, who once scored a double hundred in a test and a triple century in a first-class game. But I remain of the old school — I believe that the best keeper is the one who keeps best. With Imran and Wasim bowling, edges will be flying all around, and one wants someone to pocket them. Who better than Wasim Bari, whom the English critics judged to be every bit as good as his contemporary, Alan Knott, which means, of course, that he was even better still.
This then, is my all-time Pakistani eleven, which in batting order reads: Hanif Mohammad, Saeed Anwar, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Inzamam-ul Haq, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Wasim Bari, Fazal Mahmood, Abdul Qadir, Waqar Younis. Can one imagine a more attractive cricketing side' Here we have batsmen classical and stylish, bowlers fast and furious as well as slow and subtle, these complemented by a superb wicket-keeper.
The weaknesses of this team are those of the sub-continent as a whole. Apart from Bari, only Miandad can be relied upon to dive sideways to take a catch or stoop low to stop a fiercely struck ball. As with the Indians, no one will come to see this particular side field. And, as with the Indians, one will have a hell of a job picking a captain whom the others respect. The two obvious candidates, Hanif and Imran, detested, perhaps still detest, one another. One possibility could be to choose Miandad as a compromise. A wiser course still would be to sacrifice one of the batsmen — either Zaheer or Inzy — and pick in his place the left-handed all-rounder, Abdul Hafeez Kardar. Kardar was a capable batsman and a useful bowler. But above all, he was an authoritative, not to say authoritarian, leader, the only captain in Pakistan cricket history who could make ten other Pakistanis do his bidding.