The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Have a big heart... Live in the present and back yourself: Hanif Mohammed
- The first Little Master reflects on his Junagadh days and his classic 337 in the West Indies
Brothers Mohammed: (From left) Sadiq, Hanif and Mushtaq in Karachi recently

An average of 43-plus in 55 Tests with a best of 337... It’s with good reason that the paan-chewing Hanif Mohammed, one of four brothers to have played for Pakistan, is regarded as the first Little Master. Actually, younger brother Mushtaq still addresses him as “Great.” A former captain, the iconic Hanif (now 71) recently spoke to The Telegraph in Karachi.

The following are excerpts

On his favourite cricketer

Gary Sobers... I first played against him for a World XI selection versus the West Indies and found he wasn’t just any other cricketer, rather he was five-in-one: A great batsman, mediumpacer, chinaman bowler, sharp fielder and a leader... He could do anything.

On childhood in Junagadh

No one told any of us brothers to play cricket... It came naturally... We stayed opposite the state guest house and on weekdays played ‘County’ cricket... On Saturdays and Sundays, we pretended to play ‘Test cricket’! We played with tennis balls and, as you know, they bounce quite a bit... So, from an early age, I learnt a lot... Learnt to keep the ball down... Also, as an old tennis ball swings, I learnt to counter the swinging ball, too... (After a pause) We used cork balls as well and the bowlers dipped them in water before testing us... The balls would skid and make life difficult for us batters.

On the first match he watched

Can’t remember... However, it must have been one featuring the Junagadh state team... If any batsman looked good, I would try and copy him during the ‘County’ and ‘Test’ matches... The then Nawab would invite players from outside the state and watching them used to be such a treat... We would also drive to Rajkot, which wasn’t far, and watch matches there... (Again, after a pause) I continued to learn even after I began playing for Pakistan (debut in 1952-53)... Learnt from Denis Compton, Colin Cowdrey, Peter May... As a fielder, I had the best seat at any stadium and used that to my advantage...

On his first coach

Master Aziz, when we migrated to Karachi and I joined school... He’s the one who taught me to hook ' with a golf ball, at that... My first real big innings was a 305 in an inter-school match for the Ruby Shield... That saw my selection for a charity match, organised by Abdul Hafeez Kardar, for victims of massive floods in the Punjab... I didn’t look back and soon got picked for the home series against the MCC.

On both opening and ’keeping

The ’keeping bit didn’t last too long as everybody feared it would affect my health... I would get tired and the captain (Kardar) gave me the option of concentrating on batting... Of course, I did keep in an emergency, but used to be selected as a specialist opener.

On being the first Asian to score a Test triple hundred (337 in Barbados, 1957-58), an absolute epic

(Grins) My powers of concentration took me there... It was a six-day Test and our poor performance in the first innings (106) made many believe the match would be over in three days... Following on, Imtiaz Ahmed and I started well and, the third evening onwards, the captain (Kardar) would come to the room I shared with elder brother Wazir and leave a note for me on the dressing table... The first read ‘you’re doing fine’ and the next was ‘you’re our only hope’... On the fifth evening, the note read ‘if you bat till tea, we’ll be safe’... That increased my determination and, as it turned out, I did exactly that' Of course, I’d been very tired that last morning and remember taking a massage... I also had a small hit, to loosen up... Surprisingly, West Indian seamer Eric Atkinson came to bowl at nets... After a while, he conceded there was no way he could get me out ' not even when I was loosening up!

On having missed out on beating the then record, Len Hutton's 364

I wasn’t destined to... I wasn’t disappointed... What meant more is that I helped Pakistan save the Test and didn’t let my captain down... (Emotionally) Kardar had so much faith...

On the one stand-out memory from that 970 minutes innings

(Laughs) That of a West Indian, who would sit on the branch of a tree... Initially, he would taunt, but then began to appreciate my batting and our fightback... On the fourth day, the poor chap fell and had to be hospitalised. Yet, he returned the next afternoon... ‘You’re still there' I’m back, my friend... I’m back’ he kept saying. After the Test got over, Kardar and I invited him to our dressing room for tea and sandwiches. We thanked him for his support and gave a couple of mementos...

On the secret of his enviable concentration (he has a 499 in first-class cricket)

Prayers... I regularly prayed while at the wicket' Even as the bowler was charging in'

On whether the weight of the bat is a factor

Because I favoured the hook and cut, I had a light one... Those who score more off drives probably prefer heavier bats. Basically, what matters is the level of comfort.

On his top openers

Hutton, Bobby Simpson and Sunil Gavaskar... Sunil would smell the ball before deciding whether or not to offer a shot... He was that good.

On makeshift openers

Stick to specialists. It’s a personal opinion, but the most difficult job shouldn’t go to part-timers... The better openers know which balls to leave and a specialist is bound to be more aware of what needs to be done.

On his advice to emerging openers

Have a big heart and don’t be frightened of quicks... Equally, don’t let anxiety get the better of you... Live in the present and back yourself... Worrying about the possibility of failure has never done anybody any good. If I may add, don’t ease off when a non-regular bowler comes on... That can be fatal. And, remember that the transfer of weight from one leg to the other has to be perfect... Finally, never ‘expose’ your chest to the bowler unless you’re going for the hook.

On cricket in the present times

Three Tests and five ODIs... That’s the norm' It ought to be the reverse ' five Tests and three ODIs.

Finally, on the Sachin Tendulkar versus Brian Lara debate

(After a pause) Both are very fine batsmen... Both have been big achievers... But, generally, a left-hander comes through as more attractive... Sachin’s a complete batsman, but if I’ve got to pay and watch just one, it’s going to be Lara.

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