December 10, 2014 By Saad Salmi. AP

A Voyage Down the History of Pak Cricket


Peter Oborne, chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph has penned a brilliantly researched book on the history of Pakistan cricket. He has to his credit Basil D’oliveira, Cricket and Conspiracy: The Untold Story, which tells the story of the charismatic black South African cricketer, Basil D’oliveira, who set off to England as an immigrant, and started his test career at the age of 37 for England. While the book on D’oliveira unveiled the racist history of the British cricket, Wounded Tiger takes a look at the socio-political environment of Pakistan cricket.

After the partition, Mian Muhammed Saeed, a hard-hitting batsman, who had played for the Maharaja of Patiala’s team before the partition, became the first captain of Pakistan cricket team. When an unofficial test was played at Lahore against the West Indies, he led the team to victory. After the retirement of Saeed, Abdul Hafeez Kandar, an orthodox left-arm spinner and attacking middle-order batsman, found himself as the second captain. Even his detractors admired him for his life-long service to the Pakistan cricket. When India hosted a test series in 1951 in Lahore , Khader led the team to victory. A gigantic fast-meadium swing bowler, Fazal Mahmood was the trump card behind the victory.

Very soon, Fazal Mahmood became the backbone of Pakistan cricket. When he toured England with his teammates in 1953, Fazal was guided by Alf Gover , former England fast bowler and a shrewd coach, who once made his take on Fazal: “ He had an unorthodox action, when his bowling arm was about to begin its upward swing from behind . He would cheek and do a twirl of his hand and wrist and then go on with the upward swing, ready to deliver the ball. Any alterations to his action would have ruined him, so I decided to improve his repertoire by teaching him away- swing.”

It was Fazal’s swing magic, an astonishing poetic turn that continues to distinguish Pakistan cricket from others, which offered England a nightmare in 1954 in the fourth test at the Oval. Fazal had 12 wickets for 99 runs to his account, and bowled Pakistan to a memorable 24-run victory.

When Pakistan set foot in West Indies in 1958, Everton Weeks and Clyde Walcott, two of the legendary players of the time, were in the West Indian team. This historic series witnessed the rise of three great players, Garfield Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and O.G Smith, not to mention Roy Gilchrist, the fastest and frightening fast bowler in the world. Despite the threat posed by the West Indies, who dominated the world cricket at the time, Pakistan managed to win the series. It was Hanif Muhammad’s outstanding performances with the bat that ensured Pak victory. He batted without a helmet, chest and back guards and a forearm protector. (Then, no one in the cricket world had used them).

Though Pakistan was defeated by West Indies in the first test at the Kensington Oval in Barbados, Hanif managed to score 337 runs on one of the most bouncy pitches in the world. It was only 50 years later in 2002 that Inzizimam-ul-Haq broke his record. While Inzimam played on a docile pitch, Hanif scored his runs under difficult circumstances and against a scathing bowling attack.

In the early phase, Fazal Mahmood and Hanif Mohammed were the two paladins of Pak cricket, followed by Mushfaq Mohammed, Asif Iqbal, Majid Khan, Wasim Raja, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Muhammed Yusuf (yusufyohanna), Inzimam-ul-haq and Younus Khan. They were the kind of batsmen who introduced exquisite shot selections to the world cricket. They batted with great distinction often under trying conditions for their country. Pak cricket also produced the kings of swing bowling, like WasimAkram, Imran Khan, Safraz Nawaz and Waqar Younus.

Pakistan’s blistering spin attack was a nightmare for most of the batsmen in the cricket world. The leg-spinner Abdul Qadir was a devastating bowler in the beginning, followed by Mushtaq Ahmed, Intikhab Alam, Saqlain Mushtaq, Tauseef ahmed, Iqbal Qasim and Parves sajjad.

Given the turbulent socio-political conditions in Pakistan, cricket is believed to be the salvation for most Pakistanis. They are not concerned about the way Pak cricket continues to be portrayed outside of Pakistan. They simply live through cricket.

In his brilliant book ‘Covering Islam’, Edward said wrote about the media representation of Muslim images. Pakistan cricket was always defined by negative images, and its cricketers caricatured as fanatics. In spite of their brilliant records as players, Javed Miandad was portrayed as a hooligan, and A. H Kardar, pakistan’s second captain, a fanatic. Oborne suggests that the country’s cricket and its players are far richer and more varied than this compartmentalization would imply.

Peter quotes Imran Khan as saying, “cricket came to fill the same role in Pakistani society as football does in Brazil. It represented, in an untrammeled way, the national personality. A new generation emerged in the 1970’s which played the game with a compelling and instinctive genius. Many of these new players came from remote areas….they imposed their own personalities, with the result that cricket went through a period of inventiveness and brilliance.”

Though he does not ignore the anecdotal, Oborne mainly focuses on the historical. So the book would be a delight for cricket lovers and a resource to have a close look at the turbulent history of Pakistan cricket.

Posted in: Books