Hanif – the original Little Master

imageThe excitement was supreme….all of 6 years old, dressed in short pants and ready to go. It was my first trip to the National Stadium, to see Pakistan play Australia. This was October 1964, there was no TV in Karachi. So my only experience of watching cricket was to see my cousins play in club cricket. One of them, I am convinced, should have played first class at the least, but then studies got in the way.

From memory, I think this was the fourth day of the match. Pakistan had 6 debutants. The old team of the 50’s was destroyed in 1962 by England. It had been a thrashing, accentuated by the bad form of Hanif, the star batsman. Later on it came to light that he had battled through pain in the knee. Nevertheless, the doubts about Hanif remained on his return, after physical rehabilitation. Post the clean out, Hanif had returned, and being by far the most senior and a great student of the game, been made captain. This apparently did not go down well with various regional lobbies in the BCCP and a war ensued. The pressure on the captain was huge.

Of the six debutants, two were to disappear quickly, two after few years of mediocrity and two were to last a decade and half. This pair opened the bowling for Pakistan in 1964 and took few wickets. However, they were destined to become iconic Pakistani batsmen in the 70s. I speak of Majid Khan and Asif Iqbal, who batted I think, at number 9 and 10 in the batting order. The openers, both debutants, made a 249 runs stand. Billy Ibadullah scored a century and Abdul Kadir was run out for 95. By the time we reached National Stadium on the 4th day, Pakistan had to score runs to consolidate a small lead and ensure that the Australians were given a substantial target.

It was most exhilarating. Thousands jam packed together, like sardines, sitting on steps of concrete, with no shamianas. When a shot was hit, the crowd stood up and a small 6 year old was not destined to see much. The heat – remember October in Karachi – was terrible and my uncle was burnt black. No cold drinks available, toilets non-existent and your back side burnt to boot on the concrete steps. But I do not remember this day for those reasons at all.

My memory recalls the roar which went up, when Hanif the Little Master came to the crease. Oh, the excitement and love which was showered on the man. Pakistan had wound itself back into problems. Some 100 plus runs on the board; 4 wickets down; mid way through the 4th day. Burki on the other side and Hanif join’s him. The tension was palpable and the fear was that if Hanif fails, Pakistan will fold. In the first innings we had gone from the heights of 249 for 0 to 300 plus for 7, before Intikhab had saved the day with a quick fire 50. Hanif himself had scored a couple of runs and clearly he was now fighting for survival and captaincy. Not much changes over the decades! A near 100 run stand later, with Hanif standing firm under pressure the day was saved. I remember being totally enamored with this man and a belief was born about Pakistan cricket which has lasted a lifetime.

The next 6 months were most prolific for Hanif. A century in New Zealand, another double made in Pakistan and almost another record at Melbourne. Having scored a century in the first innings, under the watchful eye of Bradman, who expressed admiration, Hanif approached a second century in the match. However, at 93 Jarman made a routine habitual stumping appeal. Much to his horror he saw the finger go up. Jarman apologized, as did the umpire, because Hanif would have had that unique record – eventually Gavaskar did – a century in each innings, twice over.

There was just one more day left in this masters career and that came with his 187* at Lords in 1967. But that is another story to tell.

Today the original Little Master sits at the ripe old age of 78 in a wheel chair and generally not well, unheralded, an icon of a past age. I would ask you to remember a little man, who stood tall for a decade and a half for Pakistan cricket, when others older and taller used to fall like nine-pins. Had he played today his technique would have made him an icon of this age too.

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