March 11, 2013 4 Comments
Its sad when you die with a whimper. Sadder still when you die with a whimper, when you have once been famous. Napoleon comes to mind. Out in the middle of the Atlantic, the man who ruled Europe and filled everyone with fear was dead and the world did not know. What an awful culmination to such a huge existence.
Today I had the same feeling, when I read a tribute to Haseeb Ahsan. Then, much to my chagrin, I found in a subsequent report that in fact he had died yesterday. Yes, I can see so many saying ‘who was Haseeb Ahsan?’ That is exactly my point.
Yet, I remember him being on the front pages of newspapers not only here in Pakistan, but England, Australia and I am sure in India also.
So who was Haseeb Ahsan? In a bygone era he used to spin his off spinners more than Muralitharan did. Not many will remember that. Unlike Murli, he got banned from cricket for doing that. They said his action was not correct and in the days when the ICC was really the Imperial Cricket Council, it was not so accommodating as now. So his career finished after 12 tests for Pakistan in 1962, when he was sent back from our England tour. It was a defect due to an unnatural bent of arm and he had nothing to do with it… Like Murli! but fate played a role and he went out.
However his best days were yet to come. His headlines were still 20 years away, in the 1980s. And for once you can say a Pakistani hero returned more to the country than he took away. Did more than his actual ability warranted. And in doing this, he took on all and sundry simply for Pakistan.
Haseeb finished with cricket and had a great career as an executive with PIA and then American Express. He rose to head the organisation. Being an acknowledged expert in management it was not surprising that he was so senior. But in later years, his association led him to play a role in BCCP (PCB today). He eventually rose to be Chief Selector – role presently held by Iqbal Qasim. Those were the days when Pakistan was led by Imran Khan and the BCCP chief was the great Nur Khan- giant of a personality.
Haseebs understanding of humans led him to blood many youngsters. His star pick was Wasim Akram. I still remember Haseeb putting Wasim in the tour match versus New Zealand in Rawalpindi. A strapping youngster, all hair and legs and did it pay off! Eventually Wasim ended up taking wickets in New Zealand a few months later and of course the rest is history.
As Chief Selector Haseeb’s hour came in an earlier confrontation, where he must have graduated to be the ‘Most hated man in Pakistan’. Yet he held to his principles and months later was proved right. Pakistan were on their way to Australia in 1983-84 under Imran’s captaincy. However, Imran was suffering from pain in his shins and there were some doubts on his fitness. It seemed Nur Khan and all of Pakistan had aligned itself into sending Imran, except one Haseeb Ahsan. No budging the man, his mantra “prove your fitness and you can go”. The confrontation made the front pages, everyone abused Haseeb and yet the man was adamant. Eventually Imran went, based on a Nur Khan decree. Result, Imran could not play any of the 5 test matches and the balance of the team was upset. We lost 2-0, where we had begun the tour as equal favourites. It took a lot of guts to take that stand and in later years Imran was very appreciative of it.
Cut to the 1987 tour of England. Haseeb is now Manager of the team – in pre coach days, a very important role. Haseeb and Imran knew that Pakistan had a good chance against a strong England team. They also knew that like in all previous tours, a controversy will be thrown at the team to unsettle it. So the plan! Haseeb will take on the English press and let Imran get on with the job of winning the test series. Haseeb put in a request to delete a couple of English umpires from the panel -Messrs Constant and Palmer. In the 1982 tour these gentleman had been the source of many controversial decisions against Pakistan. All hell broke loose and the whole 3 month tour was consumed by a three way battle. English papers, cricket authorities and Haseeb. All done forthrightly , but with a nice smile. An English speaking wiley oriental gentleman (WOG) took on the mantle of controversy. The result, nary a single major controversy related to the players, the team worked as a unit and it became the first series win by a Pakistan team in England. The plan was acknowledged by Imran. Haseeb went smilingly about it, drawing the fire on the person for the sake of Pakistan.
In later years age and changing personalities meant that Haseeb disappeared from cricket. It has then come to this, that a man who had substantial part to play in building the team which won the World Cup 92, has died a quiet death. This article has been written to thank this man posthumously and to try and balance the scales of gratitude just a little bit, on behalf of the Pakistani nation.