What comes to your mind when someone utters the name ‘Kaka’. I am absolutely not talking about the celebrated Brazilian footballer and neither I am referring to the newly famed Indian Punjabi singer. Kaka is the affectionately referred nick name of a gentle left arm spinner from Karachi who has to his credit some remarkable performances around the cricket world in the Test match arena some four decades ago. Yes, I am talking about the resolute, steady and often under rated talent of Mohammad Iqbal Qasim, who turned 70 last month, regarded as the best slow left arm orthodox bowler produced by Pakistan.
To reach the pinnacle of 1000 wickets in first-class wicket is a remarkable feat indeed and to miss it just by a single wicket is even more astonishing. Twelve bowlers from the subcontinent including six Pakistanis, four Indians and two Sri Lankans have done this.
Iqbal Qasim remains the unfortunate person to finish with a first-class career tally of 999 wickets. This fact was discovered by late A Aziz Rehmatullah, a prominent Pakistani cricket statistician of yesteryears.
A similar cruelty of fate in cricket befell upon another left arm spinner from Pakistan, Abdul Rehman who ended up with 99 Test match wickets. I firmly believe that given a chance Iqbal Qasim can still roll his arm over for that elusive 1000th first class scalp.
The National Bank of the 1970s was a great tournament side. Between 1975-76 and 1986-87 they won the Quaid-e-Azam trophy five times. Over the same period, they also won the BCCP Patron’s Trophy four times and Pentangular Cup once. Unlike the star-studded line ups of PIA, Habib Bank and United Bank, the NBP squad included a lot of fringe players. It was skippered by Aftab Baloch, the first-class quadruple centurion, who just represented Pakistan in two test matches. Medium pacers Ehteshamuddin, and Naseer Malik and wicket keeping opener Tasleem Arif had their brief spells with Pakistan national side. The only two exceptions with prolonged Pakistan careers among National Bank regulars were Wasim Raja and Iqbal Qasim.
It was Iqbal Qasim’s performance in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy which led to his selection for the 1976-77 twin tour of Australia and the West Indies. Qasim made his test debut in the opening test match at Adelaide ahead of experienced former skipper Intikhab Alam and made an impact with both bat and ball instantaneously. A low key first innings Pakistani team performance saw Australia gain an advantage of 182 runs. The hosts looked the likely winners late on the fourth day when Pakistan lost their ninth wicket with a modest overall advantage of 197 runs. With defeat looming Iqbal Qasim played first of his many gritty knocks accompanying Pakistan’s eternal man of crisis Asif Iqbal. Their last wicket partnership of 87 runs extended well into the fifth day, eating up useful time and setting up a decent target of 284 runs. When Iqbal Qasim was finally run out he had scored four runs off 52 deliveries spread over 96 minutes. And this batting effort was against an Australian attack comprising Dennis Lillee and Gary Gilmour on their home turf. Subsequent to that show of tenacity Iqbal Qasim produced his first noticeable spell. Bowling his slow left arm orthodox in tandem with teenager Javed Miandad who literally pushed his fastish leg breaks with great effect forced the Australia’s high and mighty batting line up on the defensive. When Iqbal Qasim dismissed Aussie skipper Greg Chappell, his fourth top order wicket of the innings, shutters were brought down by Gary Cosier and Rodney Marsh, who were booed by the Adelaide crowd for their timid tactics. That was the curtain raiser for a career which ebbed and flowed as inconsistently as his team’s fortunes.
Eleven years and some forty odd Test matches later when Iqbal Qasim stepped on the Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore to play what proved to be his final Test appearance outside Pakistan, the unassuming left-armer gave another impactful all round performance which left indelible mark on history of Pakistan cricket.
Bangalore Test victory that resulted in Pakistan’s first ever series win on Indian soil is perhaps the most exhaustively covered test match in Pakistan’s print media. It was played on a fiendishly difficult track that was spinning from the day one. 35 of the 40 wickets were taken by spinners, nine each by Pakistani duo of finger spinners Iqbal Qasim and Lionel Ritchie’s look alike Tauseef Ahmed.
In addition to his batting IQ showed his prowess in batting and fielding departments as well. Qasim was promoted in the second innings by Imran to counter the vicious spin of Indian left- armer Maninder Singh and he did so by making a steadfast contribution of 26 valuable runs. In his understated bowling style Qasim took four second innings wickets that encompassed two brilliant caught and bowled dismissing Mohammad Azharuddin and Ravi Shastri underlining his strength as an all-round fieldsman, a trait which he exhibited throughout his illustrious career.
In the end his match up was against the legendary Sunil Manohar Gavaskar who was the last man standing on India’s burning deck. It was Gavaskar’s last test innings and he played like a true master as Indian batting crumbled around him. After multiple loud and rejected appeals, Pakistan finally got through Sunny’s defenses when Rizwan-uz-Zaman picked up a close-in catch off Iqbal Qasim for a masterly knock of 96 runs. The man of the match went Gavaskar’s way but Iqbal Qasim had played the decisive hand in grabbing the triumph for his country.
In between his fighting debut at Adelaide and glorious Test match win at Bangalore, Iqbal Qasim gave multiple exquisite performances and won many a Test matches for Pakistan. His biggest misfortune was that his career ran almost in parallel with leg spinning legend Abdul Qadir who was Imran Khan’s first choice spin weapon due to his aggressive style of bowling. Yet whenever Iqbal Qasim got a chance, especially under Javed Miandad’s captaincy, he always delivered. His ten wickets in a lost cause at Bombay against Indian batting powerhouse in 1979-80 and a few months later his demolition of Australian batting lineup on Karachi’s dusty turner were two of his standout performances.
After the Indian trip Iqbal Qasim made the 1987 tour of England as Assistant Manager under Imran but came back in the Pakistan side to play two home series against England and Australia under Javed Miandad. His last wicket was another great Australian Steve Waugh. In 13 test appearances against the Aussies, Qasim got 57 wickets at an average just above 26 is an excellent record for a sub-continent left arm spinner.
Iqbal Qasim’s accuracy was uncanny. He was extremely economical and rarely gave batters any width. 66% of his test wickets were top order batters. If one just goes through the list of his clean bowled dismissals it looks like a who’s who list of cricketing heavyweights including Greg Chappell, Geoff Boycott, Allan Border, Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanath, David Gower and Gordon Greenidge.
Another lesser known credit to Iqbal Qasim is his role in speeding up introduction of helmets in cricket. Exhibiting his stickiness as a night watchman, Iqbal Qasim frustrated the English attack. He was then subjected to a barrage of bouncers by Bob Willis and was hit on his mouth falling immediately to the ground. This unfortunate incident happened at Lord’s in the year 1978. There was a lot of hue and cry in the press globally and helmets were fast tracked into the game.
Born in Karachi’s Memon community, Iqbal Qasim acquired his Masters degree in Economics from Karachi University. He reserved his best performances for Karachi’s National Stadium. Out of his 50 Test matches each at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium and Karachi’s National Stadium. Yet, as compared to his 23 wickets tally at Lahore, he dismissed 44 batters on his home turf at an average of shade over 20. A remarkable liking for his hometown. This included two match winning hands against Australia. Statistically these performances are only bettered by his record at Bombay’s Wankhade Stadium where he took 10-175, albeit in a losing cause.
Subsequent to his retirement Iqbal Qasim got involved with cricket and sports administration with his employers National Bank of Pakistan. Additionally, he rendered services for the PCB in various capacities including terms as Head of Selection Committees both for senior and junior selection committees. Pakistan won the two Under – 19 World Cup competitions during his selectorial tenure.
A gritty lower order batter, an extremely reliable all-round fielder, an economical yet penetrative left arm spinner with 171 Test scalps at 28, an exemplary team man and in his later years an honest cricket selector and administrator. That’s Iqbal Qasim in a nutshell for you.