The Passing away of an Icon; and Pakistan letting England off the hook at the Oval

August 12, 2016 | By

This report comes both in deep sorrow and grief; as well as in controlled anger. Sorrow and grief at the passing away of my hero and the greatest opening batsman of his time and the best for Pakistan of all times the Little Master and Giant among batsmen Hanif Mohammad.  Anger as Pakistan yet again because of their over confidence, cock a hoop attitude and butter fingered catching and lack of the will to go for the kill once they had England reeling at 110 for 5 let them off the hook and allowed them to reach not only a respectable score but also  them snatch the initiative in the dying moments of a fascinating day’s play by giving them the valuable wicket of Sami Aslam.

I have been utterly depressed and forlorn to hear of the passing away of the great Hanif Mohammad. The facts and details about his life and achievements can be found in most reports, websites and in condolence messages. To me it is a personal loss. Hanif was ten years my senior.

I watched him playing when he was 18 and I was 8. I vividly recall going to the National Stadium as an 11 year old with my mother to watch the Test Match vs India in 1955 (from the Ladies Stand!!). Hanif opened with Alimuddin against the Indian opening pace duo of Phadkar and Ramchand. Hanif mistimed a hook off a short pitched delivery from the former, edged it high in the air towards short fine leg giving the wicket keeper Tamhane enough time to wait under the ball and glove a fairly simple catch. Hanif out for 2 and for me that the end of the day if not the match. That was my admiration for the great man. I always wanted to emulate him and he helped me in getting some coaching at his club The Pak Moghals.

To cut a long story short I realized quite quickly and correctly that I would never make a good cricketer leave alone a great one. Although I played at Club Level and for my colleges both in Karachi and at Cambridge I started my commentary career as soon as I came down from University- in 1967 and my first assignment was a side match of South Zone vs MCC Under 25 led by Mike Brearley at the Niaz Stadium Hyderabad and to my extreme joy and delight the South Zone team was led by Hanif Mohammad. Ever since I have learnt of his demise all incidents have come flowing back to mind. I could go on and on but paucity of time and space do not allow me to go into greater details.

Hanif later joined our Radio and TV panel as an expert and we teamed together for many years. We were deeply impressed by his understanding, knowledge and the finer points of the game. He was one of the two “pitch readers” among many with whom I have commentated who read the pitch perfectly. The other was Lala Amarnath. Hanif was very polite, soft spoken, kind, considerate, helpful and supportive. Like some other experts he would never interrupt or contradict a commentator.

It was a privilege, honour and pleasure to share the microphone with him. I recall that when Younus scored a triple hundred at Karachi against Sri Lanka PTV requested Hanif to come to the NSK to witness the latter part of the innings and to be there because there was a possibility that Younus may break Hanif’s record of 337 (in 999 mins according to Hanif and 970 minutes according to the stats gurus). Hanif very generously kept wishing that Younus will surpass the score but he was out for 313. And Hanif’s 337 for Pakistan remains the record.

The 970 minutes batting time I don’t think will ever be broken. I was closer in age to his younger brothers Mushtaq and Sadiq and also played with them at School and Club Level, besides doing cricket “shows” with them. Recently met Mushtaq at Lord’s during the first Test.

There will never be another Hanif Mohammad. Persons and players like him are born maybe once in a century. I pray that Allah in His Infinite Mercy rest Hanif’s soul in peace and grant him a place in Jannat. I pray that he grants his family the courage and fortitude to bear this irreparable loss. The loss is not theirs alone. It is ours, it is cricket’s; it is Pakistan’s. Rest in peace Little Master.

The day in south London today was cloudy and coolish. Before the game began the two teams observed silence for the 63 Shaheeds of the Quetta disaster. The players of both sides also wore black arm bands for the Quetta victims.

At that time there was confusion about the news of Hanif’s passing away. It was confirmed at around lunch time that the great man was no more. Reports which have come to me from Pakistan (I cannot swear for their veracity) are that his heart had stopped beating for 6 minutes but was revived but some time later failed again.

England batted first after Cook won the toss. Pakistan’s fast and furious bowlers Sohail Khan (who probably was included in the side by the captain as there were reports that the Head Coach was not inclined towards including him) and the south paw pair of Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir  used the conditions to advantage and England on the mat and probably Cook cursing himself for the decision when they were reduced to 110/5. Then as usual the lower middle order of Bairstow (55), Woakes (45) and Moeen Ali (108) came to the rescue.

England’s “cream” added 110 for 5;  the other 5 added 218. Pakistan’s fielding today did not match their pace bowling. There were dropped catches by Iftikhar Ahmed and Azhar Ali.

England were also lucky when Bairstow escaped being caught off a no-ball. Today Moeen was at his brilliant best. He has really cemented his position as an all rounder. When first Bairstow and then Woakes and Broad had departed within the space of 3 deliveries (282/8) from Sohail Khan, he along with Finn and Anderson not only  took them to 328 but also completed his third Test hundred with a huge sixer.

Sohail Khan was the pick of the bowlers getting another five wickets haul while Wahab bowling at 90 miles an hour and Amir got 3 and 2 wickets respectively. Yasir none for 60 in 16 overs made no impressions on the England batting and Iftikhar making his debut and replacing Hafeez turned his arm over for 12 delivers conceding 12 runs.

Pakistan bowled 76.4 overs (I am sure Sir Richie Richardson would be doing some calculations) and in the time left 3 overs were bowled by Anderson and Broad in which Pakistan lost Sami Aslam. Azhar and Yasir the night guard were together when stumps were drawn. The day in the end was tilted in favour of England. Pakistan will have to play out of their skins on the second day if they are going to make a match of this one.

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