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Abdul Hafeez Kardar – one of the most important figures in Pakistan cricket history

Abdul Hafeez Kardar – one of the most important figures in Pakistan cricket history

Pakistan captain AH Kardar acknowledges the cheers of the crowd after he masterminded beat England in the 1954 Test at The Oval by 24 runs © Getty Images

Abdul Hafeez Kardar, the first Test captain of Pakistan, was born on January 17, 1925. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the man who had led Pakistan to a win against all Test-playing nations.

Of all the Test nations, Pakistan probably has had the most frequent captain changes. They have produced Test captains of various statures over the decades. Despite the prevalence of legendary captains – including Imran Khan – only one of them is still referred to as “The Skipper”. He was one of those men who could lift ordinary men to lift their levels to perform extraordinary feats: he was an excellent motivator of people, and always believed in leading by example.

Kardar played Tests even before Pakistan was formed: born in Lahore, he had played three Tests for undivided India on the 1946 England tour, albeit as Abdul Hafeez. He was a very aggressive left-hand batsman – often a bit too aggressive – and a very effective left-arm spinner, though he often switched to medium pace.

He adapted to the British conditions quite well. He studied in Oxford, represented Warwickshire, honed his skills under the great Martin Donnelly, and even married the club chairman Cyril Hastilow’s daughter. It was in England that a journalist had written “batted like an Eastern mystic” to describe his skills, only to be published as “an Eastern mistake” the next day!

 

After Partition, he remained in Lahore and became Pakistan’s first Test captain. Though Vinoo Mankad trounced Pakistan in their maiden Test, Pakistan struck back strongly in only their second Test at Lucknow. On a matting wicket the incomparable Fazal Mahmood took 12 wickets and Pakistan won by an innings in only their second Test ever.

 

It was a memorable moment for Pakistan. Almost no team has won a Test so early after their advent in the international arena, and this was quite a revelation. Kardar was hailed a national hero, and Pakistan, unlike other rookies, were not considered a minnow – they became a force to reckon with almost immediately.

 

The bunch of newcomers, catapulted to the highest level, had already shown immense promise under Kardar. It was evident that they were destined for bigger things: the world of cricket was to be shocked by a bigger upset in less than two years’ time.

 

The innings defeat at Trent Bridge had meant that Pakistan went 0-1 down in the final Test at The Oval. Kardar won the toss and elected to bat on what looked seemed to be a blunder under overcast conditions. The English fast bowlers – the experienced Brian Statham and the debutants Peter Loader and Frank Tyson – soon had Pakistan reeling at 51 for seven. From a precarious situation Kardar batted superbly with the tail, top-scored with a crucial 36 and helped Pakistan reach 133 (which included four ducks).

 

When it was Pakistan’s turn to bowl, Fazal Mahmood bowled throughout the innings and took 6 for 53 to shock England; Mahmood Hussain, with 4 for 58, also took vital wickets, and England were shot out for 130. Thereafter, Pakistan crawled to 164 with Johnny Wardle continuing to pick up wickets, leaving England a paltry 168 for a win.

 

They still had to handle Fazal, though – who was backed by a very good supporting line-up. Once again Fazal was relentless, eating away at the English line-up; and suddenly from a comfortable 109 for 2, Fazal induced a collapse. Kardar marshalled his men efficiently, with immaculate bowling changes and astute field placements. Fazal took 6 for 46, England were bowled out for 143, and the series was levelled in front of thousands of Pakistanis who had crowded to the ground to witness history on the fourth morning.

 

That one victory changed everything. People began to take Pakistan seriously; and the world of cricket considered Kardar as one of the most inspirational captains of contemporary cricket. Back home, an entire generation was inspired to take on the sport, and gave the newly formed nation an icon to follow. His stature increased even more when Pakistan thrashed New Zealand 2-0 at home, Kardar taking 8 wickets in the two victorious Tests.

 

A year after, Australia were scheduled to make their first tour to Pakistan, and were clear favourites in the one-off Test. They elected to bat, and their heavyweight batting line-up was expected to score huge. They had a rather nasty shock when Kardar got Fazal (Six for 34) and Khan Mohammad (Four for 43) to bowl unchanged throughout their innings, and the mighty Australians were bowled out for 80.

 

They fought back, though: a star-studded bowling side reduced Pakistan to 70 for five; it was then that Kardar walked in and counterattacked, scoring 69 out of a partnership of 104 with Wazir Mohammad. It was an innings worthy of a captain who was being hailed as one of the best in the world. Once a 119-run lead was achieved, Fazal (Seven for 80) and Khan Mohammad (Three for 69) bowled out Australia for 187, and rest was a mere formality. Australia had to leave Pakistan defeated and outclassed.

 

Within four years of their admission into Test cricket, Pakistan had managed to defeat four Test nations, all under Kardar. South Africa’s discriminating racial policies meant that Kardar would not get a chance to lead against them, but he still had to defeat West Indies to complete his “set”. He achieved that with an innings win at Port-of-Spain two years later against a strong West Indian outfit, thanks to a 189 from Wazir and 6-wicket hauls from Fazal and Naseem-ul-Ghani. It turned out to be Kardar’s last Test.

 

Over a tenure of six years Kardar had uplifted many cricketers from all parts of Pakistan and united them into a world force. He mentored all of them, and has always been considered the father figure of Pakistan cricket. His role, however, did not end there. He was a great visionary of the sport, and a more than capable administrator in Pakistan cricket.

 

When England had toured Pakistan in 1956, Donald Carr and his men were not very amused with a series of biased decisions from the umpire Idris Begh. They played a prank on Begh in the evening, pouring a bucket of water on his head. Though the entire thing was considered a joke (even by Begh), Kardar did not see the lighter side of things. He dealt with the situation with an iron hand, and made the English management to apologise to Begh. At the same time, he also prophesised neutral umpires for Test cricket – a vision that was came true several decades later.

 

As an administrator (he was the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board from 1972 to 1977) he helped revolutionise Pakistan cricket: it was during his era that the concept of the sport in the country was truly modernised, with improved facilities and team selections. He helped develop a sense of pride and professionalism – attributes that had singled him out – among the Test cricketers. He was also strong enough to become the voice of the Asian and African countries in the ICC – a move that initiated the shift of power in the later decades.

 

He was somewhat dictatorial in his outlook and often reacted to criticisms, and his tenure ended in a resignation over a pay dispute with players, but as an administrator he was impeccable. So much that Imran Khan – the only Pakistani cricketer to have matched Kardar’s stature as a leader and who was a part of the group with whom he had the 1977 fallout – commented soon afterwards “after his retirement in 1977, Pakistani cricket will be thrown to the wolves, the cricket bureaucrats whose progeny still rule the game”.

 

He shifted to politics after that, and became Pakistan’s ambassador to Switzerland (he had earlier been elected to the Provincial Assembly of Punjab in 1970). Though he somewhat detached himself from the sport, his was still hailed for his towards making the game popular at every level in his country and taking it to the next level.

Abdul Hafeez Kardar passed away at Lahore in 1996.

(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)

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