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Basit Ali: Talented Pakistan batsman who retired prematurely amidst gloom of match-fixing

Basit Ali. Photo Courtesy: PakPassion.net
Basit Ali played 19 Tests for Pakistan and scored 858 runs at an average of 26.81. Photo Courtesy: PakPassion.net

The enigma that was Basit Ali was born on December 13, 1970. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a career that met a premature end amidst the gloom of match-fixing.

 

Basit Ali always made batting look easy. Basit Ali was one of the cleanest strokeplayers of his era. Basit Ali could nonchalantly take any attack to the cleaners, reminding spectators of Javed Miandad. Basit Ali never looked aggressive even during the most murderous of his moods. Basit Ali was as proud a Pakistani as any.

 

And yet, Basit Ali quit international cricket at an age of 25.

 

Few Asian batsmen have seemed at ease more than Basit against fast, hostile, short-pitched bowling. He could hook, pull, and cut with ferocity, and never hesitated to take risks while batting. What was more, there was never the slightest expression of aggression on his face while doing so.

 

In a short career spanning 19 Tests, Basit scored 858 runs at 26.81. From 50 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) he managed 1,265 runs at 34.18 with a strike-rate of 75.79. In 133 First-Class matches, Basit’s tally read 8,130 runs at 39.65 with 21 hundreds.

 

Despite that, there is more to Basit’s apparently ordinary numbers than which meets the eye. He marked out the champions of the era — West Indies — to plunder his runs:

 

 

Tests

ODIs

M

R

Ave

M

R

Ave

SR

West Indies

3

222

55.50

10

463

51.44

89.0

Other oppositions

16

636

22.71

40

802

28.64

69.8

Career

19

858

26.81

50

1,265

34.19

75.8

 

Early days

 

Born in Karachi, Basit made his First-Class debut for Karachi at an age of only 15. He scored 41 on debut against Zone A, and followed it up with 101 against House Building Finance Corporation (HBFC) a week later. He kept on scoring runs, and it took him three years to make his Under-19 Test debut.

 

He started with a bang on his debut at Gujranwala, scoring 189 against India. However, he did not cross 40, scored two ducks, and finished the series on a low. He never played a Youth Test after that. He played in the Youth World Cup without much success, and scored a 51-ball 23 in the final at Adelaide where Pakistan Youths lost to Australia Youths.

 

In 1989-90, Basit scored 106 and 127 against Multan at Sahiwal and 128 not out and 157 for Pakistan Automobiles Corporation (PAC) against HBFC. He finished the season with 1,479 runs at 47.70, but was still not good enough to break into the strong Pakistan batting line-up.

 

He took his average beyond the 50-mark for the first time in 1992-93, where he had 865 runs at 50.88 with four hundreds to his name. This earned him a place in the upcoming tour of West Indies.

 

ODI debut

 

Basit had a fine start to the tour. In the second ODI, he scored a 43-ball 34, but it was really in the last two matches that he impressed everyone. Under testing conditions in the fourth ODI at Arnos Vale Ground, he resisted Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop to carve out a majestic 86-ball 60 with four fours. Pakistan scored only 186 for nine before Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Ata-ur-Rehman bowled put the hosts for 138 and the series was levelled 2-2.

 

Basit was the only batsman to cross 30 in the entire match and was the obvious choice as the Man of the Match. That evening he had a close shave with death. Miandad and Wasim, the two seniors in the squad, were keen on throwing everyone into the pool. Basit pretended to pray on his mat longer than usual.

 

Unfortunately for Basit, Miandad realised what was going on, and he and Wasim threw Basit into the pool. It was then that everyone realised that Basit could not swim, and had been flung to the deep end of the pool. Thankfully, Waqar spotted him and saved him from drowning.

 

In the fifth ODI, Basit top-scored for Pakistan again with a 69-ball 57; Pakistan scored 244 for six, and West Indies responded with 244 for five, which meant that the match should have been awarded to the hosts. However, before the ball was thrown to Wasim at the bowler’s end there was a pitch-invasion; he could not throw it to the striker’s end to attempt a run-out because the pitch had already been overrun. Raman Subba Row, the match referee, ruled it as a tie. The series was drawn.

 

Test debut

 

In the tour match against Jamaica at Sabina Park, Pakistan needed quick scores in either innings, and Basit rose to the occasion in both as he plundered runs. It was not only the dazzling strokeplay that drew eyes but also the indifference with which he played them. He scored 51 not out and 84 not out, allowing Mushtaq Ahmed to rout the hosts with an eight-wicket haul. This performance, coupled with the one in the ODIs, earned Basit a spot for the first Test at Queen’s Park Oval.

 

In a closely fought contest, West Indies were bowled out for 127 in the first innings; Pakistan managed a 13-run lead, but Desmond Haynes carried his bat for the third time in his career in the second innings with 143. Pakistan slumped to a 204-run defeat.

 

Basit’s debut was not too bad. He was dismissed leg-before by Bishop for a fourth-ball duck, but in the second innings he handled the fast bowlers well. He counterattacked against the menacing pace trio, hit five fours and a six, and carved out a 91-ball 37 before being caught by Richie Richardson off Carl Hooper. He was the only one in the side to cross 20.

 

West Indies won the second Test at Kensington Oval by 10 wickets, but once again Basit proved his mettle: his 174-ball 92 not out included 11 fours and a six and was scored out of the 142 Pakistan managed during his stay; in the second innings, too, he scored 37, but could not stop West Indies from claiming the series.

 

He also managed 56 in the drawn affair at St John’s, and finished the series with 222 runs at 55.50, finishing miles ahead of his other teammates. Basit Ali had arrived.

 

The Sharjah tornado

 

Both Pakistan and West Indies had gone past Sri Lanka to clash against each other in the final of the Champions Trophy in Sharjah. Pakistan were three down for 87 when Basit walked out to join Saleem Malik; what followed was carnage.

 

For once Ambrose seemed clueless against the furious onslaught. Basit did take some time to settle down before his aggression took over. When he reached his fifty in 42 balls (mind you, this was 1993, Sharjah isn’t a small ground, and this was not in the first 15 overs) it seemed that he had reached his maximum; that was, in fact, just a warm-up for Basit.

 

Perhaps the most outrageous stroke of the innings was the one he played to bring up his fifty: Ambrose bowled a perfectly fine length-delivery on the off-stump; Basit simply moved his front-foot out of the line and bludgeoned the ball cross-batted over deep mid-wicket for a six.

 

He simply went on after that. In a way he redefined the concept of slogging; when anything was pitched on off, he moved his left foot out of the way and slogged it cross-batted; when the bowler tried to cramp him up by bowling at his pads, he shuffled across and hit over long-off or cover, or even past point.

 

There was also the shot that is so frequently seen these days — the deft leg-glance when the fine-leg is brought up. The strokes are probably commonplace in the era of Twenty20s, but in 1993 it was innovative enough to throw the kinds of Ambrose and Walsh off-track.

 

Basit’s second fifty took him 25 balls. His 67-ball hundred was the second-fastest at that point (Mohammad Azharuddin had reached the mark in 62 balls). He finished off by hitting Ambrose inside-out over long-off for a six; his 79-ball 127 not out had included 12 fours and five sixes.

 

It was an innings of dreams: he got away with everything he tried, and cleared the fence at will. It was also an innings way ahead of his time (Miandad was perhaps the only one among his contemporaries who was capable of such a unique display of batsmanship). Unfortunately it remained Basit’s only ODI hundred.

 

Despite Basit’s blitz [and Haynes’ early dismissal], Brian Lara stole the show with a 143-ball 153, and West Indies reached home comfortably with 27 balls to spare.

 

 

Basit rises

 

By now, Basit had cemented a place in both versions of the sport. He, along with Inzamam-ul-Haq, took up the mantle as Miandad’s career gradually faded out. He scored a 154-ball 85 in the first Test against New Zealand at Basin Reserve where Pakistan won by an innings.

 

The grand performance, however, came in the final Test Lancaster Park. Coming out at a comfortable 169 for three, slammed 103 in only 139 balls (his only Test century) with nine fours and three sixes; after the tourists scored 344, Waqar bowled the hosts for 200, and it seemed that Pakistan would run away with the Test.

 

Simon Doull then started the rout with a short burst; with Danny Morrison also contributing, Basit found himself coming out to bat at 53 for four. He was, for the umpteenth time, the only one to put up some resistance: his 111-ball 67 (scored out of 99 during his stay) was a face-saver as Pakistan were bowled out for 179. Nobody else crossed 26.

 

Pakistan were still the favourites, but hundreds from Bryan Young and Shane Thomson helped New Zealand chase down 324. New Zealand squared the series. He had also scored a typically fighting 57 in the ODI at Lancaster Park in a lost cause.

 

This match probably needs to be spoken off in details: Pakistan were reeling at 19 for four when Basit walked out, top-scored with 57, and managed to take Pakistan to 145 (nobody other than Akram Raza crossed 20). After Waqar and Rehman reduced the hosts to 45 for three, Wasim suddenly left field during his seventh over and never came back. Blair Hartland and Thomson won the match comfortably for New Zealand.

 

He also played a crucial role in the Austral-Asia Cup in Sharjah that followed. He started with a match-winning 75-ball 76 not out against India; so strong was the Pakistan line-up that he did not need to bat against UAE in the other league match or against New Zealand in the semi-final.

 

In the final, too, Basit tore into the Indian attack with a 58-ball 57, and India ended up losing by 39 runs. Once again, this match would turn out to be more important than it met the eye. However, following a failure — a duck in his only innings at Bulawayo he did not get to play a single international match in South Africa.

 

The slump and the bomb

 

Basit’s career went through a struggling phase thereafter. He scored only one international fifty in the entire 1995-96 season. The 87-ball 64 against West Indies at Sharjah (in a 141-run partnership with Rameez Raja) was, however, crucial in Pakistan’s 15-run victory.

 

He was dropped from the World Cup squad, and following his ordinary performances in Singapore and Sharjah, he did not make it to the England tour as well. Then, a bombshell of sorts was dropped when Basit, along with Rashid Latif, announced that several Pakistani cricketers had been approached by Malik to “lose a match deliberately”.

 

Both men also retired subsequently from international cricket. Ali Sibtain Fazli, the lawyer Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) had appointed for the Justice Qayyum Commission that followed later mentioned that “Rashid [Latif] and Basit [Ali] refused to play alongside Salim Malik.”

 

The Commission

 

Basit claimed that he had received a phone call from a bookie at 8 AM on the day of the Austral-Asia Cup final mentioned above. He was offered a million Pakistan Rupees if he got out for less than 10. He had informed the manager Intikhab Alam of the incident; at lunch, Intikhab had asked the entire team to swear on the Holy Quran that they would “perform to their best” for the rest of the match.

 

Basit also claimed that Malik had opted to field in the only Test of the South African tour under perfect batting conditions (when the issue was raised Intikhab asked the players to take the same oath upon the Holy Quran — but that happened only after the toss). The Pakistani bowlers were hit all over the park while South Africa scored 460; Pakistan had responded with 230 with Malik himself scoring 99; and Pakistan had ended up losing the Test by 324 runs.

 

The issue regarding the Christchurch ODI was also raised by Latif. He mentioned that Malik had offered him PKR 1,000,000 in the audience of three other cricketers to throw the match. Upon much probing, Latif admitted that the other cricketers were Inzamam, Raza, and Basit.

 

Malik, Inzamam, and Raza all denied the accusation, but Basit, who was down with jaundice during the case, could not turn up; surprisingly, he wasn’t even asked about his presence or role in the incident. “Arrangements were tried to be made for his [Basit’s] statement to be recorded over the phone. However, those arrangements fell through,” reported the Commission.

 

As evidence, Basit provided with tapes that included relevant conversations, but it was later found out that these tapes had been tampered with. The Qayyum Commission Report said: “When asked as to why the tapes had been initially edited, [Rashid] Latif stated that the tapes had been in the safekeeping of a relative of Basit Ali’s and they had been edited by this relative or someone for the sake of this relative of Basit’s, as the relative was a heart patient.”

 

During the trial, Intikhab mentioned that Basit had confessed of match-fixing, which was precisely the reason for his retirement. However, Basit denied this vehemently. The Commission then came out with a rather non-trivial verdict against Basit: “Given that Basit [Ali] retired and has distanced himself from Cricket, he is not even guilty of bringing the name of the Pakistan team into disrepute. This Commission therefore believes that no strong action needs to be taken against him. Basit has had the dignity and common sense to retire. He should be allowed to be, as long as he stays out of Cricket.”

 

Post-retirement

 

Basit played till 1997-98, and was, for some reason, included in the Pakistan A matches against India A. He did not do anything of note, though he scored a 169-ball 133 in India A’s tour match against Karachi: the Indian team had consisted of Ajit Agarkar, Debasis Mohanty, Murali Kartik and Sairaj Bahutule. These turned out to be his final First-Class matches.

 

In November 2008, Basit was named in the Mohammad Ilyas-led Pakistan’s Junior Selection Committee.

 

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

 

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