Ijaz Ahmed, born on September 20, 1968, was one of Pakistan’s finest batsmen in the 1990s. His technique was not the best but he made that up by a rock-solid temperament and grit. He was one of the best fielders to emerge from Pakistan in an era where not many people dived around the park. Sarang Bhalerao takes a look at the cricketing career of Ijaz.
When one looks at Ijaz Ahmed’s stance, there is something unique about it. The willow is used like an axe — it is brought down with brute force between his two legs which are close to each other. The posture was not upright but the head position was straight. The technique was unorthodox — his right hand often dominated while batting over left which explains the reason why he had a ferocious cut shot in his repertoire. Ijaz’s batting was not as classy as Zaheer Abbas, with a graceful flow of the bat, but it was based on the principle of grit and determination.
Ijaz made his One-Day International (ODI) debut against West Indies at Jinnah Stadium, Sialkot in 1986. He scored 19 off 23 balls, batting at No 7. He was bowled by Malcolm Marshall.
He was floated around as a batsman and it didn’t help Ijaz’s cause as his batting prowess was not coming to the fore. It was against India at Nagpur in March 1987 when Ijaz first batted at No 3. He scored an impressive 34 off 48 deliveries, which prompted skipper Imran Khan to promote the 19-year-old youngster to open the innings. Ijaz’s first tryst with opening was successful as he vindicated Imran’s call by compiling a half-century against India at Jamshedpur.
Chasing an imposing 266 from 44 overs, Ijaz built a solid foundation to the Pakistan innings and looked at ease against the likes of Kapil Dev, Manoj Prabhakar, Raju Kulkarni and spinners — Ravi Shastri, Maninder Singh and Gopal Sharma. Ijaz scored 72 off 83 deliveries as Pakistan won the game in the final over by five wickets.
Earlier, in February 1987, Ijaz made his Test debut against arch rivals but he failed to shine scoring only three in his only Test match of the series.
Ijaz was part of Pakistan touring party to England in 1987. He played in four of the five Test matches and was impressive. He brought up his maiden half-century in the third Test at Leeds. Ijaz batted at No 8 and helped Pakistan build onto a substantial first innings lead after bowling out the hosts for a paltry 136. He batted for nearly two and a half hours and scored 50 off 107 deliveries. Pakistan took a lead of 217 runs and bowled out England for 199 in their second innings thus winning the game by an innings and 18 runs.
The Pakistan middle-order batsman was coming to terms with the nuances of Test cricket. Ijaz hit 69 in the final Test at The Oval thus showing a lot of promise as a batsman.
In the 1987 World Cup, Ijaz scored a solitary fifty against England at Peshawar. He scored 129 runs in total at an average of 21.50, as Pakistan bowed out of the tournament in the semi-final against Australia.
Ijaz was one of the lynchpins of the Pakistan batting line-up and he had shown a lot of promise early on in his career. He brought his first ODI century in the 1988 Asia Cup against Bangladesh at Chittagong. Batting at No 4, Ijaz scored an unbeaten 124 off 87 deliveries that included nine boundaries and four sixes.
He brought his second century against Sri Lanka at Brisbane in 1990. The innings helped Pakistan chase 254. The feature of the innings was the timing and the ability to get into a good position before striking the ball. Ijaz pulled with ferocity, drove with élan and rotated the strike thus ensuring Pakistan were comfortable in their run-chase.
Ijaz remained unbeaten on 102 off 100 deliveries in an innings that comprised nine boundaries and a six. As a 21-year-old, Ijaz was seen as the future of Pakistan batting.
1992 World Cup
The high point in Ijaz’s cricketing career was to be part of victorious Pakistan team that set foot in Australia and New Zealand as the underdogs.
The batting of Pakistan revolved around Aamer Sohail, Ramiz Raja, Imran Khan, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Javed Miandad. Ijaz was occasionally summoned to bowl his left-arm medium pace and he didn’t contribute much with the bat.
In the seven matches that Ijaz played, he notched up scores of zero, six, zero and eight not out. He scored only 14 runs in the entire tournament. Pakistan won the cup at Melbourne as they defeated England by 22 runs. That was the new dawn in Pakistan’s cricketing chapter.
Ijaz as a Test match player
Ijaz has played 60 Test matches and scored 3,315 runs at an average of 37.67. He has to his credit 12 tons and as many half-centuries.
His best Test innings of 211 came against Sri Lanka at Dhaka in the final of the Asian Test Championship in 1999. After Sri Lanka were dismissed for 231, Pakistan batted them out of the match with Ijaz and Inzamam-ul-Haq (200) scoring their maiden double tons.
Ijaz lost his concentration and was stumped by Hashan Tillakaratne off Upul Chandana. But his innings which lasted for 519 minutes and 372 balls put Pakistan in a winning position.
In 1995, Ijaz scored a match-winning 103 against New Zealand at Christchurch after the hosts took a first-innings lead of 78. Pakistan batsmen applied themselves in the second innings. Ijaz, batting at No 3, put up a vital stand with Inzamam for the third wicket. Wisden reported: “Ijaz escaped on 81, when Parore dropped him off Morrison’s bowling, but after lunch surged from 89 to his fourth Test hundred with three fours. In all, he hit 13 fours and two sixes and batted for almost five hours. He was supported by Salim Malik and then Ramiz, who returned to make another half-century, Pakistan were finally out for 434 an hour into the fourth morning.”
Pakistan set an imposing target of 357 for the hosts who were dismissed for 195 courtesy of Mushtaq Ahmed’s seven-for thus Pakistan registered a win by 161 runs.
Ijaz had missed Pakistan’s tour to England in 1992, but in 1996 he was an automatic choice in the playing XI since he was one of the main batsmen Pakistan had in their ranks.
Ijaz’s tour started on in a weird manner as he was bowled neck and crop by Dominic Cork at Lord’s for one. Ijaz completely missed the line of the ball and was completely out of position attempting to play the shot.
However, Ijaz redeemed himself by scoring an impressive 76 in the second innings. It was at Leeds where he scored a vital 141. Wisden reported: “Caddick caused problems for both Shadab Kabir and Ijaz. But Ijaz soon exposed the limitations of England’s resources. After losing Shadab and Inzamam-ul-Haq, he settled into a 130-run stand with Salim Malik, who grafted hard for his first fifty of the tour. Ijaz had scored 141 out of 233 when he chased a slower ball from Cork which started wide and was going wider. He had batted for 279 minutes and 201 balls, striking 20 fours and two sixes, and made the first Test century at Headingley for Pakistan.”
Ijaz scored 52 in the second innings at Leeds and ended the tour with yet another half-century (61) at The Oval.
At the Gadaffi Stadium, Lahore, Ijaz scored 125 against New Zealand and added 262 for the second wicket with captain Saeed Anwar. When Ijaz was dismissed leg-before for 125 he showed dissent and had to visit the match referee’s room after the end of day’s play. Wisden reported: “Ijaz made 125, including 19 fours and a six, and was fined half his match fee for dissent when Cairns had him lbw.”
There was a moment of drama when Ijaz completed seventh century against Sri Lanka at Colombo. Pakistan lost Saleem Elahi off the very first ball when he shouldered arms to Chaminda Vaas’s incoming delivery. Ijaz took charge of the situation and stitched important partnerships with captain Ramiz Raja and Saleem Malik. Wisden reported: “Ijaz Ahmed shared century stands for the next two wickets with acting-captain Ramiz Raja and Salim Malik. Ijaz resumed on the third morning on 90, but almost missed his hundred. He and Malik set off for a single, then both ended up at the non-striker’s end as Ranatunga and the keeper effected the run-out. Initially, umpire Shepherd declared Ijaz out. But, after further consultation with TV umpire K. T. Francis, he despatched Malik instead; Ijaz was recalled from the dressing-room and promptly completed his century.”
In 1997, Pakistan were in sight of a 3-0 whitewash. Ijaz opened the batting with Aamer Sohail. The duo put on 298 runs for the first wicket stand and West Indies’ score of 216 looked paltry. Wisden reported: “Ijaz, opening the batting because Saeed Anwar was injured, embarked on a marathon occupation of the crease which put the squandermania of the opposition’s batsmen into perspective. Curbing his natural aggression, he accompanied the more attacking Sohail in a six-hour partnership.”
Pakistan won the match by 10 wickets and inflicted their first whitewash over West Indies.
Ijaz Ahmed against Australia in Test matches
Off the 12 Test tons in his career, six came against Australia. Three came at home while three came in the tough Australian conditions.
In 1988, Ijaz scored 122 against the visiting Australian side at Faisalabad. That was his maiden Test ton in his 12th Test match.
In 1990, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), Ijaz scored 121 against Australia when Pakistan needed to chase 429 runs to win. Pakistan lost the game by 92 runs despite Ijaz’s stellar effort.
Ijaz scored a century against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in 1996. His 137 in the first innings was a result of five and half hours of determination. He was ready to attack the bowlers at will. Mark Waugh was clubbed over long-on for a six while Craig McDermott was hooked adroitly by Ijaz, who looked in his zone for the entire duration of the innings. The innings helped Pakistan reach 299, which proved to be decisive in the final analysis. The visitors won the game by 74 runs.
In 1998, at the Arbab Niaz Stadium, Peshawar, Australia scored a bucketful of runs in their first innings. Mark Taylor scored 334 not out equalling the highest score by an Australian in Test match history. Don Bradman had scored 334 against England in 1930.
The wicket was placid and the batting was particularly easy. Chasing Australia’s mammoth first innings score of 599 for four, Pakistan lost Aamer Sohail for 31. That brought Ijaz to the crease. He was dropped from the first Test match in favour of Mohammad Wasim.
Ijaz looked confident from the outset hitting Damien Fleming for a copybook off-drive and flicked him nonchalantly for boundaries. After weathering the early storm he made merry against leg-spinner Stuart MacGill who was struggling to find his rhythm. The short deliveries were dispatched with disdain while the full tosses were dealt severely.
Ijaz stitched a 211-run second wicket stand with Saeed Anwar. Ijaz scored 155, thus announcing his arrival in the Pakistan middle-order.
He continued with his rich vein of form against Australia, scoring his second century in as many matches this time in the third Test match at Karachi. In the third Test, Pakistan needed 419 to win but that was academic what was important was to save the game against the visitors. Pakistan lost three quick wickets and the onus of resurrection was with Ijaz. He exhibited his water-tight technique and seldom missed out on scoring opportunities. He remained not out on 120 and ensured Pakistan didn’t lose the Test; Pakistan, though, lost the series, but Ijaz emerged as a real positive.
In 1999, Ijaz scored his sixth century against Australia at WACA. Pakistan folded up for 155 in the first innings and conceded a lead of 297 in the first innings as Justin Langer (144) and Ricky Ponting (197) took the game away from the tourists.
In the second innings, Australia employed an attacking field and had batsmen surrendering meekly. Ijaz showed his true class by raising his bar as a batsman and taking on the Australian bowling. He put the bowlers under pressure, but sadly failed to get any support from the top-order. Ijaz’s 115 off 160 deliveries comprised 16 boundaries. When he was dismissed the Pakistan collapse was guaranteed and they lost the Test match by an innings and 20 runs.
Ijaz as ODI player
Ijaz represented Pakistan in 250 ODIs and scored 6,564 runs at an average of 32.22. He was one of the mainstays of Pakistan batting. He had all the right ingredients to succeed in the format since he was a powerful hitter of the ball who befriended finesse as well. He constructed his innings well once he was set and seldom looked in any trouble facing spin bowling.
He scored 10 ODI hundreds and 37 fifties in his career. At times, Ijaz shuffled a bit too much, thereby missing a straight ball. At times, he played away from the body and was caught behind. His cut shot was ferocious alright, but he had the tendency to chop on the delivery onto the stumps or at times mistime the shot to point.
Writing on his batting was tough. He would hit belligerent shots and look promising but the next moment something extraordinary would happen and he would make you pull your hair. But there were times when Ijaz was just a master at work, like at Durban against South Africa in 1994: His innings of 114 off 90 deliveries ensured an easy eight-wicket win over South Africa. Wisden wrote, “Ijaz Ahmed raised his average after five one-day innings against South Africa to 133.66 with a punishing exhibition of strokeplay. His unbeaten 114 — from 90 balls, featuring 17 fours and three sixes — swept Pakistan to victory, and a certain place in the finals, with 15 overs to spare. South Africa had collapsed to an abject 44 for five and only a spirited stand of 88 between Rhodes and Richardson enabled them to reach 200. With Ijaz in such irresistible mood, however, even 300 might not have been enough.”
In 1996, Zimbabwe witnessed Ijaz’s prowess at Peshawar when he hit a 105-ball 117 which included four sixes and 10 fours. Zimbabwe picked up three early wickets but Ijaz counterattacked and never let any bowler set. Pakistan scored 264 off 40 overs which was good enough for the home side to register a comfortable 78-run win over visitors.
At the Independence Cup in Dhaka in 1998, Ijaz scored 117 against India and added 230 for the third-wicket with Anwar. India won the thrilling finale by three wickets and chased down an imposing 315, thus recording the highest ever run-chase in ODI cricket.
After scoring two successive hundreds against Australia in Test matches in 1998, Ijaz carried his form in the ODI series. In the third ODI at Lahore, Ijaz blasted his way to 111. The innings had Australian bowlers in all sorts of problem. When Ijaz was dismissed trying to attempt a hoick off Darren Lehmann he was bowled. He admonished himself after playing the loose shot. Australia chased down the target of 316 in 48.5 overs, which was the highest successful run-chase in ODIs that time.
Zimbabwe were at the receiving end, yet again, at Peshawar when Ijaz smashed them for 132 runs off 103 deliveries. This was Ijaz’s ninth ODI century. Wisden reported, “Ijaz Ahmed led the way with a hammer-and-tongs century. He thrashed nine fours and four sixes before perishing off the last ball of the innings, for 132 from 103 balls, having guided Pakistan past 300.”
Pakistan won the deciding game by 111 runs, thereby clinching the series 2-1.
In 1999, Ijaz tormented England with a clinical 137 at Sharjah. Ijaz and Inzamam added 145 for the third wicket and batting looked way to simple. Pakistan coasted to a total of 323 in 50 overs — the highest total ever conceded by England in ODI cricket.
Ijaz took 130 deliveries to reach 137 and his innings consisted of 12 fours and one six. England were quizzical about the assault and they looked woefully out of touch, playing like a bunch of club cricketers.
With the ball, Shoaib’s firepower made the contest a one-sided affair. Pakistan clinched the match by 90 runs.
Ijaz was part of Pakistan’s 1999 World Cup campaign. He was injured in the first game against West Indies when a Mervyn Dillon yorker struck his leg, and was dropped against Scotland. Ijaz top-scored in the final with 22 against Australia, but surprisingly was held a scapegoat for Pakistan’s uninspiring performance. Ijaz was dropped from the ODI series against West Indies at Toronto.
At 33, he lost selector’s confidence in him and the youngsters were given chances ahead of him.
Ijaz’s best ODI knock
Ijaz’s best ODI knock came against the arch rivals India at the Gadaffi Stadium, Lahore in 1997. Batting first, India struggled to get going against the Pakistan attack. Powered by Ajay Jadeja’s 76, the visitors reached a total of 216.
Ijaz opened the innings for Pakistan and, along with Shahid Afridi, started batting in the fifth gear right from the outset. Afridi, in particular, was harsh on the Indian bowlers, scoring a 23-ball 47. When he was dismissed there was no respite for India as Ijaz took over the role of the aggressor and carted India to all parts of the Gaddafi Stadium under lights.
Ijaz was prepared to take the aerial route in the initial part of the innings as he hit Debasis Mohanty for a boundary over mid-off and lifted Abey Kuruvilla over long-on for a six. A fine leg-glance for a boundary showed his control over the innings. India were bleeding runs as no bowler was prepared to slow the things down.
The feature of Ijaz’s batting was his clean hitting. The boundaries looked short as he was comfortably clearing the ropes. He brought his century in only 68 deliveries by smashing Sourav Ganguly over his head for a six. In the blink of an eye, he finished the game for Pakistan and his innings of 139 off 84 deliveries was a compendium in utter dominance right from the outset. The innings consisted of 10 boundaries and nine sixes. Ijaz finished the game with a six to round off a magnificent day with the bat. Pakistan won the game in 26.2 overs.
Such was the impact of the innings that Indian captain Sachin Tendulkar in the post-match presentation said that Ijaz’s knock was one of the greatest one-day innings.
Life after cricket
Ijaz was dropped from the ODI and Test teams on account of his poor form in the new millennium. He last played an ODI for Pakistan in 2000 and Test match in 2001. Ijaz’s last assignment with the Pakistan Test team was in New Zealand. He scored 11, five and 17 in the two Test matches and was dropped thereafter.
Ijaz announced his formal retirement from international cricket in 2003. He continued playing First-Class cricket till 2007.
On October 20, 2009, the Pakistan Cricket Board announced Ijaz as the coach of the Under-19 team. Under his tutelage, the team reached the final of the Under-19 World Cup in 2010 where they lost to Australia in New Zealand.
In 2013, Ijaz told PTI that he is willing to coach Pakistan. He had been Pakistan fielding coach in 2010. “I know everyone is disappointed with the senior team’s performance. If the board asks me to coach the senior team I will accept it as a challenge,” said Ijaz.
In 2009, Ijaz was arrested for allegedly issuing a false cheque to one of his clients. The cheques issued by Ijaz were for about US $1.3 million and they bounced.
Ijaz claimed that he was innocent. He told AFP: “The police have mistreated me and I am in hospital after an attack of asthma. I will defend myself in the court once my condition gets stable. I vomited blood and experienced difficulty in breathing, so doctors put me on artificial respiratory system for some time. It has been very frustrating because I have not done anything wrong. These clients owe me money and instead they made a false case against me.”
In 2012, a Lahore court allowed him to remain on bail.
Currently, he is passing on the baton to the next generation. Pakistan cricket is in doldrums after their loss to Zimbabwe at Harare. It won’t be a bad idea for them to rope in a batting coach. They needn’t look further than Ijaz.
(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)