Khan Mohammad took 54 Test wickets at 23.92 in 13 Tests.
Khan Mohammad, born January 1, 1928, formed the first lethal Pakistan pace attack by paring up with Fazal Mahmood. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life and career of the man who bowled Pakistan’s first ball in Test cricket, took the country’s first wicket and dismissed Len Hutton with the first ball he bowled to the legendary opening batsman.
The first ball and the first wicket
He sent down Pakistan’s first ball in Test cricket. Nineteen runs later that same morning, he bowled Pankaj Roy round his legs to become immortal as the first Pakistani wicket-taker. Seven runs later he castled the illustrious Vinoo Mankad as well.
However, by the end of that historic first day at Feroz Shah Kotla, he was steeped in tragedy. He had travelled to India with a groin injury, and the 20-plus overs bowled that day aggravated it seriously enough to rule him out for the rest of the tour.
Soon Fazal Mahmood assumed the role of the star fast bowler of the land, the first among many to follow. Tall, blue eyed and dashing, he became the first fast bowling icon of the country, a hero with twelve wickets in their first Test win at Lucknow.
However, Mohammad was not far behind in any department. He was tall, strapping and even quicker. He could be even more difficult to face. Yet, the injuries ensured that he was often absent.
He returned to Test cricket only in 1954, taking time off from Lancashire League to play England at the Mecca of cricket. And bowled Len Hutton for a duck with an in-ducker, off the very first ball he bowled to the great man. Bowling on a sticky wicket, Khan Mohammad and Fazal Mahmood ran in unchanged, the former taking 5 for 61 from 15 overs and the latter 4 for 54 from 16. England, with Hutton, Reg Simpson, Peter May, Bill Edrich and Denis Compton, were reduced to 97 for 9, at which score they declared. Arthur Gilligan and Maurice Tate had bowled unchanged against South Africa at Birmingham in 1924. Three decades later, the Pakistan duo became the first pair to repeat their feat.
And even when Compton put the Pakistan bowling to sword at Nottingham, Mohammad bowled with a lot of canny control, his 3 for 155 reading decent enough with England’s huge total in the backdrop. By then he was entering the best phase of his career.
However, again it would be a brief peak before injuries would return to haunt him — ending his career far short of the greatness his potential deserved.
The early promise
Khan Mohammad was born in the old walled city of Lahore on New Year’s Day, 1928. He was the son of a timber merchant and one of four brothers.
As a child, he attended the Central Model High School in the city and it was here that he took to the game. There was one half-hour period every week during which his class had to play cricket. Teachers talked about the various aspects of the game as their wards went through their enthusiastic actions, and the interest of young Mohammad was piqued.
The major platform, however, was club cricket. Mohammad soon became a key fixture in Lahore’s thriving club cricket scene. He represented the Friends Cricket Club, before moving to the prestigious Universal Cricket Club, the leading team of the city’s league circuit. The cricket was competitive and the bowling performances remained impressive. Mohammad generated pace without losing control of line and length and could bowl long spells at searing speed. At the age of 19, he was picked for Northern India to play in the Ranji Trophy. It was the era before partition.
In the three zonal matches of the 1946-47 season, Mohammad captured 10 wickets at 23 apiece. However, at this stage, India and Pakistan separated. Mohammad, studying History and Economics at Islamia College Lahore, played for Punjab University during the two following seasons. It was at Islamia College that he partnered Fazal Mahmood for the first time.
In 1948-49, John Goddard’s West Indians visited India for a Test series. On their way, they played an unofficial ‘Test ‘against Pakistan in November 1948 at Bagh-e-Jinnah, Lahore. Mian Mohammad Saeed, the Pakistan captain, preferred Munawar Ali Khan to partner Fazal Mahmood in the game. So, Mohammad performed the duties of the twelfth man.
However, the young man remained among wickets for Punjab University and made it to the tour of Ceylon in early 1949. Using the heavy atmosphere of the island to his advantage, he captured 14 wickets in the two unofficial ‘Tests’ and combined into a lethal partnership with Mahmood. From then till the end of his career, when not interrupted by injuries, he remained the first choice fast bowler to start off proceedings with Mahmood.
In the summer of 1950, Mohammad was a part of the Pakistan Eaglets team to visit England. He impressed enough during the tour to be approached by Somerset.
Returning that winter, Mohammad returned to Colombo and bowled for a combined Ceylon, Indian and Pakistan XI, capturing 5 for 127 against a strong Commonwealth XI, his wickets including that of Frank Worrell.
The following summer of 1951, he travelled to England yet again, and played a game for Somerset against the touring South Africans. It was a thriller of a match that the Springboks won by 24 runs, but not before Mohammad had shaken them with three first innings wickets including the great Dudley Nourse and Jack Cheetham.
It was his intention to serve the three-year qualification period and become eligible for the county, and he had also decided to migrate to England. However, at this stage, he was invited to play for Pakistan against Nigel Howard’s Englishmen in the winter of 1951. There were two unofficial ‘Tests’.
At Lahore, the match was drawn and Mohammad captured 5 for 84. In the historic game at Karachi that followed, Fazal Mahmood took 6 first-innings wickets and Mohammad three to skittle England for 123. After Pakistan themselves had been restricted to 130, Mahmood captured 5 for 88 in the second innings, and the home team clinched a crucial 4-wicket victory. It was perhaps the single most important performance which fast-tracked Pakistan into the Test world. By the next winter, Mohammad was bowling to Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy at Delhi.
After the impressive showing in England in 1954, Mohammad entered the best phase of his career. When India visited for a monumental bore of a series in 1954-55, he claimed 4 for 42 at Dacca, 5 for 74 at Bhawalpur, 4 for 79 at Peshawar and 5 for 72 at Karachi. He finished the series at the top of the bowling charts from either team, with 22 wickets at 15.86.
This was followed by the visit of the New Zealand side in 1955-56. After the first three days of the final Test at Dacca had been washed away, Mohammad swung the ball to unplayable degrees, capturing 6 for 21 from 16.2 overs to knock the visitors over for 70. They held on for a draw in the second innings, somehow managing to stick it out scoring 69 for 6 in 90 overs. Mohammad’s analysis read 30-19-2-20.
The next year, Ian Johnson’s Australians arrived to play one solitary Test in Karachi. Mohammad and Fazal repeated their Lord’s feat by bowling unchanged for 53.1 overs in the first innings, bowling the visitors out for 80. Pakistan won by nine wickets and Mohammad finished with match figures of 7 for 112.
The end of his career
But injuries returned with a vengeance. The tour to West Indies in 1957-58 was a sorry affair. A couple of listless, cramp, sprain and swelling ridden Tests saw Gary Sobers pile up 365 and Mohammad bowl 54 overs without capturing a wicket.
So, after 13 Tests, Mohammad’s international career was over. His tally read unimpressive 54 wickets at 23.92. However, there had been promise of a much longer and greater period at the top. In the end, it remained a tale of what might have been.
Mohammad was marginally faster than his famed partner Fazal Mahmood, but he was not really much quicker than fast medium. Most of his victims were bowled or leg-before, and that testified to both his accuracy and pace. His stock ball came in to the right hander, and his bowling was marked by clever changes of pace and some natural, uncomfortable lift obtained by sending the ball down from his considerable height.
Imtiaz Ahmed, who kept wickets to Mohammad, said later that while Fazal was famed for his leg-cutters, Mohammad brought the ball in appreciably. Fazal Mahmood and Khan Mohammad formed the first of many lethal bowling pairs of the country.
He was also known to be a thorough team-man.
After retirement, Mohammad coached in Canada in the 1960s, picking up some coaching qualifications from Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) MCC along the way. He also coached in Sri Lanka for a brief while. He returned to Pakistan for short periods, sharing his experience in pace camps. One such summer camp was held in 1984, and was attended by a gangly young left-armer called Wasim Akram. He also worked with the Pakistan board in various capacities, and acted as a manager for some of the junior sides.
Mohammad spent much of his later life in England and ran a travel agency in Ealing, West London. He returned to Pakistan quite frequently and could sometimes be spotted at the Gaddafi Stadium on match days.
Khan Mohammad passed away in July, 2009.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)