Majid Khan, born September 28, 1946, was a batsman of languid grace, who played 63 Tests for Pakistan. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the career of the man who is one of the four batsmen in the history of cricket to score a century before lunch on the first day of a Test match and also became the first Pakistan batsman to score an ODI hundred.
In some ways it was apt that a feat of flamboyance and flair, previously performed by the grand triumvirate of Victor Trumper, Charlie Macartney and Don Bradman, never achieved again after 1930, would be repeated by the dapper Majid Khan.
The century before lunch on the first day of a Test match used to be the domain of Ashes encounters of early 20th century. And in spirit and charisma, with his Cambridge accent and long sideburns, Majid looked and strutted about like an early English amateur playing the game for pleasure.
On his day he looked the most sublime of batsmen. The elegance was unmatched, artistry unique. The eye was quick, the footwork flashy, the timing impeccable. From the pristine whites of his shirt to the flashy spotlessness of his boots, he looked the ideal cricketer. As has been pointed out sometimes, once by Peter West in the commentary box, the only inelegant feature in the entire make-up of the man was the floppy hat he preferred to wear.
Yes, Majid was often inconsistent. Centuries of the highest order could be followed by strings of low scores that disappointed many after dashes of crisp, fluent strokes had rolled across the turf like fine wine on the palette. But, when the big scores did come they were sparkling gems that gladdened all cricket loving hearts.
And what knocks they were, across formats and levels. Be it the logic-defying double hundred for Punjab University against Karachi, the 61-minute century against Glamorgan at Cardiff, the two tons of different style and character against the West Indians in Karachi and Georgetown or that landmark 112 against Richard Hadlee, Richard Collinge and Lance Cairns when he tucked into his midday meal propped on a three-figure score.
Majid Khan in full flow was a majestic sight, and it was just coincidental that the first three letters of the adjective were the same as those of his name. There was no linguistic gimmick about the descriptions of his batting. Majid was a regal treat to watch when he got going.
Runs in the family
From the cricketing point of view, Majid could not have been born in a more appropriate environment. Father Jahangir Khan had bowled with pace and accuracy for India in the country’s first ever Test match in 1932, scalping the wickets of Percy Holmes, Frank Woolley, Wally Hammond and Eddie Paynter in the second innings. Four years later, playing for Cambridge against MCC at Lord’s, Jahangir was supposed to have killed a sparrow in flight with his delivered ball.
Elder brother Asad was an Oxford blue in 1968 and 1969, and captured seven for 84 with his off-breaks for the combined Oxford and Cambridge XI against the visiting Australians at Fenner’s. Cousin Javed Burki captained Pakistan in England in 1962 and was a leading Oxford batsman for three seasons. And another cousin, Imran Khan, became perhaps the most iconic Pakistan player of all time.
In recent times, son Bazid Khan has played one Test and five One-Day Internationals (ODIs) for the country. This makes them the first family since the Headleys — George, Ronald George and Dean — to play Test cricket across three generations.
Jahangir was wise enough to resist the urge of coaching his son, but rather encouraging him to enjoy his cricket. And in spite of later adjustments of technique to convert the daring dasher into dependable, the joy of his batsmanship remained infectious till the last day.
Majid attended the St. Anthony’s school at Lahore and he was considered too small to make the cricket team. However, when he moved to the Aitchinson College, the very institute that had seen the senior Nawab of Pataudi walk out of its gates, he made the first eleven at the age of 13.
Seldom has any cricketer made a First-Class debut with greater impact. He played for Lahore against Khairpur Division, scoring 111 not out and bowling fast to capture six for 67. The subsequent years witnessed a string of successes, especially at the University level. However, his role in the team remained undecided. In the summer of 1964, he toured England with the Pakistan Eaglets and topped the bowling averages. The 1964-65 season in Pakistan found him superlative with both bat and ball, but he was drafted into the national side as a bowling all-rounder.
Majid made his debut against Australia at Karachi a few days after turning 18. He batted at No 8 and got a duck. But, opening the bowling, in his very second over he got the wicket of Bill Lawry, out hit wicket while trying a hook. Majid’s new ball partner was another young paceman who turned into a middle order batsman in later years — Asif Iqbal.
He got Lawry cheaply again in the second innings, but from the other end captain Bobby Simpson was watching. In both the innings Lawry had been out to Majid’s bouncers, as had Brian Booth in the first innings. Simpson questioned the legality of his action. After consultation with the experienced Billy Ibadulla, Majid worked on his delivery and decided to cut the bumper out of his repertoire.
With time, batting gained priority and a score of 80 against New Zealand at Lahore in 1965 ensured a promotion up the order. He went on to score 100 and 57 against the MCC Under-25 for the Pakistan junior team at Lahore in early 1967. In the following match at Dacca, he got 95, saving the match by adding 167 in two hours with Asif Iqbal. More tall scores in the domestic matches convinced him of his potential as a genuine batsman. By the time he reached England in 1967, he was being tried out as an opening batsman.
Success for Glamorgan
During the England tour, Majid’s bowling took a further blow when he pulled a back muscle while trying out a new action, and the injury was aggravated at Lord’s. He was advised to sleep on hard boards and got into the habit of stretching out on the floor.
As far as his batting was concerned, he was brilliant in the tour games but could total only 38 runs in three Tests. But, among his four hundreds on the tour was the 147 not out against Glamorgan at Swansea, scored in 89 minutes, his 13 sixes stopping just two short of John Reid’s record of 15. Five of the sixes came in one over of Roger Davis. It was indeed a rather trying time for the Welsh side in this respect. Within another year, Malcolm Nash would be sent into the orbit with six sixes in an over by Garry Sobers in the very next season. By then the county had done the clever thing of signing the young Pakistani batsman in their rolls. Majid was on the field as Sobers sent those six deliveries from Nash spiralling out of the ground.
But, before that he had played another mind-boggling innings to defy every logical odds. In January 1968, turning out for Punjab University against Karachi Whites, Majid came in with the score reading three for three, and soon it became five-down for four. The 267 runs of the Karachi side stretched ahead beyond the distant horizon when he was joined at the wicket by Intikhab Alam. Majid scored 200 not out, and Punjab University finished at 314 for eight.
Majid turned out for Glamorgan in 1968, scoring 1,258 runs and the county bubbled up from near the bottom of the pool at No14 to the third place. And when England visited Pakistan in early 1969, Majid cashed in on the growing experience to play a few fine innings even as political turmoil raged through the nation.
The 1969 season was perhaps the making of Majid as a Glamorgan legend. According to Wisden, “It became almost an inexcusable cliché to describe his batting as sheer magic, but so often it was exactly that.” Tony Lewis led with charm and astute tactics, and the county won its first championship since 1948. Not only was Majid instrumental in the triumph with his debonair batting, in the close in cordon he formed a lethal quartet with Roger Davis, Peter Walker and Bryan Davis. Wisden remarked, their “combined stretching hands must have looked like a greedy octopus to the poor batsman.”
It is reputed that Jahangir Khan was prone to uttering philosophical verses when balls eluded him in the slips. Majid had neither such inclination nor cause. He grabbed everything that came his way, making them look absurdly easy. And his batting was uniformly brilliant, often wondrously so. When he scored 156 against Worcestershire in a crucial match on a difficult Cardiff wicket, a lilting Welsh voice was heard: “I’d pay five bob just to see this chap take guard!”
By the time Glamorgan won the tournament, there were chants of “Majid … Majid … Majid” in the stadium. During the season, the casual nonchalance of Majid had prompted his teammates to dub him ‘Kipper’, till then the name that identified Colin Cowdrey. However, at the end of the season he left for Cambridge, and the following May scored his first century for the University against Glamorgan at Fenners. He later scored exactly 200 in the match against Oxford. Majid returned to play for Glamorgan in 1971.
The summer of 1972 was one of the best he enjoyed for the county, scoring 2,074 runs at 61.00 with eight hundreds, including a mammoth 204 against Surrey. He also won the Walter Lawrence Trophy for the season’s fastest century, scored in 70 minutes against Warwickshire.
From 1973 to 1976, Majid captained the county side.
Test success at last
Success in the Test world was slower in coming. It was on New Year’s Day in 1973 that Majid finally made his first hundred in Test cricket, a steady 158 against Australia at Melbourne. It was his 14th Test, and although Pakistan lost through a late-order collapse on the last day, Majid managed to haul his average from the low 20s into the 30s.
He achieved considerably more success when Pakistan crossed the Tasman Sea for the New Zealand leg of the tour. At Wellington, he stroked identical scores of 79 in each innings, caressing the ball with royal flourish. In the third Test at Auckland, he was subdued by his standards but eked out another century from No 3. By the end of the tour Majid was established at the top of the order.
He was also made captain for three home Tests against England in 1972-73. All the Tests ended in stalemate and Intikhab Alam was preferred as skipper for the tour to England that followed in 1974. The Tests in these two series saw Majid missing out on a hundred twice, with 99 at Karachi in early 1973 and 98 as an opener at The Oval in the summer of 1974.
The England tour of 1974 witnessed another sparkling Majid effort. In the 14th ever ODI at Nottingham, England rode a David Lloyd century to set a challenging target of 245. Majid walked in at the top of the order and made a mockery of the England total, flaying Bob Willis, Peter Lever, Chris Old and Derek Underwood to score 109 in just 93 balls. These were the days that such strike-rates were considered sinful, but Majid’s batting touched such devilish speed with almost divine grace. He thus became the first Pakistan batsman to score a hundred in ODIs. When Pakistan returned from England, Majid had sealed his position in the line-up as an opening batsman.
When the West Indians came visiting in 1975, Majid hit a superb hundred against Andy Roberts, Bernard Julien, Keith Boyce and Vanburn Holder at Karachi. Within a couple of weeks he went in first and scored 213 for Punjab A against Sind A. At this stage of his career Majid Khan was definitely at the peak of his powers.
The Prudential World Cup of 1975 saw Pakistan offer some serious challenge. The team came within a whisker of beating Clive Lloyd’s supreme West Indians before falling prey to panic and inexperience, heartbreakingly losing by one wicket. Majid enjoyed an excellent tournament, scoring 209 in three matches and also leading in two of them when Asif Iqbal was injured.
Batting for Glamorgan that season, he caressed his way to 110 in two hours against the visiting Australians. In response, Greg Chappell scored a quick-fire 144. Huw Richards, writing in Wisden Asia, observed that the Australian captain “seemed prosaicby comparison”.
Century before lunch and success in the Caribbean
He did not have a very successful final season with Glamorgan in 1976, but more memorable feats was to follow.
The New Zealanders of 1976-77 were not prepared for the ordeal that faced them in Pakistan. The inexperienced side struggled in the foreign conditions and were at a loss against the versatile attack of the home team. They lost the first two Tests, and in the second Majid was stumped charging left-arm spinner David O’Sullivan for 98. It was his third Test score in the 90s and perhaps prompted him to take drastic measures in the third Test.
On that October morning in Karachi, he drove crisply, down the ground and through the covers, with the bat caressing rather than forcing the ball, gently directing it between the fielders. And when Hadlee, Collinge and Cairns bounced, he hooked with an arrogance seldom witnessed in the subcontinent. Eighteen boundaries marked their flaming trails across the turf and two impeccably-timed sixes stamped his panache — all in the first session. Majid ended unbeaten on 108 at the interval, the first century before lunch on the first day of a Test match since Bradman’s Headingley feat of 1930.
Perhaps his most glorious series with the bat took place in West Indies in 1977. Against a fiery attack of Andy Roberts, Colin Croft, Vanburn Holder and Joel Garner, Majid batted with casual elegance at the very top of the order and played some scintillating innings in the fantastic five-Test series.
He started with 88 at Barbados and followed it with 47 and 54 in a low scoring encounter in the second Test at Trinidad.The third Test at Guyana saw his greatest all round performance in Tests. With West Indians running away to a huge first-innings lead, he took the ball yet again after all these years and removed four batsmen for 45. And then for six hours he stood steadfastly at the wicket to save the Test match with an epic 167. Even as partner Sadiq Mohammad was struck on the jaw by Roberts, Majid continued to play positively and struck the ball with the same air of unhurried composure. And as the action returned to Trinidad, he set the tone with a superb 92 as Pakistan rode the all-round brilliance of captain Mushtaq Mohammad to draw level in the series. Majid failed in the final Test at Jamaica and West Indies took the series, but his 530 runs in the series at 53.00 was second only to the magnificent Wasim Raja in the batting charts.
Two more hundreds came his way when he travelled Down Under in 1978-79. On an easy paced wicket in a dead draw at Napier, he brought up a rather inconsequential Test century. However, it was at Melbourne that glory awaited him. Pakistan led by 28 after two sub-200 first innings totals in difficult conditions. In the second knock, Majid stroked his way to a magnificent 108 in 157 balls, ensuring a 353-run total. The Australian attack was severely depleted by the parallel circuit of World Series Cricket, but even considering the absence of the stars it ranks as a glorious innings. Sarfraz Nawaz then produced a lethal spell of seven for one from 33 deliveries to win the game for Pakistan.
Travelling to England for the second edition of the World Cup, Majid scored 61 against Australia and 81 against West Indies.
Loss of form and end of career
But, by the end of 1979, he had run desperately out of form. Kapil Dev, Karsan Ghavri and Roger Binny kept dismissing him for low scores when Pakistan toured India. The hosts won 2-0 and Majid could manage only 223 runs in six Tests at 20.27. Pushed down the order, he did hit 89 and 110 when Australia visited the next year, but it was always going to be difficult to find a place for the ageing batsman in the Pakistan middle-order crowded with talent.
He managed a series against West Indies and another tour of Australia. They were sordid affairs, with the command that characterised him conspicuous by its absence. In the 1982 tour to England he played in just one solitary Test and failed in both the innings as the hosts won a close encounter to clinch the series.
Majid was brought back for another Test against India at Lahore after the series had already been won. He lasted 10 balls before edging Kapil Dev to Syed Kirmani for a duck. The burden of dropping him fell on cousin Imran Khan, first in England then back home in India, and it did strain the relation between the two for a while.
Majid played just three more First-Class games.
A scrupulously fair cricketer who played the game to enjoy, Majid was also one of the rare batsmen of that era who came to be known as a ‘walker’. Predictably for a man of such character, after his playing days he became a no-nonsense administrator of the Pakistan Cricket Board. He resigned after launching a fusillade of match-fixing allegations in the wake of the 1999 World Cup.
Career in retrospect
His career consisted of 63 Tests which brought him 3,931 runs at 38.92 with eight hundreds. A specialist, and often spectacular, slip fieldsman, he held 70 catches. He did not bowl a lot after his initial days of fast, slingy, spraying deliveries and his collection of wickets amounted to 27 at an expensive 53.92 apiece.
In 23 ODIs, he managed 786 runs at 37.42 with a surprisingly high strike-rate of 74.71, with one hundred and seven fifties. Had he been born a decade later, he might have been a force to reckon with in limited overs cricket.
Majid did not achieve greatness as a batsman. Potential was aplenty, as was grace and refinement of technique, along with plenty of pluck. He was also one of the very best batsmen on difficult wickets. However, he was prone to bouts of inconsistency and sublime cameos and miniature masterpieces punctuated his rather infrequent knocks which merged style and substance.
However, approaching his task of facing the fastest and most fearsome bowlers at the top of the order in those helmetless days, Majid went about his job with an air of casual detachment and languid grace. And when he got going it was worth the wait of those frustrating periods of low scores which always promised but seldom delivered.
Many cricket lovers agreed with that singular Welsh fan who had voiced his inimitable approval for the Glamorgan professional. They would flock to the stadiums just to see him take guard. Indeed, they would, because Majid Khan was a joy to behold.
In pictures: Majid Khan’s career
(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://twiter.com/senantix)