On February 12, 1961, Pakistan’s Mushtaq Mohammad became the youngest centurion in Test cricket — at 17 years and 78 days. Abhishek Mukherjee revisits the day of the record that stood strong for 40 years.
India and Pakistan had played out 11 drawn Tests on the trot, and with the series drawn at 0-0 after four Tests, little was expected on the otherwise placid Delhi track. India had left out Baloo Gupte to make way for the young debutant Vaman Kumar – an extremely talented spinner who would later get lost in the furious spin competition of the 1960s and 1970s.
Nari Contractor won the toss and had no hesitation in batting. A significant amount of time was lost on the first day, and India reached 164 for 2. They were finally bowled out for a healthy 463: Polly Umrigar scored an emphatic hundred, and despite he was injured on the second day, he came back later in the day to score a polished 92. Rusi Surti and Chandu Borde also made merry, not holding back their shots, and despite some relentless bowling from Mahmood Hussain and captain Fazal Mahmood, the Indians managed to put up a decent score.
In response, Ramakant Desai got the prized scalp of Hanif Mohammad before he could settle down; with Bapu Nadkarni bowling at his miserly best and Kumar attacking from the other end, Pakistan were soon reeling at 89 for four. It was then that Mushtaq Mohammad – the youngest debutant ever who had played only five Tests till date, and also the younger brother of the legendary Hanif – walked out to join another rookie, Javed Burki.
The Pakistani duo held on. Desai, who had managed to give a tough time to sterner opponents, bowled on tirelessly, often testing the batsmen with bouncers; Nadkarni persisted with his infamous accuracy, not giving an inch away, the pressure mounted on the batsmen as runs were scarce to come by; and the debutant Kumar, who had a deceptive googly to go with his stock delivery, kept on attacking, over after over.
The kids fought back. They cut down their strokes, and kept on blocking the deliveries or let them go; the aggressive instincts were curbed, and slowly, with time, they found their groove. Contractor kept on rotating his bowlers, but he could not separate the pair: they ended the third day at 160 for 4, Burki on 42 and Mushtaq on 38.
The match was far from over, though. Desai, fresh from a night’s sleep, ran in with the aggression that so defined him – and yet has generally been elusive for the average Indian fast bowler. Kumar showed how versatile he could be, using his wrist to effect the maximum possible turn – and often reverting to the googly. Nadkarni was persistent with his robotic accuracy, not willing to give an inch away.
However, both batsmen scored fifties, and looked set for more. After the initial stages, Mushtaq opened up and began to play his strokes; he went past Burki. The score crossed 200. Contractor tried Borde, and even Umrigar – but to no avail. And then, just when things looked to be all over, Desai managed to remove Burki for 61, and Pakistan were 225 for five. And almost immediately, Kumar clean bowled Intikhab Alam.
The 150-run margin to save the follow-on still seemed distant, but Mushtaq carried on, with Fazal for company. Not only did he was solid in his defense, he also ensured that the runs kept coming. As he approached his hundred, everyone realised that Giff Vivian’s world record of scoring a hundred at an age of 19 years 121 days might be broken – that too by a massive margin.
As Mushtaq reached his 90s, Fazal used all his experience to calm down the teenager; the Delhi crowd, also realising that they were on the verge of witnessing history, began applauding in anticipation.
And then it happened: the kid, at the age of 17 years 78 days (on the day when the Test started), he etched his name in the annals of the sport; even under pressure, he had not buckled down – he batted with utmost bravado, playing all his strokes, and eventually reaching that magic figure.
He soon fell to Desai, and Pakistan, bowled out for 286, had to follow-on. Desai had picked up four and Kumar five, and Nadkarni finished with figures of 34-24-24-1. Batting again, Hanif and Imtiaz Ahmed put on 83, but the trio of Indian bowlers kept on taking wickets, and Pakistan were soon reduced to 212 for nine, only 35 ahead.
But then, Mahmood Hussain and Mohammad Farooq held fort, batted dourly to add 38. Desai returned figures of four for 88 (match figures of eight for 190) and Kumar two for 68 (seven for 132 in the match). And the relentless Nadkarni added 52.4-38-43-4 to finish with 86.4-62-67-5 in the Test.
Though India required only 74 to win, they had run out of time. It was yet another draw, though the Indians had dominated almost all of five days.
Twenty-nine years later, an Indian kid attempted to break Mushtaq’s record, and ended the day with 80 to his name. However, he hit the ball straight to his future coach the next morning, and got out for 88, breaking a billion hearts. When Sachin Tendulkar ultimately scored a Test hundred, he had missed Mushtaq’s record by 29 days.
It took Mohammad Ashraful to break the world record by a margin of 17 days – when he scored another hundred, coming out with his side trailing by 465 and down at 81 for four in the second innings. The record had stood for 40 days.
But that is another story.
India 463 (Polly Umrigar 112, Nari Contractor 92, Rusi Surti 64) and 16 for no loss drew with Pakistan 286 (Mushtaq Mohammad 101, Javed Burki 61, Vaman Kumar 5 for 64, Ramakant Desai 4 for 102) and 250 (Imtiaz Ahmed 53; Bapu Nadkarni 4 for 43, Ramakant Desai 4 for 88).