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Qasim Umar: Pakistan batsman who was one of the earliest to speak against match-fixing in cricket

Qasim Umar. Photo courtesy: Geosuper’s YouTube channel
Qasim Umar. Photo courtesy: Geosuper’s YouTube channel

The versatile Qasim Umar was born on February 9, 1957. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at one of the earliest voices against match-fixing and drug-addiction in the sport.

Qasim Ali Umar (referred to as Omar by some sources) as a fine, obdurate first-down batsman who could wear down attacks by virtue of his patience; more importantly, however, Umar came out with allegations of match-fixing and drug-addiction among cricketers — something that brought his international career to a premature end when he was not even 30.

When he decided to battle it out and put his head down it was an excruciating sight for bowlers, fielders, and spectators alike. He had a penchant for long innings and had converted two of his fifties into double-hundreds. Unfortunately for Umar, he could manage to play only 26 Tests during his truncated career.

Umar had scored 1,502 runs at 36.63 with three hundreds in Tests; not a sound One-Day International (ODI) batsman, his numbers read 642 runs from 31 matches at 22.92 and a strike rate of 57.06. At First-Class level Umar had managed 6,809 runs at 42.29 runs with 18 hundreds. Also a prolific fielder, Umar had 15 Test catches.

Early days

Umar was born in Nairobi, which made him the first Kenya-born cricketer to have played Test cricket (Derek Pringle and Dipak Patel have joined the list subsequently; somewhat curiously, all three were born within two years of each other). The family moved to Pakistan subsequently, and Umar showed sufficient promise to break into the Pakistan Under-19 team at an age of 17.

In a keenly contested match at Multan, Umar opened batting with Mudassar Nazar and top-scored with 66 against a very strong Sri Lanka Under-19 attack. Almost immediately he was selected to play for Karachi Blues: he carried his bat with 79 against National Bank of Pakistan at Karachi in his first match.

The first hundred came two seasons later against Sukkur at their den: he scored 136 when nobody else managed a fifty, and Karachi Blues won by 222 runs. He continued to score, but it took him a decade to finally find a groove. By that time he had moved to Muslim Commercial Bank.

An amazing run saw Umar score 203 not out against Railways at Lahore, 89 and six against Allied Bank Limited, and a career-best 210 not out (out of a team score of 356) and 110 against Lahore City in back-to-back matches. Two matches later he piled up 174 and 110 not out against Karachi, and rounded off the season nicely with 55 and 120 against the touring Indians.

Umar finished with 1,275 runs at 91.07 with six hundreds that season — thus becoming the first person to score a thousand runs in a Qaid-e-Azam season. The next year he was chosen for the India tour.

Test debut

Umar was selected for the first ODI of the tour at Hyderabad; Zaheer Abbas scheduled him to bat at six, and he struggled on a seaming track, scoring a 26-ball five before being caught-behind off Roger Binny. The Test debut began in a more spectacular fashion: Kapil Dev decided to bowl and trapped Mohsin Khan leg-before off the first ball.

Umar found himself walking out to the middle in the second ball of his debut Test to join Shoaib Mohammad, another debutant. He lost Shoaib early, but hung on grimly for 75 minutes, helping Javed Miandad add 48 for the third wicket before he was caught-behind off Binny. He scored 15, Anshuman Gaekwad scored a 652-minute double-hundred, seven hours were washed off, Umar did not get another chance to bat, and did not play another international match on the tour.

He was retained for the Australian tour, and it was at Adelaide that he finally made it big: after Kepler Wessels and Allan Border took the hosts to 465, Umar walked out to join Mohsin at 73. The pair scored at a brisk pace and added 233 in 283 minutes before Dennis Lillee had Umar caught-behind for a 224-ball 113.

It was one of the braver efforts from Pakistani batsmen that series. He was battered and bruised all over thanks to several blows on his body from Lillee. When a physiotherapist had tried to apply an ice-pack, Umar responded: “Maybe you should just put me in the fridge.”

The double-hundreds

It was scheduled to be a high-intensity series, but the India’s tour of Pakistan got cancelled midway (after two Tests) due to the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister. Umar had scored 46 in the first Test at Lahore. In the second Test at Faisalabad, Sandeep Patil and Ravi Shastri’s tons had helped India reach 500.

Umar’s work was made easier by a 141-run opening stand between Mohsin and Mudassar, who were immensely benefited by the fact that Kapil Dev had broken down after bowling 4.5 overs. With almost nothing to play for (Pakistan had still not reached India’s score by stumps on Day Four) Mudassar and Umar put their heads down and grinded India into non-existence.

Mudassar eventually gave in, being caught-behind off Shivlal Yadav after 552 minutes of batting and a 250-run partnership: in the process he became the first batsman to be dismissed for 199 in a Test innings. Umar, perhaps determined to put Mudassar’s crawl into shame, eventually reached his double-hundred.

A desperate Sunil Gavaskar had to fall back upon Gaekwad’s off-breaks, and it was he who eventually removed Umar; the batsman had scored 210 in 442 balls and had batted for 685 minutes. At that point of time it was the third-longest innings by a Pakistani; the match ended with Pakistan on 674 for six.

Umar came close to scoring hundreds in the Dunedin Test later that season. Richard Hadlee was almost unplayable under extreme seaming conditions (he picked up eight, and the seamers eventually had 18), but Umar top-scored in each innings. His first-innings 96 was a special knock (he helped Miandad add 141) but after his dismissal Pakistan lost their last eight wickets for 33.

A raw Wasim Akam then restricted the hosts to 220 before New Zealand struck again. Hadlee and his accomplices tried to dent Umar’s defence, but he stood still, albeit with no one for company. He still managed to add 54 with Anil Dalpat, and when he was eventually caught-behind off Ewen Chatfield, he had scored a 211-ball 89 in 271 minutes.

Some defiant batting from Rashid Khan and a resolute Wasim (batting at 11) helped Pakistan set the Kiwis a target of 278; Wasim even set them reeling at 23 for four, but Jeremy Coney forged two big partnerships — with Martin Crowe and Chatfield — to win the humdinger by two wickets.

Umar was not to be demoralised: Sri Lanka piled up 479 at Faisalabad and reduced the hosts to 158 for two when Miandad joined Umar. They posted what was then the highest partnership against Sri Lanka, adding 397 runs without being separated; Umar finished on 203 and Miandad on 206.

Thereafter Umar went through a slump, barring his 48 on a lively Faisalabad track against Malcolm Marshall, Patrick Patterson, Tony Gray, and Courtney Walsh, adding 84 with Miandad. The partnership turned out to be crucial as Imran Khan and Abdul Qadir bowled out the tourists for a paltry 53.

West Indies hit back in the next Test at Lahore, where a vicious Walsh bouncer hit Umar on the face, forcing him to retire hurt. In the next Test at Karachi he was claimed by Clyde Butts for a painstaking five; forced to open the innings in the absence of Mudassar in the second innings he was consumed by Gray for a single. Unfortunately, that was the turned out to be Umar’s final First-Class innings.

Of drugs, money, women, and controversies

In 1985-86, Umar had come out with allegations against multiple cricketers on certain grounds. The dark cloud of match-fixing had still not contaminated the sport when Umar gave his statement. What made Umar’s statement unique was the fact that he himself admitted, as per BBC, that he “took money from a bookmaking ring involving a leading Perth businessman in return for throwing away his wicket in matches against Australia during the 1980s.”

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the businessman had “called him ‘son’ and gave him a number of gifts including a gold watch before suggesting that he help fix games.” He added: “I have travelled to 52 countries and I have never met anything like him. He was so kind. He said to me ‘The money is unlimited, you can count on that. If you keep on performing, the money will go up.’”

Umar had mentioned that there were other players involved in the racket as well, who received jewellery, watches, gold pens, bottles of spirits, and up to £3,600 for throwing their wicket away. A “world-class batsman” had apparently been rewarded with £9,000 to “throw his wicket away in the first four Tests of a five-match series”, reported Brian Radford for The Guardian.

He also accused several of his teammates [and other cricketers] for being involved in match-fixing and use of drugs. He was handed out a seven-year ban for the allegations. Shortly afterwards, he lost his bank job. “I spoke the truth and I was penalised for it and my career was destroyed. But I stand by what I said,” said Umar in an interview with DNA years later. He added: “Honest and straight forward people can’t survive in Pakistan cricket which is perhaps the worst cricket system in the world. I spoke the truth and my career ended.”

Umar’s allegations were rather serious. “Use of drugs was common among many players and they used to transport these drugs in their kit bags,” he said. He accused Imran Khan (among others) for laundering drugs in their kits to UK. He also accused Viv Richards (no less) for taking drugs to “release tension and improve his stamina and endurance levels.”

There were other allegations as well: as Radford wrote in The Guardian, Umar “alleges prominent players, including national team captains, had sex with the call girls as part of crooked deals that have destroyed cricket’s honourable image.” He adds: “He claims deals were struck in hotels, such as the Sheraton in Sydney, a restaurant in the city’s red light district, and McDonald’s in Melbourne.”

For some reason Umar had also mentioned a diary of the women in question, making the list public only in 2001. A suspicious Asif Iqbal was forced to ask the obvious question: “I also find it very strange that he [Umar] kept a diary of prostitutes’ names and numbers. It all sounds so sordid.”

Imran’s reaction was also on similar lines: “I think he [Umar] is an out-and-out mercenary who would do anything to sell anything. Why did it take him so long to come out with it?” The validity of his words may have been questioned, but Umar probably remains the first man to have stirred the world of cricket with allegations of such nature and extent.

Umar had left Pakistan to settle down in Manchester — the third country of his life.

(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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