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Taslim Arif, ace batsman and wicketkeeper, was born on May 1, 1954. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the man who lost out on an uneven battle to Wasim Bari.
The case of Taslim Arif Abbasi was the quintessential one that had given selectors numerous sleepless nights over decades: should one go for the better wicketkeeper or the better batsman? The 1990s saw a furious tussle between the acrobatic Rashid Latif and the improvising Moin Khan.
In Arif’s era it was a different story altogether: Wasim Bari was a wicketkeeper so brilliant that there were few parallels in the contemporary world of cricket, let alone in Pakistan. Arif, despite the significant chasm of qualities in front of the stumps, lost out in the battle.
Arif was a quality opening batsman, often switching between first and fifth gears: while he had that ability that is becoming rarer and rarer with every passing day in the 21st century — of grinding the opposition down and make merry off the fatigued bowlers, he could also be on a rampant mood if necessary. With the bigger gloves he was more neat than brilliant, and would probably have had a longer career, had he been born in a different country.
While adorning the gloves or otherwise, he was a jovial person. Iqbal Qasim called Arif “a very kind, happy-go-lucky sort of character and we enjoyed each other’s company” in an interview with Dawn. Javed Miandad added: “We all loved him [Arif], he endeared himself to everyone he played with.”
His First-Class record of 7,568 runs at 33.63 with 13 hundreds was quite impressive by the standards of any glovesman of the 1970s and 1980s. He also claimed 312 catches and 56 stumpings, of which a mere six catches and three stumpings came in his six Tests. The remarkable feature of Arif’s career was his Test batting record: he scored 501 runs at 62.62, which puts him sixth on the all-time list with a 500-run cut-off.
Arif made his First-Class debut at an age of 13. Playing for Karachi Blues against Karachi University he scored a duck, and he spent the next season in relative obscurity. By then, he had been playing for Karachi Whites, and at 15 Arif scored 104 not out, 95, and 100 against Bahawalpur in consecutive innings, and started the next season with 205 for Karachi Blues against Hyderabad.
Despite his immense success, Arif was generally considered as an opening batsman who could keep wickets; he continued accumulating runs at domestic level, but with Bari ruling the Test arena he did not stand a chance. He was picked for the West Indies tour of 1976-77, but 67 against Guyana at Bourda (and five victims) and 47 against Jamaica at Sabina Park (with five more victims) were all he could manage.
His perseverance paid off when he was selected as Bari’s understudy for the India tour of 1979-80.
Arif grabbed the opportunity with both hands, scoring 101 and 62 not out against West Zone at Pune and 116 not out against South Zone at Hyderabad in consecutive innings. So impressive was his form that despite Bari’s presence he was awarded a Test cap at the last Test at Eden Gardens as a specialist opener. He replaced Mudassar Nazar, who remained the only Pakistani to score a hundred in the series.
India’s 2-0 lead had rendered the Test to meaninglessness; Gundappa Viswanath chose to bat, India scored 331, and removed Arif’s partner Sadiq Mohammad early. Arif then got into a dogged partnership with Majid Khan, adding 92 for the second stand in over three hours.
Miandad increased the tempo, and scored a swashbuckling 57 in the 73-run stand; Arif, at the other end, looked rock-solid against the Indian attack, and eventually grafted it out for 268 balls, scoring a 424-minute 90 with only four boundaries. Asif Iqbal, playing his last Test, declared 59 runs behind as soon as Wasim Raja reached his fifty.
Imran Khan then bowled his heart out, reducing India to 92 for six, but some gutsy batting from Kapil Dev and Karsan Ghavri saw India manage 205: Pakistan were left to chase 265 in 280 minutes, and this time Arif got going in a completely different mood.
He lost both Sadiq and Majid early, and by the time he hit one back to Roger Binny he had scored a 92-ball 46 with four fours. Pakistan shut shop soon afterwards with Imran and Bari playing out 51 minutes to secure a draw with six wickets down. Sadiq later said: “Asif [Iqbal] included him in the team for the final Test in Kolkata and Taslim (Arif) scored 90 in the first innings and 46 in the second. That showed his self-belief.”
The ascent and the axing
Arif’s excellent performance helped him retain his spot, this time as a full-time wicket-keeper as Pakistan dropped Bari. After Australia scored 225 and reduced Pakistan to 44 for two, Arif and Miandad got together once again, adding 76 in 71 minutes. Arif eventually fell for a 106-minute 58, and Pakistan secured a crucial 67-run lead.
Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed then ran through the Australian line-up; chasing 74 Pakistan were in a slight spot of bother against Ray Bright (Arif fell for eight), but in the end they won easily by seven wickets. Then came the second Test on a docile Faisalabad track.
Any chance of a result was ruled out by incessant rain ensuring no play on Day One and an hour on Day Two. Greg Chappell’s 235 and Graham Yallop’s 172 (along with fifties from Kim Hughes and Rodney Marsh) helped Australia reach 617, but it left Pakistan with a mere day-and-a-half to bat.
Haroon Rasheed fell on Day Four and Zaheer Abbas early on Day Five, but once again Arif found his old partner Miandad back. There were close to four hours left, and the pair decided to have some fun. In the end all eleven Australians bowled (including Marsh, who sent down 15 overs of off-breaks) while Arif and Miandad plundered runs.
They finished on 382 for two, Miandad remaining unbeaten on a gallant 106. The real hero of the day was Arif, who had remained unbeaten on 210 from 379 balls in an innings that included 20 hits to the fence. In the process Arif registered the highest Test score by a wicketkeeper (Andy Flower, Kumar Sangakkara, and MS Dhoni have subsequently gone past him). It also remained his highest First-Class score.
The third Test at Gaddafi is usually remembered for Allan Border becoming the first (and only, till date) man to register two 150s in the same Test. After Arif played a blinder, scoring 31 off 20 balls, the team settled down, and a hundred from Majid helped Pakistan secure a slender lead.
Border followed his unbeaten 150 with 153 before he was stumped by Miandad off Azhar Khan. Miandad had taken up gloves to provide Arif with a breather, and then, when the match meandered to its final stages, he asked Arif to have a go with the ball. Almost immediately he had Graeme Beard caught by substitute Sultan Rana (brother of Shakoor) to claim his only Test wicket. Pakistan claimed the series 1-0.
West Indies came over to Pakistan later that for a four-Test series: Arif scored 32 in the first innings, but an injury forced him to retire hurt in the second. West Indies crushed Pakistan in the next Test with the fast bowlers leading a rout: Arif scored a duck and 18 in the Test, and was never recalled. He also played two ODIs that season with ordinary performances, but was a surprise pick for Kerry Packer’s World Series.
Back to domestic cricket
Arif continued to play on till 1988-89 with distinction, mostly for National Bank of Pakistan (NBP). He never really failed, and kept on producing the odd domestic hundred, but with the arrival of Saleem Yousuf he was out of contention for good. The 21-year long career eventually came to a halt after one final outing against Muslim Commercial Bank at Gujranwala, where he scored 15.
Arif continued to work for NBP as a batting coach and remained closely associated with the sport. He later became a selector for Karachi, ran a sports academy with Tauseef, and was one of the more famous radio and television commentators of Pakistan. His nephews Mohammad Ali and Wasim Arif have both had distinguished First-Class careers.
He passed away on March 13, 2008 of a lung infection. He was only 53.
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