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Wasim Bari: Keeper of Pakistan’s fortunes

Wasim Bari: Keeper of Pakistan’s fortunes

Wasim Bari… 17 long years of distinguished service to Pakistan as a player © Getty Images

Wasim Bari, March 23, 1948, was arguably the greatest wicket-keeper an Asian country has ever produced. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a legend who still holds the record for most dismissals by a Pakistani.

 
In a country where the formula to a Test slot is often decided by a process similar to musical chairs, Wasim Bari held his spot for 17 years. He kept wickets till an age of 36, when most cricketers in the 1980s were typically past their primes as far as fitness levels were concerned.
 
Bari was not a charismatic wicket-keeper like some of his contemporaries or most of the later wicket-keepers. He was more safe than flamboyant, and was hardly noticeable behind the stumps — trademark of the best wicket-keepers of the world. Seldom did he dive enthusiastically and pull off a sensational catch, but on the other hand, hardly anything went past the woolly-haired man behind the stumps. He was the “keeper of Pakistan’s fortunes” in every sense of the word.
 
Bari stands head and shoulders above any other wicket-keeper Pakistan has ever produced. With 201 catches and 27 stumpings in Tests, Bari’s is quite ahead of Kamran Akmal (184 catches and 22 stumpings), Moin Khan (128 catches and 20 stumpings) and Rashid Latif (119 catches and 11 stumpings). He had played 81 Tests, and at the time of his retirement, he had played more Tests than any other Pakistani cricketer.

Early days

Bari made his Test debut against England at Lord’s in 1967. Early in the Test, he caught Colin Milburn — his first Test victim — off Asif Iqbal, and then caught Ken Barrington. In the second innings he had the first stumping of his career, that of Brian Close off the bowling of Nasim-ul-Ghani.
 
Though he kept wickets commendably, he did not do too well with the bat, and was shelved for a year and a half. After some more pedestrian performances with the bat (despite keeping wickets quite well), Bari was in and out of the side. It was in the 1971 tour of England that he first made a significant impact in international cricket.

Cementing his place

After two quiet Tests at Edgbaston and Lord’s, Bari came into his elements at Headingley. The first three wickets were his catches, and he finished the first innings with five catches. Then, coming in at 249 for six, Bari made a dour 63 to provide Pakistan with a crucial 34-run lead. Still not content, Bari took three more catches in the second innings, equalling the world-record of eight victims in a Test — a record previously held by James Kelly, Gil Langley, Wally Grout, Jim Parks, and Denis Lindsay. Pitched against Alan Knott, widely considered as the best wicket-keeper of the era, Bari did not look the inferior of the two by any measure.
 
Bari went one step ahead in his next Test at Adelaide, when he added 104 for the seventh wicket with captain Intikhab Alam to rescue Pakistan from 104 for seven. He kept wickets commendably throughout the series, and after passing the challenging tours of England and Australia, his wicket-keeping attracted the eyes of the world.
 
Bari had become a permanent fixture of the Pakistan side by now. In the early and mid-1970s, however, the Pakistan attack did not have a world-class fast bowler. As Sarfraz Nawaz and Imran Khan appeared on the scene, Bari had contemplated with the idea of quitting to surrender the gloves to someone more equipped against fast bowling.
 
Imran, however, had other ideas. He coaxed Bari out of the idea, and told him that he had complete faith in his ’keeping. He told in public that in his opinion Bari was as good a wicket-keeper as Allan Knott (an opinion later seconded by Knott’s teammate Tony Greig as well). The statement boosted Bari’s confidence significantly, and he resumed his post with vigour.
 
Pakistan was fortunate that he did. He took 36 catches off Imran and 35 more off Sarfraz — which accounted for close to a third of his career dismissals. He was equally adept against spin, showing excellent proficiency against Iqbal Qasim and Intikhab. Seldom has world cricket seen a wicket-keeper of such versatility.
 
In the Melbourne Test of 1976-77, Bari stumped Doug Walters and Gary Gilmour in the first innings, and Rick McCosker and Rodney Marsh in the second, being only the eighth wicket-keeper to effect four stumpings in a Test. Only Kiran More (six) and Probir Sen (five) have effected more stumpings in a Test.
 

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Wasim Bari… Pakistan’s Fort Knox behind the wickets © Getty Images

In the Bridgetown Test later that year, Pakistan had led by the slender margin of 14 runs. By now, Bari had been demoted to the No11 slot — which meant that he was so good a wicket-keeper that he made it to the side by virtue of that attribute alone. He joined Wasim Raja (who had scored 117 not out in the first innings) with Pakistan struggling at 158 for nine. Raja and Bari added 133 runs for the last wicket, with Raja scoring 71 and Bari, 60 not out. West Indies were saved marginally; when play was called off when they were nine wickets down.

Leading Pakistan

Bari got to lead Pakistan during the Packer era. The home series against England were played on placid pitches, and all three Tests were drawn, producing dull, high-scoring cricket. The captain bowled the only over of his Test career in the third Test at Karachi, conceding three runs. The English bowlers found bowling in home conditions a lot easier later that year, and Bari’s Pakistan was trounced 2-0.

The final years

Bari kept on keeping wickets for Pakistan for several years even after he had to relinquish his captaincy. Coming out as a night-watchman in the Lahore Test of 1977-78, Bari scored a career-best 85 against the likes of Kapil Dev, Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, and Erapalli Prasanna.
 
In the Auckland Test of 1978-79, Bari took seven catches out of the first eight wickets to fall. He became the first player to effect seven dismissals in an innings — a feat that has later been emulated only thrice — by Bob Taylor, Ian Smith, and Ridley Jacobs.
 
He would play yet another rearguard action — this time scoring 64 to bail Pakistan out of 187 for five at Bangalore in 1983-84. The Australia tour later in the season proved to be Bari’s last. He scored 7 not out and 20, and took three catches in his final Test at Sydney.

Later years

Bari was generally overlooked for over a decade since he had hung up his boots. He had a decent successor in Saleem Yousuf (who, though a much better batsman, was nowhere close as far as wicket-keeping was concerned) before the furious contest between Moin and Latif took place in the 1990s.
 
Bari was awarded the Life Achievement Award by Pakistan Cricket Board in 1997 to commemorate the country’s fifty years of Independence. He became the chairman of selectors soon afterwards, but was sacked in 2001. He was reappointed in 2004, and after being sacked again, started his third tenure in 2009. As the Chief Operations Officer of PCB, he has worked relentlessly to bring international cricket back to Pakistan.

(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 Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshakeand on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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