On January 11, 1959 “Little Master” Hanif Mohammad went past Don Bradman’s 452 to register the highest First-Class score – a record that stood until Brian Lara went past him. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at an excruciatingly long innings that single-handedly the grinded the opposition to dust.
There are certain aspects that define the batting of greats: we typically associate Don Bradman with his phenomenal consistency, Viv Richards with his aggressive body language and Denis Compton with his carefree aggression. With Hanif Mohammad it was sheer concentration and stamina to go on. Nothing seemed impossible; no score seemed inconceivable. However long be the duration, Hanif always seemed to bat on, and on, and on…
After Karachi elected to field in the semi=final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Ikram Elahi and Mahmood Hussain bowled out Bahawalpur for a paltry 185 by tea. Karachi had a formidable side with the several Test stars, and a huge total seemed on the cards on an otherwise placid pitch. The biggest threat, though, was Hanif – fresh from his gargantuan match-saving 337 against West Indies a year back. Everyone knew that Hanif was capable of batting Bahawalpur out of the match single-handedly. And that is what he precisely did. Hanif and Alimuddin ended the day at 59 without loss, Hanif scoring a seemingly harmless 25.
After Alimuddin departed with the score on 68, Hanif put on 172 with Waqar Hasan before the latter fell. Hanif was joined by his elder brother (and the Karachi captain) Wazir, and they carried on the single-minded grinding. The brothers put up 103 for the third wicket before an adventurous Wazir decided to take a risk and was stumped.
Such acts of greed have always eluded Hanif, though. He carried on with his business with grim determination. Wallis Mathias joined him, and Karachi ended the day at 383 for three. Despite his dogged display, Hanif had managed to keep strike throughout the day, and had managed to reach 255 at stumps on day two.
Hanif felt very, very exhausted at the end of the second day. Wazir, captain, elder brother and mentor, knew that the only way to motivate Hanif to proceed on day three was to make him go for the world record. Wazir, often referred to as “Wisden” among his teammates for his phenomenal knowledge of cricket records, reminded Hanif that 453 was manageable if Hanif went on to bat the entire Day Three. He ensured that Hanif had an olive oil massage and a good overnight rest.
Hanif picked up from where he had left, though he mentioned that he was very tired as he approached his 300. He went on, though. Mathias kept him going, and reached his own hundred in the process: the duo was separated at 602 when Mushtaq – the third Mohammad brother in the side – walked out to bat.
Hanif added 39 with an aggressive Mushtaq and 60 more with Mohammad Munaf, and still showed no signs of getting out. Such was his self-discipline that he lofted the ball only once in his entire innings, for a straight boundary over the bowler’s head.
There was no television in those days, and the Quaid-e-Azam semi-final was not covered on radio. The entire world – barring a handful of spectators – remained unaware that the world record for the highest First-Class score had changed hands after tea with an on-drive for four.
Once 453 was achieved, Hanif concentrated on raising the bar as much as possible, with the wicket-keeper Abdul Aziz for company. With two balls to go Hanif had reached 498, but the ground scoreboard had not updated, and showed 496 instead. Hanif was a bit circumspect that Wazir might declare overnight, and decided to go for it.
Hanif played the penultimate ball of the day past point, and after completing the first run, decided to go for the second, intending to keep strike. Little did he know that he could easily have played out the ball and waited for the last one of the day. Instead, he decided to take the risk, and was run out by over a yard.
When he found out that he had missed 500 by a single run because of a scoring error, he was livid. He came back to the dressing-room, fuming. He was possibly beyond all consolation till the telegrams started to pour in. The President, Ayub Khan, joined in the congratulations, and – most importantly – there was a congratulatory telegram from Bradman himself.
The saga could have ended here, but for two incidents. Hanif finally met Bradman when Pakistan toured Australia. Bradman was somehow under the impression that Hanif was a huge, well-built man; he was astonished to see it was a short, slender batsman who had eclipsed his record.
Abdul Aziz, Hanif’s partner when he got run out, was hit by a rising delivery in the first innings of the final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy a week later. He succumbed to the injury and unfortunately passed away, and was marked “absent dead” in the second innings.
Bahawalpur 185 (Mohammad Ramzan 64; Ikram Elahi 4 for 48) and 108 lost to Karachi 772 for 7 declared (Hanif Mohammad 499, Wallis Mathias 103) by an innings and 479 runs.