Aamer Sohail: An exciting and attacking batsman undone by his own brashness

Aamer Sohail © Getty Images

Aamer Sohail, born on September 14, 1966, is a former left-handed opening batsman and part-time left-arm spin bowler of Pakistan, who went on to become a national selector and broadcaster. Jaideep Vaidya goes through the career of an exciting, aggressive batsman and a brash, controversial cricketer.

Like a baseball batter with his club extended high in the air, he used to wait for the bowler to deliver. No matter how quick the bowler was, the bat used to come down on time to smack the ball as far away as possible. He could play a variety of strokes with his unique stance and high backlift: the slashy cuts were lethal, the swipy cover-drives were elegant, the swift on-drives were effectual, while the powerful pulls often landed in the stands and to add to that he had a fine leg-glance to add to his repertoire of strokes. And yet, the left-handed Aamer Sohail never quite carved the same reputation as a Sanath Jayasuriya, a Matthew Hayden or his own opening partner of many a match, Saeed Anwar. That’s not to say he wasn’t as effective as the aggressive trio. Sohail had, as Wisden rightly mentioned, “clearly attended the Gordon Greenidge school of controlled aggression.”

This particular comment had come in the cricketing bible’s Almanack report for Sohail’s first Test century, which he had all too gladly converted into a double at Manchester in 1992, in just his fourth innings in Test cricket. Opening the innings alongside Ramiz Raja, Sohail tore into the English attack comprising three pacers — Devon Malcolm, Chris Lewis and Tim Munton — and the solitary specialist spinner in Ian Salisbury. Any delivery within his range and length was dispatched to the fence like a stern schoolmaster would to the class corner misbehaving lads. Sohail brought up his hundred in just 127 balls in under three hours, by tea he was on 131 and reached his double century in the final session, before playing a tired shot to lose his wicket. He hit 32 fours, as Wisden noted, “most memorably through the covers.”

In Pakistan’s triumphant campaign in the 1992 World Cup, 25-year-old Sohail played an important role in getting his team to the latter stages with a hundred against Zimbabwe and half-centuries against India and South Africa. Although Sohail had to wait till 1994 to get his next hundred in either format, he installed himself at the top of the Pakistan batting order with consistent performances. His 134 against New Zealand in 1994 is his highest ODI score. In that very game Sohail added a world record second wicket partnership of 263.
In the 1996 World Cup, Sohail was in ominous form again, scoring a century against South Africa and fifties against New Zealand and India, but Pakistan were knocked out in the quarter-final by their arch-rivals India. In 1997-98, Sohail scored two back-to-back tons against the West Indies at Rawalpindi and Karachi, thereby helping Pakistan win their first series against the West Indies in 39 years. He was also appointed captain of the team and enjoyed a reasonably successful stint. He was also an effective part-time spinner in both formats, more productive in the limited overs.

Sohail’s talent had the makings of a great career, but it was perhaps undone by his outspoken and volatile nature which often got the better of him. The signs were there right from 1992 when Sohail told Ian Botham that he should have sent his mother-in-law in to bat after the latter was controversially given out for a duck in the final. In the following edition, he was involved in the infamous altercation with Venkatesh Prasad: Sohail was batting well on 51 with Pakistan chasing 288 from 49 overs. Sohail stepped down the track and slashed at Prasad’s short and wide delivery and sent it crashing into the cover boundary. He followed it up by pointing his bat towards the direction where the ball had gone, seemingly telling Prasad to fetch it. The following delivery, he went for another wild slash, but completely missed the ball as it uprooted his off-stump. “Very unintelligent piece of cricket by Aamer Sohail,” said a disappointed Imran Khan in the commentary box.

In fact, it was rather surprising when Sohail was permanently handed over the reins of captaincy by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in 1998 after the sacking of Rashid Latif. Sohail already had been involved in quite a few controversies, including a verbal confrontation with PCB chief executive Majid Khan that resulted in a one-month ban last year. The ban was further extended to three months and a fine of 50,000 Pakistani rupees when Sohail accused his teammates of match-fixing and betting in an interview. Sohail was the whistleblower in the match-fixing scandal that hit the country in 1997 and this was said to have soured relations between him and his teammates, especially Wasim Akram.

Sohail would be omitted from the squad for the 1999 World Cup, which he considered unfair and responded by taking up the matter with the president himself. “My omission [from the 1999 World Cup squad] has nothing to do with my form or my performance,” Sohail told Rediff in an interview in 1999. “I have just scored a hundred, a big one, against Hyderabad in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. You tell me what you think: Have I been dropped because I am out of form? I led Pakistan recently. On what grounds am I being dropped? I think they just had to do it to me.” Sohail even walked out of the team midway through a series against Zimbabwe during that time. He would later attribute it to “personal reasons”.

Sohail retired from all forms of cricket in 2001 and was appointed chief selector of the national team. He held the post till January 2004 after which he has been involved in broadcasting duties. However, for the talent that he was, 2,823 runs in Tests and 4,780 in One-Day Internationals (ODIs), along with just the five centuries in either format, in an 11-year international career can’t help but make you wonder about his untapped potential.

In pics: Aamer Sohail’s cricketing career

(Jaideep Vaidya is a correspondent at CricketCountry. A diehard Manchester United fan and sports buff, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook)