Asif Iqbal: Born in India, captain of Pakistan, resident of London who was once AR Bukhatir's Man Friday

Asif Iqbal © Getty Images

Asif Iqbal, born on June 6, 1943, was an India-born and raised cricketer who went on to captain Pakistan in two World Cups. Jaideep Vaidya goes through the career of the stylish bowler-turned batsman-turned-pioneer.

Asif Iqbal was born in Hyderabad, India, in 1943 before emigrating to Karachi, Pakistan, in 1961. By the time his family made the move, Iqbal had already made a name for himself in the Hyderabad cricketing circles. However, Iqbal was “confident that I would be able to further my cricketing ambitions in Pakistan as well”. Iqbal hailed from a family that had cricket running in its veins. His uncle was former India off-spinner Ghulam Ahmed , while many of his other uncles also played First-Class cricket.

Iqbal began his career as an opening swing bowler. Making his Test debut against Australia at Karachi in 1964-65, Iqbal opened the bowling for Pakistan and batted at No 10. For the first three years of his career, he was primarily a bowler who could bat a bit. However, the 1967 tour of England was to change Iqbal’s career and fortunes forever. “Before the 1967 England tour, I developed a back problem,” Iqbal told ESPNcricinfo in an interview. “I knew I could no longer play just as a bowler, so I was determined to do well with the bat.”

In the first Test of the series at Lord’s, Pakistan were tottering at 139 for seven, staring at follow-on, when Iqbal walked in at No 9. He scored 76, sharing a 130-run stand with Hanif Mohammad (187 not out) as Pakistan went on to avoid the follow-on and drew the Test. However, it was the third and final Test at The Oval, that started Iqbal’s legend.

Put into bat, Pakistan were skittled for 216 in the first innings, before England scored a handsome 440. In the second innings, the Pakistani batsmen managed to perform even worse and, at 53 for seven, were heading towards an innings defeat. The match seemed bound to finish before lunch on Day Three as Pakistan still needed 167 to make England bat again. “There was talk of a 40-over match to entertain the crowd, and that motivated me,” said Iqbal, who decided to intervene with the bat again.

Together with Intikhab Alam, Iqbal frustrated England to the wall. The duo put on 190 runs for the ninth wicket, which was a record at the time. Iqbal scored 146, which was the highest by a No 9 batsman and also his maiden Test century. His score has since been overtaken by Ian Smith (173) and Stuart Broad (169).

Here is what Wisden wrote of that partnership in its Almanack report: “Hitting boldly, Asif excelled with the drive and hook. He raced to 50 out of 56 and [Ken] Higgs, [Geoff] Arnold and [Derek] Underwood, so supreme at one stage, all suffered during his drastic punishment. Intikhab’s share when the stand reached three figures was 28. A sparkling off-drive from Higgs gave Asif his fourteenth four and took him to his first Test century in two hours, 19 minutes.

Asif Iqbal: Born in India, captain of Pakistan, resident of London who was once AR Bukhatir's Man Friday

Asif Iqbal in action for Kent in the county championship © Getty Images

“An amazing scene followed. Hundreds of Pakistanis raced to the wicket and hoisted Asif shoulder high. The game was held up for five minutes and when a squad of police rescued him, the poor fellow was bruised and battered. The team manager received him with a drink and he celebrated his great day by striking Higgs for five more boundaries in two overs…Asif spent three hours, 10 minutes for his 146 out of 202 and he hit two sixes and 21 fours.”

Thus was born Asif Iqbal the batsman. His uncle Ghulam Ahmed had foreseen the turn of events and had gifted him a brand new pair of gloves when he was young, predicting Iqbal would become a batsman. In 1968, when Iqbal was selected as Wisden Cricketer of the Year, he did not even know such a thing existed. He was soon promoted to the middle-order, where he excelled. Iqbal soon became one of the most attractive batsmen on the circuit. His nimble footwork was a joy to watch, especially when he used it to drive the ball through the covers and square of the wicket. He was soon selected to play for Kent in 1968, where he rubbed shoulders with Colin Cowdrey, Alan Knott, Derek Underwood, Mike Denness and Bernard Julien.

Iqbal’s finest Test innings, on his own admission, was however not at The Oval in 1967; it came at Sydney in 1976-77. A 25-year-old Imran Khan had taken six wickets to help bowl out Australia for 211 in the first innings. Iqbal, who came in at No 6, then scored 120 to help Pakistan get a healthy lead of 149, which turned out to be too much for the hosts to overcome and set a good target. Australia capitulated for 180 in their second effort, with Imran taking six again, as Pakistan were set just 32 to win. It was a historic victory for Pakistan — their first in Australia — and one that helped them level the three-match series 1-1, which is why it was so special for Iqbal.

Iqbal was soon to be appointed Pakistan captain as he skippered the team during the inaugural 1975 World Cup, before leading them to the semi-final of the 1979 edition, where Pakistan lost to the eventual champions West Indies. Iqbal said that he regretted putting the West Indies in to bat “on an excellent batting track”, and that the decision probably cost them a place in the final. Iqbal, aged 37, played his last Test against India in Kolkata in the winter of 1979-80. Unfortunately for him, that particular Test was to come back and bite him two decades later. But more of that in a bit.

In the 1980s, Iqbal was one of the central figures involved in setting up the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS) in Sharjah and helped make the desert city a prime cricketing hub. Iqbal was the Tony Greig to Abdul Rahman Bukhatir’s Kerry Packer, you could say. Apart from hosting matches, the CBFS was set up originally to honour cricketers of the past and present from India and Pakistan with sizable cheques in recognition of their significant contribution to the game. The benefit funds were later also extended to players from Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the West Indies.

In 1999-2000, when the match-fixing scandal broke out, Iqbal’s name cropped up in the investigations. In fact, he was given the ominous distinction of being one of the first players to be involved in fixing. The Justice Qayyum report, which investigated the case, had this to say: “For the Pakistani cricket team, the allegation of match-fixing seems to have started when Asif Iqbal was the captain of the Pakistani team in 1979-80. Asif was accused of betting on the toss.” Iqbal just picked up the coin and told Vishwanath, “Congrats! You have won the toss.”

Even pacer Sarfaraz Nawaz, who played under Iqbal, told the Justice Qayyum Commission that betting in cricket had started in that 1979-80 tour of India under Iqbal’s captaincy. However, Nawaz’s comments were attributed to the fact that he had been left out of that squad, even though he was one of the leading pacers of the Pakistan team at the time. Intikhab Alam also came out and stated that Iqbal was linked to bookies.
Meanwhile, another report, the Ehtesaab Bureau (EB) report, linked matches in Sharjah to illegal betting, bringing the CBFS into the picture. The report noted that gambling in cricket for Pakistan had its roots “in the development of cricket in Sharjah under the guidance of Mr Abdul Rahman Bukhatir and with the assistance of Mr Asif Iqbal.” In 2001, with the match-fixing probe at its peak, Iqbal disassociated himself from the CBFS, saying that “heavy infiltration of politics in the sport has created an atmosphere about which I feel deeply uncomfortable”.

“I think the internal politics of Indian cricket infiltrated the government, and the government became a tool in fulfilling its designs,” Iqbal told PTI in London. However, he denied that the move was a result of the probe into CBFS. “The probe had nothing to do with my resignation,” Iqbal told Rediff in an interview. “I thought I had had enough, and wanted to do something else. Also, the government interference was saddening. The government objected to India playing in Sharjah, and thus politicized the sport. I decided it was time for me to pack my bags.”

Iqbal also denied that he had fixed the Kolkata Test in 1979-80, saying, “I have, in the response sent to the British newspaper [News of the World, which broke the story], quoted Viswanath denying that story. It is such a joke.” The newspaper had quoted cricketer Saleem Malik saying that Iqbal was the conduit between players and bookies. Responding to the allegations, Iqbal said, “What does that prove? How can a third party statement be used against me? What is the basis of the allegations? Malik reportedly made some statements to a mole from that paper. When the mole, Ghazan Iqbal from the News of the World, came to my place in London, I said that I was the wrong person he was trying to contact.”

Iqbal was also an ICC match referee for a brief period and, today, is settled in London with his family.

(Jaideep Vaidya is a reporter, sub-editor and analyst at CricketCountry. A diehard Manchester United fan and multiple sports buff, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook)