Ramiz Raja: The batsman who once let his willow do the talking in Pakistani colours

Ramiz Raja played 57 Tests and 198 ODIs for Pakistan. He also captained the side © Getty images

Ramiz Raja, born August 14, 1962, was a Pakistani batsman who thrived in the limited-overs format of the game. In a side that boasted some of the classiest players, it didn’t take long for Ramiz to carve a niche. Karthik Parimal looks back at the career of this former captain who is better known these days for his voice than his willow.

When a newbie burrows his way to the core of a side already brimming with several first-rate players, the spotlight, understandably, shifts to him. For the next few months, all his moves are duly scrutinised by the powers that be, for they want to be certain he’s an apt recruit. Ramiz Hasan Raja was at one such juncture in the Pakistani summer of 1984. At the time of his debut, Pakistan boasted of batsmen the calibre of Mohsin Khan, Javed Miandad, Zaheer Abbas and Saleem Malik. However, Majid Khan, a veteran of 63 Tests, had called it quits the year before and a search for his successor was on ever since.

With six years of First-Class experience under his belt, Ramiz’s was the most mentioned name as Majid’s replacement, not least for the similarity in their styles. The two were openers, were generously associated with the term ‘elegance’, and while one could drive and hook effortlessly, the other’s flick off the legs caught attention. Ramiz, like Majid, had a sombre debut. The former managed just one run in two innings, whereas the latter registered a duck (but the fact that he was roped in as an opening bowler should not be discounted). It would all, however, change soon.

A cricketing family

Ramiz’s father Raja Saleem Akhtar played 10 First-Class games for Multan and Sargodha combined, but the prominent one in the family at the time was his brother Wasim Raja, who already was a stalwart and approaching the twilight of his international career when Ramiz made his debut. Wasim played over 50 Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODI) and averaged over 35. He was a southpaw who deftly handled tricky situations to steer his side home many a time. On March 2, 1984, Ramiz and Wasim became the second set of brothers to play Test cricket for Pakistan.

After that disastrous debut, Ramiz was dropped for the second fixture, but Wasim was retained and he thwacked a century. The younger brother was then recalled for the final Test where he was pushed lower down the batting line-up.

ODI career takes off

His first series against England was clearly unsuccessful and that led to his axing immediately thereafter. Almost 11 months later, in the February of 1985, he was called upon as a middle-order batsman for a One-Day series at New Zealand. Against Richard Hadlee and Ewen Chatfield, he walked in to bat with Pakistan at 129 for six, chasing 265 for victory. He unleashed a torrent of drives and ran furiously between the wickets to leave the Kiwis baffled. He fell for a 76-ball 75 which took Pakistan tantalisingly close to victory, but the game was eventually lost by 13 runs. Nevertheless, it became evident that he was one for the future. In the next game, he backed that up with another half-century.

Later that year, in venues across Pakistan and United Arab Emirates (UAE), he put up consecutive double-digit scores (45, 56, 45, 35, and 66), all in limited-over games, and it was enough to get him a Test recall. In March 1986 he smashed 122 to save Pakistan the blushes against an upcoming Sri Lankan unit in a Test at Colombo. His next hundred in the longer format was etched almost one year later, this against India at Jaipur. Although that effort didn’t win the game for his side, it was noted for Ramiz’s resistance, without which Pakistan would have succumbed to a follow-on in response to India’s gigantic total.

Those were to be his only centuries in Test cricket, in between and after which he managed the odd thirties and forties. Soon, he was deemed as a batsman who forged confident starts, only to throw his wicket away. Often times, a quick wicket would see Ramiz walk in at No 3 and stitch a 50-run partnership with the other opener, but a rash shot that would cost him his scalp always lurked around the corner. Nonetheless, the starts sometimes proved to be invaluable in the limited-overs fixtures and the two World Cups — 1987 and 1992 — serve as proofs.

During this period, Ramiz was involved in what was perhaps his strangest phase in international cricket in terms of dismissals. In the November of 1987, during a game against England at Karachi, he became the first batsman to be given out ‘Obstructing the field’ in ODIs. Batting on 98, he took off for a double and, while completing the second run, hit the ball with his bat to avoid being run out in order to complete his hundred, since it was also the final ball of the match. According to Wisden, this completed Ramiz’s hat-trick of unusual dismissals against England in 1987. The first was when he was incorrectly given run-out when he was walking back to the pavilion after a catch had been taken off a no-ball in Perth. The next was also a run-out at the Oval in the Texaco Trophy, where he was yet to face a ball.

Man-of-the-moment(s)

The first time a World Cup was held away from the fine confines of England was in 1987 and, fittingly, the onus to host one of the most anticipated tournaments was given to India and Pakistan. The two nations did a fine job before bowing out together in the semi-finals. Pakistan’s charge to the penultimate stage was led by Ramiz. He became his side’s highest run-getter, scoring 349 from seven innings at an average of almost 50. The knocks featured 76 against Sri Lanka at Hyderabad (Sind), 70 against West Indies and 113 against England — his first ton in ODIs — both at Karachi. His performances drew praise from Miandad in his autobiography Cutting Edge.

He started his 1992 World Cup campaign with a turgid, albeit unbeaten, century against West Indies. That didn’t result in a victory for Pakistan. A few days later, another unbeaten hundred, this time against New Zealand in a low-scoring contest ended on a positive note. The team moved into semi-finals with that win. However, the most memorable moment for Ramiz from that tournament, and perhaps from his cricketing career, would be the catch he held off Imran Khan’s bowling to dismiss Richard Illingworth — England’s last batsman — in the finals to win Pakistan the World Cup.

Captaincy and eventual retirement

After that historic win, Ramiz’s form took a dip. His career-average often fluctuated in the early thirties, but on this occasion it had slipped to 29 and was bolstered only by one century in as many as 31 innings till May 1993. In the meanwhile, youngsters coming into the side placed huge pressure on players whose age was on the wrong side of 30 and this hurried Ramiz’s exit from the unit. He wasn’t considered for over two years but returned in 1995 to captain Pakistan in a Test series against Sri Lanka. The visitors, much tougher by now, upset the hosts by margin of 2-1 and this quickly pushed him out of contention yet again. Despite sporadically featuring in ODIs, he was far from being his best. Another opportunity at captaincy sprung his way when he was asked to lead against Sri Lanka in the absence of Wasim Akram in 1997, but two draws didn’t help his cause. Soon after that series, he called it quits from all forms of the game. With 57 Tests and 198 ODIs to his name, Ramiz left the big stage with his head held high. Although the averages do not boast of extraordinary numbers, his contribution and value to the Pakistani team were seldom questioned.

Ramiz Raja: The batsman who once let his willow do the talking in Pakistani colours

After his playing career, Ramiz Raja (left) became a cricket administrator and commentator © Getty Images

Administration and commentary

Ramiz’s leadership traits came to the fore when he took over as Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) Chief Executive Officer (CEO). He was instrumental in the resumption of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan in 2004 with a tour to kick-start after a gap of almost 15 years. Amidst controversies, he then quit the post owing to his increasing duties as a television commentator. He continues to be the leading voice from Pakistan in the box and, just like his batting, has his own set of supporters and detractors.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)