© Zaheer Abbas
© Zaheer Abbas

Zaheer Abbas, born on July 24, 1947, was a fine batsman who represented Pakistan in 78 Tests and 62 One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Christened ‘Asian Bradman’ — Zaheer is the only man from the subcontinent to amass over 100 centuries in First-Class cricket. He finished as one of Pakistan’s greatest batsmen with 5062 runs and 12 Test hundreds. Zaheer has been a respected figure in the sport and is currently the International Cricket Council (ICC) president. Nishad Pai Vaidya reads through Zaheer’s autobiography ‘Zed’, and picks 10 anecdotes about the Asian Bradman. 

1.  Born while his father was away

Zaheer was born in Sialkot at a time when British India was preparing for the painful Partition of India. His father, Syed Ghulam Shabbir, was miles away at the time in Bikaner, which was to be on the Indian side once Partition was in effect. Shabbir had to chart a different path on seeing the violent incidents through the popular route and made it to Pakistan a few days after Independence.

2.  Playing village cricket

Before the family moved to Karachi, Zaheer started playing cricket in his village near Sialkot. There were times when he had to cross a river to attend matches. “I couldn’t swim, but one of the older members of the team would take me on his shoulders. We would dry out in the sun and head for the ground,” Zaheer recalled.

3.  An encounter with Ghulam Abbas

Ghulam Abbas was quite young when he was selected for Pakistan. As Zaheer was rising through the ranks in local cricket in Karachi, he had an interesting encounter with Ghulam. At that time, the teams could not afford too many bats and had to make do with only two for the whole side. In the said match, a bat broke while Zaheer was charting his path to a hundred. His teammates asked Ghulam, who was their adversary that day, for his bat. However, the Pakistan player did not give it for the fear that any rash shot from Zaheer would break his willow. Zaheer’s father recalled his son saying: “One day I too shall become a Test batsman — and I promise I’ll lend my bat in an emergency if anyone asks to borrow it.”

4.  Academics vs cricket

As a youngster, Zaheer’s parents tried to get him to study so that he could have a stable career. They wished he could become a doctor, but his cricketing ambitions were too strong and convinced them that he could make it through. But he did manage to secure a Bachelor of Arts degree. “I studied hard by my standards, and for a number of years hardly picked up a bat. It was the responsibility of a son to his parents,” he said. Zaheer had also tried to enlist for the army. He then got a job with the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), who had a strong cricket team — allowing him to do what he does best.

5.  Indian fan mail

Zaheer had a huge fan following in India. He said that his first wife Najma believed that about 70 percent of his fan mail came from across the border. Zaheer remembers being greeted warmly on his tour to India and says it was particularly because he had a good time against them in 1978. Years later, he went on to marry an Indian woman.

6.  The 274 helps in securing a county contract

Zaheer announced himself to international cricket with his magnum opus — an innings of 274 in 1971 against England at Birmingham, in what was only his second Test. Thus, counties started approaching him and Gloucestershire finally secured his services for 1,750 pounds. His Pakistan teammate Sadiq Mohammad had been at Gloucestershire for some time. It was a long and rewarding association for Zaheer as he stayed there for over a decade. In 1983, he was awarded a benefit year. It was fitting that Zaheer played for Gloucestershire, a county that had boasted the likes of WG Grace and Wally Hammond in the past.

7.  The ‘White family’

During his time at Gloucestershire, Zaheer was very close to Tom Hennessy and his wife Edna. He used to call Hennessy his “white dad.” Unfortunately, Hennessy passed away as Zaheer was getting his autobiography ready.

8.  County cap after three years of toil

Even though awarded a contract with Gloucestershire, Zaheer had to earn the cap by showing his mastery with the willow. He ultimately won it in 1975 after a few seasons of hard-work. That year, he also produced consistent performances which only showed that he deserved it. “The county cap, I was told, wasn’t handed out to players who could make 200 against England; they had to prove they could do it at Swansea, Chesterfield or Folkestone,” Zaheer said.

9.  A reserved personality

Zaheer was known to be a very reserved personality. Even when he had broken his bat during a local game in Karachi, his teammates asked Ghulam for his willow for Zaheer. He also wasn’t enamoured by parties and gatherings. In fact, one of his county teammates, Brian Brian, complained in his book that Zaheer had once refused to attend one of the sponsor-related functions. Zaheer said that he wanted to spend time with a friend that day. “My contract is for the scoring of runs,” he wrote, making his priorities clear.

10.  Row with Javed Miandad

In 1981-82, Javed Miandad was leading Pakistan on the tour to Australia and a much senior Zaheer was his deputy. During one of the tour games, Zaheer was the designated captain but was injured and could not bring himself to play. Instead, he relaxed in the hotel. He got a message: “Javed is the captain and he’s summoning you. At the ground. Now.” Once Zaheer reached the ground, Miandad shot at him in front of the team. Zaheer retorted by saying that he is injured and that this wasn’t a consequential game. This incident left a bad taste in the mouth and a few months later, numerous players refused to take field under Miandad’s leadership. Zaheer was one of those players. Things improved once Miandad gave up captaincy ahead of the tour to England in 1982.