Hanif Muhammad – The Original Little Master Before Sunil Gavaskar Came Along
A mere 22 families were once said to control Pakistan’s economy, a textbook case of exploitative oligopoly. But that might seem like egalitarian socialism when compared with the state of Pakistan cricket. Which for many years appeared to be run by two households only. One of these was plebeian as befitting their base, the trading port of Karachi. The other was feudal and lived in the town of kings, soldiers, and poets: Lahore.
In fact, a lyrical sociologist was there such an animal? Could use the story of these two families to write a larger social history of the nation. Punjab versus Sindh, land versus commerce, indigenous Pakistani versus imported Mohajir. This divergence in class and cultural origin was deeply marked in the en form of these two homes in there dress, in their department in how they played the game and in how they viewed the enemy.
The second family of Pakistan cricket was the Khans of Lahore. The first family was the Muhammads of Karachi but before that of the princely state of Junagadh. As a business house, they were a closely held partnership. Five brothers who worked and schemed together. Not all the siblings, however, had equal shares in the family enterprise.
This was a strictly modern business, one indication being that it was not the firstborn son who controlled the strings. Merit, it seems was what counted most of all. Thus it was that the two elder and the two younger brothers deferred to the one who lay between. He was the unquestioned Master, albeit a “little” one.
Hanif Muhammad was born in 1934, moving to Pakistan when he was 13. By then his game had already been elaborated in his native Junagadh. The story is told of how Hanif Muhammad would bat on after sundown, the unwilling bowlers shifting the game from a side street to the main one, to play on under one of the three lighted lamp posts that the Nawab allowed his subjects. After they shifted to Karachi, the boy came under the tutelage of Jeoomal Naoomal, a skilled all-rounder who had appeared in the first Indian Test eleven, at Lord’s in 1932.
Naoomal spied in the lad a future test player. So as to keep up his confidence and prepare him for Test matches played over 30 hours. He instructed the umpires of Karachi most of them his pulls, too never to adjudge Hanif out leg before wicket. Hanif was not long out of short pants before he returned to India with Abdul Hafeez Kardar’s team of 1952. Also in the side was his eldest brother.
Wazir Muhammad an able middle-order batsman and the maker of two Test hundreds. The brother in age to Wazir was Raees Muhammad once twelfth man for Pakistan. From then until he retired in 1970 it was a case of “If you get Hanif out”. The uncertain abilities of those who followed him placed a dreadful burden, and like Sunil Gavaskar, Hanif had to put his strokes in the bank locker for days on end.
He became, only partly out of choice, the best defensive batsman in the world cricket. In this, he was, indeed a key inspiration to the aforementioned Sunil. As a young boy, Gavaskar was told by his coach and early mentor, Vasu Paranjype, that “when Hanif played his forward defensive in the Brabourne Stadium you could hear the sound of the ball hitting in the middle of the bat” as far away as Churchgate station.
Paranjype would have had in mind the Test played in Bombay in the first week of December 1960. When Hanif Muhammad batted for almost two days before being out, run out, for 160. Four years prior to that innings, Hanif was settling in for the distance on the other side of the globe, at the Kensington Oval in Barbados. In this Test the West Indies scored 579, batting first, and dismissed Pakistan for only 106. Roy Gilchrist taking four wickets for 32 runs. Pakistan following on, Hanif had to carry his teammates through the last three days of the Test.
That gifted wicket-keeper batsman, Imtiaz Ahmed, helped to score 91 in an opening partnership of 152. Two days still remained. Alimuddin scored 37, Saeed Ahmad with 65, and brother Wazir Muhammad 35 each stayed an hour or two. Watching the play on this fourth day, and from a palm tree high above the square leg, was a group of Bajan boys. As the afternoon sun rose higher one of them could no longer stand it.
Delirious from the heat, from Hanif’s relentless tuk-tuk and doubtless from a steady intake of palm wine. The boy fell off the tree and landed on his head some 40 feet below. He was taken to a hospital, recovering consciousness 24 hours later. Inevitably his first words were “Is Hanif still batting” The answer alas, was that he was.
Triple Hundred vs West Indies
In this match-saving marathon, Hanif Muhammad scored 337 runs in 970 minutes. It remains the longest innings in Test match cricket, and we may reckon it one of the bravest. I am not a statistical man, but some of the bowling must be quoted.
Roy Gilchrist 41-5-121-1
Eric Atkinson, 49-5-136-2
Alf Valentine 39-8-109-2
Denis Atkinson, 62-35-61-1
Gary Sobers 57-25-94-1.
So, in desperation, the West Indies even called upon Clyde Walcott to bowl 10 overs. Hanif Muhammad lived and breathed cricket, all sides of it. He is remembered now only as a batsman, but on his day was sharp in the field. Nevermore so than in the last moments of the 1954 Oval Test won by Pakistan by 24 runs. This is known justly, as Fazal Mahmood match for it was the great seam bowlers six wickets in each innings which set up the victory.
But the final, decisive blow came from the right hand of Hanif. England’s last wicket parid had added 20 of the 45 runs that remained. And Fazal Mehmood was biting a tired. The partnership was finally broken by an underhand throw from Hanif Muhammad at the cover-point disturbing the wickets from the side on.
The little master enjoyed a bowl, too. When a mere five weeks after Hanif’s Barbados marathon of December 1957, Sobers reached 360 not out in the Jamaica Test, Hanif Muhammad was brought on to try his right arm spin. The second of the third ball went for four, and Sobers had equaled Len Hutton’s world record. Now Hanif Muhammad decided to bowl left arm. It was a lovely piece of whimsy, and the first two balls did land on a perfect length. But of course, Sobers got the additional run in the end.
For a long time, Sobers held the record for the highest score by a batsman in a Test and Hanif the record for the highest score in a first-class match. This was his 499 for Karachi against Bahawalpur in 1958, a knock which ended he was run out going for his five hundred runs in the last over of the day.
Hanif Muhammad Met Sir Don Bradman
Some years later the Pakistani cricket team toured Australia. When they played South Australia at Adelaide, Sir Donald Bradman walked into there dressing room and asked to meet the man who had broken his record of 452. Hanif got up and apologetically said, Sir, you will always be the greatest. The Don Bradman looked him up and down and replied, shaking his head, so you are the fellow. I always thought that the batsman who broke my record would be six feet two inches tall, but you are shorter than me.
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