Barely one season ago, Sikander Bakhat was not even a regular member of the Pakistani cricket team. But now, one cannot even think of a Pakistan XI without him. The rise of Sikander Bakhat from his country’s third seamer to its most dependable bowler came when the Pakistanis were badly feeling the absence of Sarfraz Nawaz and an injured Imran Khan and were looking for a new bowling success.
And Sikander Bakhat made the best use of the situation. In the second Test in Delhi, when everybody seemed more concerned about the fitness of Imran Khan, the tall and lanky quickie from Karachi had other ideas in mind. He just sliced through the Indian batting in the first inning to bag the career-best figure of 8 for 69. “When you get so many wickets, naturally you are happy,” said Sikander. “The eight wickets in the Delhi Test are so far the most memorable performance of my cricket career.”
What’s surprising about Sikander is that while in his first 14 Test matches, he took only 34 wickets, he has gotten as many as 23 wickets in the last three. How did this happen? I asked Sikander. He replied, To bag wickets, it is most important to get maximum overs to bowl. Before the start of this tour, I was always considered the third seamer on the side and never got a chance to bowl as a main bowler. While I used to bowl for just 10 or 12 overs, Sarfraz or Imran would bowl for nearly 30-35 overs. That makes a lot of difference in the end. So I cannot expect to get wickets in just four or five-over spells.
Another wicket for Sikander Bakhat, who enjoyed an 11-wicket triumph in the drawn Delhi Test. Twice, he had India's champion opener, Sunil Gavasker, caught behind by Wasim Bari, as seen here.
Another wicket for Sikander Bakhat, who enjoyed an 11-wickets in the drawn Delhi Test. Twice, he had India’s champion opener, Sunil Gavasker, caught behind by Wasim Bari, as seen in this picture.
“So far in this series, I have played as Pakistan’s main bowler. I have got a maximum number of overs to bowl, and that too with the new ball. Further, I knew that my team was depending on me, so naturally I got wickets. Imran Khan and Sarfraz’s absence due to injury also helped me a lot. True, if Imran Khan was fully fit and bowled from the other end (in Delhi), we could have been more penetrative, but then I would never have bagged so many wickets. No doubt, Imran Khan is our main bowler, and he is a better bowler than me. So naturally, he would have been preferred and would have done maximum bowling. “Of course, there were other reasons behind my success. They were luck, hard work, and my decision to take cricket more seriously.
Now, my objective is to get as many wickets as possible and get a permanent place in the Pakistan cricket team.” Sikander cannot remember when he started playing cricket. He was born in Karachi on August 25, 1957. When he was a kid, he used to play a lot of cricket in the streets, but with tennis balls. “I don’t know why I took to cricket. Maybe it was because my father, who was an engineer from Aligarh and played cricket at the university level, was quite interested in this game. He never stopped me.
But my mother, as well as the other members of my family, were very much against it They used to say that I was spoiling my career. I should study and stop playing cricket, they would say. Now, of course, all of them are in favor of the game.” Sikander Bakhat took his cricket seriously when his family shifted from Nizamabad to the newly developed North Nizamabad. “There are a lot of grounds in North Nizamabad, and immediately I started playing for the club. Mr. S. G. Hasneen, who happens to be the uncle of former Indian Test star Abid Ali and himself played cricket in Hyderabad (India), gave me a lot of encouragement in those days.
I used to keep wickets and he told me that I was a very good wicket-keeper. “One day in a club match, my team did not have a fast bowler to bowl, so I opened the bowling. Therefore, of course, I used to bowl quickies with tennis balls before. Mr. Hasneen liked my style and told me that I must practice fast bowling rather than ‘keeping, as I had greater scope in the former department. Then I started bowling at the nets and found I could bowl pretty quickly too. “It was a wise move. Whenever I dreamt of cricket, I used to think that I was a fast bowler, getting lots and lots of wickets and also scoring runs, but I never used to think that I was a wicketkeeper standing behind the stumps and taking catches.”
As his skipper, Sikander, along with Wasim Raja, are the two who turned out to be the star-studded Pakistan beam.
As his skipper, Sikander, along with Wasim Raja, are the two who turned out to be the star-studded Pakistan beam.
I idealized great Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee. He kept a beautiful action photograph of the Australian pacer on the wall facing his bed. Every morning before leaving his bed, he used to have a look at the picture. He also started reading Lillee’s book and tried to copy him. “I met Lillee a lot of times when we visited Australia in 1977 and got tips from him. He told me: ‘Do practice, do a lot of training, work hard, and whenever you try to gain something from the nets, you are at the net; take it seriously. Don’t waste your time by just bowling a few overs and then going away. He also gave me his autographed photograph.”
On that tour, Sikander Bakhat got the name ‘Smiley’. “Some of the Australian spectators started shouting “Smiley’, ‘Smiley’ as I used to smile at them. And then onwards, everybody started calling “Smiley”, revealed. Sikander Bakhat took fast bowling only in 1973, and in the same season, he attended a selection trial for the Karachi under-19 team. Sikander was also called to attend the nets for the Karachi senior team the next year. There were about 90 boys, and Sikander, being a newcomer, was given bowling for just a few overs. At the same ground (Karachi’s Pakistan National Stadium), the PWD, a departmental team, was also having their trials.
So Sikander Bakhat went there and started bowling at their nets. The PWD’s sports-in-charge, Mr. Shafiq, and their captain, Rashid Israr, were highly pleased with his performance and asked him whether he would like to play for them. Sikander said okay, but played in only two matches for PWD. Then, while he was playing in a festival match at Sind between the Chief Minister’s XI and the Hammad, sports-in-charge of Pakistan Prime Minister’s XI,.
Then Hanif Muhammad asked him to join the PIA, and Sikander did so. He, however, left the airlines soon after, as they already had Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Asif Masood, Saleem Altaf, and other quickies, and Sikander did not get many chances to play. Sikander Bakhat switched over to United Bank, and from there, he went on to Test cricket. “I performed very well that season and took 50 wickets in just six matches, including seven against a star-studded PIA team. After that, we had an under-19 tournament, and I took 18 wickets in two matches.
A very good cluster of youngsters showed our need and did well for the country. Sikander wants to play English county cricket for the experience. My bank is looking very good, and I am getting good test fees. Majid and Imran Khan have helped me a lot. They are firm believers in my bowling and try to keep themselves They are the two wins to the must-work-nts. They asked me to join them, and I did.
I think they are absurdly correct, as without 300 percent fitness, you can’t do anything at the two levels I have seen the difference in my seniors by doing a lot of jogging and working out. We can learn from them all the time. I consider myself a student, and I always want to learn something from a teacher. As a cricketer, I like to learn the finer elements of the game, and I am not a cricketer. I want to imitate his good paints And if you are with Majid and Asif, you can learn things from the field and on it.”
As his skipper, Sikander, along with Wasim Raja, are the two who turned out to be the star-studded Pakistan beam. He said: “One might wonder how Smiley took on pace, howling with such physique. His real hard work has made him such a successful bowler. He is not very quick, but he always bowls in perfect line and length. He can also move the hall both ways. What more can you expect from a seamer? Another wicket for Sikander Bakhat, who enjoyed an 11-wicket triumph in the drawn Delhi Test. Twice, he had India’s champion opener, Sunil Gavasker, caught behind by Wasim Bari, as seen here.
While everyone is praising Sikander Bakhat highly for his magnificent bowling, the player himself is very nice and be feels he is still not a good bowler He has performed well in just three matches and still has work to do Whatever he says, one cannot deny the fact that there are miles of smiles ahead for Smiley.”
Barely one season ago, Sikander Bakhat was not even a regular member of the Pakistani cricket team. But now, one cannot even think of a Pakistan XI without him.
Barely one season ago, Sikander Bakhat was not even a regular member of the Pakistani cricket team. But now, one cannot even think of a Pakistan XI without him.