A very strange case of Qasim Umer, by Pete Hook, assesses Pakistan’s chances of success in England in 1987. The Pakistanis deserve every success they get because not only do they have to defeat their opponents, but they also have to battle amongst themselves before they even get on the cricket field.
On paper, they are a team that has the talent to win the title of world champion. But they have been in this position for over a decade now, although they seldom come close to fulfilling their obvious potential. With Imran Khan on his last tour, Pakistan is once again in an excellent position to emphasize its class by successfully challenging the rejuvenated England team. Therefore, unfortunately, there are enough hints of internal dissension to suggest that the team will meet a few non-meteorological storms before the end of the tour.
In particular, the controversy over the Kenyan-born batsman Qasim Omer is likely to cause problems within the touring camp. Qasim Omar has demonstrated his talent against quality bowling, and his performances in the Perth Challenge Series last January highlighted his potential as an opener. This was an area of great concern to Imran, especially since the loss of form by the experienced pair of Mohsin Khan and Mudassar Nazar.
But Qasim Umer is a persona non grata in the Pakistani camp at the moment. He has not only had a head-to-head confrontation with his captain. But he has gone further by accusing his teammates of discrimination (on grounds of religious and ethnic differences) and drug trafficking. The latter accusation came after Imran had Omar dropped from the Indian touring party in favor of his nominee, Rizwan-uz-Zaman.
The ebullient Qasim Umer alleged that he had carried drugs into America for two of his colleagues, whom he has yet to name. Apparently, the drugs were hidden in his batting gloves. While the nature and severity of the drug allegations are surprising, Omar’s attack on his teammates isn’t. It was clear that friction was brewing during the short Australian tour earlier this year. He clashed with Imran over his exuberant by-play with the crowd, who treated him as a favorite son’, much as they did during his highly successful tour of Australia in 1983–84.
Captain Imran Khan openly rebuked Qasim Umer and made sure the media knew all about the dispute, but Omar was equally determined to stand his ground. ‘A lot of money is involved in cricket’, he told me before returning home. It is a golden game, and I don’t think anyone should do anything to spoil it. The crowds love me talking to them and signing autographs, but Imran doesn’t like me mingling with the crowd. As long as I’m fielding well, it doesn’t really matter.
The others may find that it would spoil their concentration, but I find the opposite — when the crowds cheer me, it makes mime try even harder.’ Qasim Omar is a talented crowd-pleaser; there is no doubt that he responds to a supportive audience.
Qasim Umer’s two trips to Australia have been unqualified successes, with the crowds loving his unwinding enthusiasm and his unflinching courage. But above all, they recognize his genuine respect and appreciation of the public’s decision to pay good money to see him and the other players perform. Few cricket followers in Australia will ever forget his debut Test century at Adelaide in 1983–84.
The public, media, and players were immediately drawn to this diminutive hero, and they greeted the landmark as if the visitor were one of their own. Even Kepler Wessels joined in the spirit that Omar engendered by recalling Omar after he had been given out at 52. Kepler Wessels declared that he had caught the ball on the half-volley.
Omar remembered the gesture, and on reaching his century, he went over to Wessels, shook his hand, and told him, ‘Thank you for last night. Your attitude toward this golden game proves that great sportsmanship still exists. We have to do this to keep the Test game alive.’
And he meant it sincerely. He also remembers what one man told him after that triumphant day: ‘He told me, “Qasim, I’ve seen a lot of great players score centuries here and at other grounds—players like Bradman, Greg Chappell, and Gary Sobers—but after Bradman, your hundred has given me the greatest pleasure”.
Strangely, the Qasim Umer record suggests that he is more at home on the bouncier Australian wickets, against the faster bowlers, than on home pitches. He, like most of the other batsmen, had a disastrous series against the West Indies on the doctored home wickets, with the dreadfully uneven bounce resulting in Qasim Omar receiving a ball in the face, Salim Malik a fractured wrist, and other batsmen numerous gashes and bruises.
But to some extent, hostile opposition bowling was the least of his worries. The internal battering he received from within his own camp was far more acrimonious. He believes that nepotism on the part of the selectors had worked very strongly against him, as had his markedly different attitudes toward religion and nationalism. ‘The others have been brought up in a different culture and in a different way from my background.
I’m very direct in believing that if you don’t like somebody, you say so, but that’s not the way with a lot of the others’, Omar contends. It is this directness that has thwarted his progress at the international level, and it appears that following his drug-running allegations, his chances of further representation in Pakistani cricket are very unlikely, though a change in the country’s cricket hierarchy—or continued national failure—could earn him a reprieve.
It would be a great blow to Qasim Umer, who has spent many summers in England playing minor county and club cricket (last summer with Beck Worth in Northumberland), to miss the tour of England as he was looking to show his wares at the highest level around the country. It would be an equal blow to spectators. The game can’t afford to lose characters such as Qasim Umer. To have such unabashed enthusiasm is a rare delight.