Abdul Qadir – Because words are not enough, let the figures do the talking. 9-56 against England in Lahore, 1987
How Cricket Became A Household Staple
In the late ’70s, when India toured Pakistan under the captaincy of Bishen Singh Bedi and lost the Lahore and Karachi test matches, cricket, for the first time got transformed into a truly national level sport. It was always popular but people who followed cricket were cricket enthusiasts. After those two famous wins, the whole nation became a cricket enthusiast. It was then no more a sport that boys and men watched and followed but a sport that was also followed by their grandmothers and sisters. Cricket players became national stars and everyone wanted to follow them and know more about them.
Right at the peak of this stardom craze, a phenomenon called Kerry Packer descended upon world cricket which like a whirlwind swept away all the notable stars of world cricket towards the circus of World Series of Cricket in Australia.
Without these stalwarts, our team started looking really ordinary. Captaincy was given to the wicketkeeper par excellence Waseem Bari and batting was spearheaded by the still teenager Javed Miandad. Bowling had Sarfraz Nawaz (for now) who was only assisted by the young and untested Sikander Bakht and Liaqat Ali. In the spin department, we had Iqbal Qasim as the finger spinner option but no one else of note. It was with this background that the selectors decided to chance a young twenty-two years old lad from Lahore, by the name of Abdul Qadir.
Abdul Qadir, A Bit Of An Oddity
Qadir was a bit of an oddity. Short in height, he made up for his slight stature by having a jumping jack bowling action. Full seven paces of double footed jumps, arms going around like windmills, he would plant his right leg firmly on the ground, pirouette on the heel and with tongue sticking out would swing his right arm with a blazing swish to deliver the ball. A right-arm wrist spinner, he had the ability to bowl a flipper, a googly, a top spinner and a leg break, all with the same showman like action. Batsmen, when they saw him for the first time could hardly believe that a spinner could do so much of physicality before delivering a ball.
Whatever Abdul Qadir was capable of doing with the ball remained hidden in his debut test match at his home ground of Lahore. The pitch at Qaddafi stadium is notoriously flat and slow-paced. For the bouncy and whizzy wrist spin of Abdul Qadir to be effective, he needed a slightly faster pitch which he was not going to get in Lahore. His senior Iqbal Qasim with his orthodox left-arm finger spinner got three wickets but debutant Qadir could only get one wicket and that too of the last man of England.
In his next test match at Hyderabad however, the scene changed. The wicket at Niaz stadium was decidedly livelier. The ball was whizzing off the surface and there was more bite in the ball.
Pakistan won the toss and scored 275 runs. The youngsters Haroon Rashid and Javed Miandad in the middle order scoring most of the runs.
In reply, England got all out at 191 conceding a first-innings lead of 84 runs. The 22 years old boy from Lahore, Abdul Qadir was the destroyer in chief. He ripped the heart of English batting by dismissing six batsmen. He bowled three, got two caught and bowled and had one batsman getting caught behind. A cleverly bowled googly was his main wicket-taking weapon which bamboozled the English batsmen. Playing for his sharply turning leg breaks they were perplexed by the ball that instead of leaving the right-hander, came sharply in. Not having seen anything like that being bowled at the pace which was coming their way, they were simply unprepared for anything like this. When they decided to attack him by driving past him, they miscued the sharp spin and gave him caught and bowled chances.
Such was the impact of the youngster that when late on the fourth day, Pakistan’s skipper Waseem Bari put England in after declaring his second innings by giving them a target of 344 to win, he chose to open the bowling attack not with his pace bowling star, Sarfraz Nawaz but with the young Qadir. The experiment did not work and Qadir remained wicketless in the second innings and the English openers saved the match by batting out the entire fifth day.
There was however no doubt that in the form of the jumping jack bowling action man, Pakistan had unearthed a gem. Before Qadir burst on to the scene, the art of quality wrist spin was all but dead. It was too difficult to control. The pace had to be fast to be effective and concealing a googly from a standard leg break was rather difficult. Qadir with his single-minded determination had practiced his art for hours and hours in the sweltering heat of the Dharampura cricket club in Lahore. All that hard work was now paying off. His sharp spinning balls were creating havoc in the international cricket arena. England was his most favorite team against whom he took most of his wickets. West Indies were a close second followed by the other teams. He remained largely ineffective against India which goes to show the natural ability of Indians to handle all kinds of spin.
Larger Than Life
Qadir remained larger than life character. He scored some important late order runs, most famously scoring 14 runs in the last over against Courtney Walsh in the World Cup of 1987.
He was a true artist with a temperament to boot. He could be a demanding character to manage on and off the field. Javed Miandad struggled to keep him on his side but Qadir was to prove to be a more successful bowler under the wily Miandad than under his patron extraordinaire Imran. He refused to tour Australia under the captaincy of Zaheer Abbas, significantly reducing our chances to get a positive result in that difficult tour.
Apart from test cricket, he remained an effective ODI bowler and his consistent performance helped Pakistan’s advance to the semifinals of 1983 and 1987 world cups.
But perhaps his most lasting legacy would remain his role in the revival of the dying art of right arm wrist spin. His mastery of this mysterious art encouraged youngsters from around the world to take up this attractive style of bowling. He also personally coached and mentored Mushtaq Ahmed, Shane Warne, Imran Tahir, and Shahid Afridi at various times of their careers to improving their effectiveness as right-arm wrist spinners. For this reason alone, his name would always be remembered in the International Cricket hall of fame.
Dr. Sajid Butt is a consultant-radiologist based in London, U.K.