by Chishty Mujahid
Chishty Mujahid is a senior cricket commentator

For me Hanif Mohammad was not only a cricketing icon; he was not only the greatest opening batsman of his time perhaps of all times;.... he was not only a shrewd cricketing brain and a perfect reader of pitches; a popular, knowledgeable and much respected Radio and TV cricket expert.

Hanif for me was much more. He was my childhood hero; he was my cricket role model; he was a commentating colleague; he was supportive, kind, considerate, and above all he was a friend. I heard first of his illness, and later of his passing away, with a deep sense of loss, sorrow, distress and depression. I was at the Oval (covering the fourth and final Test between Pakistan and England) when the news of his demise was broken. Once I had recovered from the shock and reconciled myself to the fact that the original “Little Master” of the game was no more, memories of more than 60 years that I had known of Hanif Mohammad flowed in. Time and space do not allow me to go into details. However, some memories could be shared.

I have had a love for cricket ever since I was 4 years old. I am 3 years older than Pakistan, having been born in 1944. My father, an officer of the British Indian Government, opted for service in Pakistan and on 14th August 1944 we flew from Allahbad (where he was posted at that time) to Karachi. We took up residence in Intelligence School on Queen’s Road (now Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan Road), and from 1948 onwards I started playing and following cricket.

In 1951 my father was posted to New Delhi in the Pakistan High Commission. I think it was the Commonwealth Games which took place in the Indian capital in 1952, and although we did not go to witness them we could hear cheering and applause all the way to where we were residing in Sher Shah Road.

It was announced that a Pakistan Cricket Team will be touring India in 1952 for five Test Matches and a number of side matches. They will play across the Indian subcontinent starting from Amritsar in the North, to Madras in the South and also in, if I remember right, Nagpur in Central India and Bombay in West India. Of the five Tests, one was to be played in New Delhi where we lived, and one in Lucknow, the home of my maternal grand parents and uncles. The other venues were Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. My father told me that the team included a teenage schoolboy (student of Sind Madressah tul Islam) wonder called Hanif Mohammad, who was a wicket keeper and opening batsman. I did get a brief glimpse of him as I was taken to the Feroze Shah Kotla ground to see half a day’s or so cricket. My love and enthusiasm took a new turn from then onwards. We travelled by road to Lucknow and other places in India. I would cut the scorecards from newspapers, paste them in a scrap book and during the road journeys, read the scorecards aloud over and over again (perhaps the seeds of a passion for commentary were sown then!!) much to the annoyance (though never expressed ) of my parents, my four year old brother, the guard and the driver. I also witnessed Hanif and Nazar open the innings at the University Grounds in Lucknow not far from my grandparents’ house. Pakistan had lost badly at New Delhi (by an innings and plenty) but drew level after winning (by an innings) at Lucknow. Hanif’s opening partner Nazar Mohammad carried his bat in Pakistan’s innings scoring a century.

From those early days I was deeply impressed by this short and frail batsman and secretly hoped to play like him one day.

I then followed Pakistan’s fortunes in general and Hanif’s in particular throughout the tour. He played for hours in Bombay and defied the spin and guile of the maestro spinner Vinoo Mankad. The commentary throughout seemed to be consumed by “Mankad to Hanif; Hanif correct forward defensive stroke…..”

India paid a return visit to Pakistan in 1955 and I went to see the final Test at Karachi’s National Stadium with my mother and aunts (from the ladies’ stand!). Hanif opened the innings with Alimuddin to the medium pace of Phadkar and Ramchand. Hanif in trying to hook a short pitched delivery from Phadkar top edged it to the short leg area; it ballooned in the air and Tamhane had plenty of time to get under it and catch it with  ease to the relief and delight of the Indian team. Hanif out for 2. The day’s play and perhaps even the match, had ended for me and I turned my attention to the lunch the ladies had prepared.
Hanif, only about 10 years my senior, had become my hero and role model in cricket. I tried to emulate him by playing steadily and along the ground. My father also arranged for me to meet my hero through Ghulam Gilani a good cricketer and the son of his friend from Allahbad days . Hanif encouraged me and also introduced me to the Pak Moghals Club, which had produced many a fine player. But I was not to be one of them; I did not lack in hard work but just did not have the talent.

Our household followed the visit by Australia under Ian Johnson on way back from being “Lakered” (19 wickets in a Test) in England and by New Zealand under Henry Cave. Pakistan won against both. Then of course, we followed with enthusiasm Pakistan’s tour of the West Indies in 1957 and the great batsmanship of Hanif, Imtiaz, Wazir, Saeed, and the bowling of two other talented teenagers Naseem ul Ghani and Haseeb Ahsan. But what continues to be fresh in memory is Hanif Mohammad’s epic innings at Bridgetown Barbados when he seemed to have taken a permanent lease of the pitch. He batted for what seemed days. In absence of commentary we were restricted to newspaper reports, and it seemed they were printing the same report for three or four days over and over again. As every cricket fan knows Hanif played for 999 minutes, still the longest innings by any one in Tests scoring 337 which remains the highest by any Pakistani batsman.

The West Indies paid a return visit in 1958 and the Australians toured Pakistan a year later. 1960 was Pakistan’s tour to India and Hanif once again figured prominently defending dourly and scoring a big hundred in Bombay. It was the same year I think when his son Shoaib was born .Shoaib later played creditably for Pakistan, and also served in various capacities in PIA and PCB.

In 1962, England, and then 1964 Australia and New Zealand, and 1967, again England played series against Pakistan.

Hanif continued his useful performances. He also had a stint as captain. He had problems with his knees and even dropped down in the batting order. My keenness and enthusiasm about following his performances never waned. His battles with the best bowlers of the day should be viewed in the light of the facts that he played on pitches which remained uncovered and under the supervision of hostile umpires. There were no extra protections such as chest guards, elbow coverings, and helmets. There were no front foot no balls; and no limit to bouncers and field placements. The ICC had no referees or even the rules covering sledging and other misconducts which are in place today. Hanif faced the fire and fury of the likes of Gilchrist, Hall, Truman, Tyson, Statham, Loader, Lindwall, Johnston, Miller, and the spin of greats like Mankad, Gupte, Laker, Lock, Wardle, Appleyard, Underwood, Pocock and a host of others. In this context it is mind boggling what his performances would have been had he playing under the current batting friendly equipment and rules.

I did not have the ability in me to become a passable cricketer, let alone come anywhere near the standards of the great Hanif Mohammad. I did play for my school and colleges in Karachi and Cambridge but quickly realized my shortcomings and weaknesses and gave up any idea of playing “serious” cricket. When I came down from University I decided because of my love and interest in the game to try my hand (or voice) at commentary. I went through the strictest auditions for Radio Pakistan and was given my first assignment to commentate on the first side game between Mike Brearley’s touring MCC Under – 25 and South Zone at Hyderabad. To my delight and excitement the local team was being led by the great Hanif Mohammad, who was to captain Pakistan in England later that year.

Hanif scored a half century (70+) in his own inimitable style and I perhaps used a number of superlatives. I was describing the batting of my hero of the last 15 years. Hanif by now had dropped down in the batting order. In the second innings he made 35 not out – still a century for the match.

By 1969, TV had come to Pakistan and cricket was one of the popular sports covered by PTV. In 1969 I got an opportunity to commentate on this medium for the Karachi Test against New Zealand. This was Hanif’s last Test for Pakistan and Sadiq Mohammad’s first. Musthtaq having been a Test player for the last ten years was also included. So there was a sort of record with 3 brothers playing for the same side in a Test Match. I think the previous occasion had been some time ago (1880)  when the Grace Brothers played for England. There had been another occasion when the three Hearne Brothers played in  Test Match between England and South Africa (2 played for England and one for South Africa).

I could relate to Sadiq and Mushtaq as I had played with both at school level before Mushtaq became a Test player at the age of 15; Sadiq and I played at Club level as well. He was a brilliant left handed batsman. Later I was fortunate enough to do commentaries with all three and also have them participating in TV shows together. Of Hanif’s elder brothers, Wazir was a very successful middle order batsman for Pakistan; while Raees played first class cricket with distinction.

After retirement from International Cricket, Hanif joined our TV commentary panel as an expert. He was very knowledgeable, had a dry sense of humour, was soft spoken, his criticism of players was couched in diplomatic and polite terms, he never interrupted or contradicted his fellow commentators, unlike some other experts. Hanif was always gracious. When Younis was approaching his triple century against Sri Lanka at Karachi, PTV invited him and he obliged by coming and joining the panel in spite of being in poor health. He hoped Younis would surpass his 337 and was disappointed when the Khan was dismissed for 313.

After retirement, Hanif also started publishing a magazine called “The Cricketer Pakistan” and in connection with this magazine, he and I came in contact. The magazine  (in English) became very popular, and at some stage an Urdu version was also published.

Hanif’s passing away is a big loss to the cricket world in general, and Pakistan cricket in particular. It is of course a personal loss to me. My prayers for Allah to grant his soul peace and his family members the courage, strength, and fortitude to bear this irreparable loss. There will not be another Hanif Mohammad. Gifted personalities like him are born once in a century. Rest in peace Little Master.

– Courtesy: The News International Pakistan