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The original little master

RAMACHANDRA GUHA

The phrase `The Little Master' is usually associated with Sunil Gavaskar. But there was one other before him.


Hanif Mohammed ... lived and breathed cricket.

A MERE 16 families are 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 (were 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 men from these two homes: in their dress, in their deportment, 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 Mohammeds 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 first-born 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 Mohammed was born in 1935, moving to Pakistan when he was 12. By then his game had already been elaborated in his native Junagadh. The story is told of how Hanif 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 Jaoomal Naoomal, a skilled allrounder 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 pupils, too) never to adjudge Hanif out leg-before-wicket.

Hanif was not long out of short pants before he returned to India, with Abdul Kardar's team of 1952. Also in the side was his eldest brother, Wazir, an able middle order batsman and the maker of two Test hundreds. (The brother next in age to Wazir, Raees, was once twelfth man for Pakistan.)

From then until he retired in 1970 it was a case of ''if you get Hanif out, you win''. 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 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 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 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 106, Roy Gilchrist taking four for 32. Following on, Hanif had to carry his teammates through the last three days of the Test.

That gifted wicket-keeper-batsman, Imtiaz Ahmed, helped, scoring 91 in an opening partnership of 152. Two days still remained. Alimuddin, with 37, Saeed Ahmed, with 65, and brother Wazir, with 35, each stayed an hour or two. Watching the play on this fourth day, and from a palm tree high above square leg, were 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 thook thook 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 hospital, recovering consciousness 24 hours later. Inevitably his first words were: ''Is Hanif still batting?'' The answer, alas, was that he was.

In this match-saving marathon Hanif scored 337 runs in 970 minutes. It remains the longest innings in first-class cricket, and we may reckon it one of the bravest. I am not a statistical man, but some of the bowling figures must be quoted: Gilchrist, 41-5-121-1; E. Atkinson, 49-5-136-2; Smith, 61-30-93-1; Valentine, 39-8-109-2; D. Atkinson, 62- 35-61-1; Sobers, 57-25-94-1. In desperation the West Indians even called upon Clyde Walcott to bowl 10 overs. Hanif lived and breathed cricket, all sides of it. He is remembered now only as a batsman, but on his was sharp in the field, never more so than in the last moments of the 1954 Oval Test, won by Pakistan by 24 runs. This is known, justly, as Fazal Mahmood's match, for it was the great seam bowler's 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 pair had added 20 of the 45 runs that remained, and Fazal was tiring. The partnership was finally broken by a underhand throw from Hanif at cover point, disturbing the wickets from 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 was brought on to try his right-arm spin.

The second or third ball went for four, and Sobers had equalled Len Hutton's world record. Now Hanif 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 when he was run out going for his five hundredth run in the last over of the day.

Some years later the Pakistani cricket team toured Australia. When they played South Australia at Adelaide, Sir Donald Bradman walked into their dressing room and asked to meet the man who had broken his record score of 452. Hanif got up, and apologetically said, ''Sir, you will always be the greatest.'' The Don 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!''

The writer is the editor of The Picador Book of Cricket.

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