Hanif Mohammad — the first ‘Little Master’

Although Hanif had the mindset of a defensive player, he could play shots all round the wicket. He displayed this trait as his batting grew in stature. His marathon innings in the Barbados Test (337 in the second innings of the 1958 series) against the West Indies established his power of concentration and physical and mental stamina.

Sachin Tendulkar presents a shield to former Pakistan cricket captain Hanif Mohammad   -  S. Subramanium

I received an SMS from my friend Rahil Sheikh, a true cricket lover, that Hanif Mohammad had passed away in Karachi. It was sad news. Soon my mind went back 64 years to 1952. It was Pakistan’s first tour of India and also its first international series after it had gained recognition from the ICC as a full member.

The team had a mix of players; some had played in the Pentangular series in Bombay and also the Ranji Trophy. Nazar Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood, Amir Elahi and Abdul Hafeez Kardar were the notable ones. In fact Kardar and Elahi had played for India against England and Australia respectively.

 

Kardar was the captain of the Pakistan team filled with both experienced players and youth. And among the young ones was Hanif Mohammad. He had already gained reputation as a very promising wicket-keeper and opening batsman. Not many may be aware that Hanif kept wickets in three of the five Test matches in Delhi, Lucknow and Mumbai (Imtiaz Ahmed replaced him in the last two Test matches in Madras and Calcutta). It was probably the last time he donned the big gloves, but he continued to open the innings.

I made my Test debut in this series against Pakistan at the Brabourne Stadium. And I had the opportunity to have a first sight of Hanif Mohammad. He scored 15 and 96 and obviously was unlucky to miss a century. It was a splendid innings from the young man. My lasting impression of the knock of 96 is that of a young opening batsman with sound judgment of the moving ball and outstanding defence. He also showed excellent temperament; all these qualities are a prerequisite for an opening batsman to be successful.

Although Hanif had the mindset of a defensive player, he could play shots all round the wicket. He displayed this trait as his batting grew in stature. His marathon innings in Barbados (337 in the second innings of the 1958 series) against the West Indies established his power of concentration and physical and mental stamina.

He was the first to earn the title of the ‘Little Master.’ Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Viswanath and Sachin Tendulkar were all ‘Little Masters,’ but Hanif will remain forever the first batsman to be called so. It is said dynamites come in small packages! How true!

My contact with Hanif during the 1952 tour of India was very brief, but it was friendly. He came across as a shy modest man. After many years, in the 1980s, he called me from Karachi. I was the President of the Cricket Club of India and he and his wife wished to stay at the Club; maybe he wanted to recapture the charm of his first stay there, on his maiden international tour. The CCI was honoured to have them as its guests. That was the last contact I had with Hanif.

Goodbye ‘Little Master!’ The world of cricket will miss you.

(The writer is a former India cricketer)

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