An evening with Zaheer Abbas

ICC President Zaheer Abbas sharing a few thoughts with the 1983 World Cup-winning Indian team manager P. R. Man Singh at the latter’s residence in Hyderabad.-PICS: V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

Zaheer Abbas, once known as the Asian Bradman and now the ICC President, was in Hyderabad recently. V. V. Subrahmanyam caught up with him.

It was a meeting of class with class, literally, when ICC President Zaheer Abbas and V.V.S. Laxman met in Hyderabad. Zaheer was in the city — at the invitation of India’s 1983 World Cup-winning team manager P. R. Man Singh — for the valedictory function of the Moin-ud-Dowla Gold Cup cricket tournament. And Zaheer met Laxman at Man Singh’s residence.

The two went around ‘The Pavilion’, which houses Man Singh’s amazing collection of cricket memorabilia ranging from ties, which adorned some of the finest cricketers and officials, to the willows of various stars to some very rare and old cricket books. But the exhibit that Man Singh cherishes the most is the autographed bat by all the members of the 1983 World Cup-winning team led by Kapil Dev.

Not very often does one see such grace, poise and humility as was shown by Zaheer, himself one of the most elegant batsmen of the 70s and 80s, as one of his first questions to Laxman on arrival was, “How were you able to play so well against the Australians?” The response was typical of the equally sober Laxman — a broad and visibly contented smile.

“I tell you I was a big fan of Laxman’s batting, especially when he was playing against the Australians. I always ensured that I was there in front of the TV watching him play,” were the comments from someone who was also known as the Asian Bradman in his heyday. Zaheer also happens to be the only Asian to hit 100 first-class hundreds. Zaheer, when asked as to who batted in a style similar to his own from amongst the cricketers he had watched, said it was Mohd. Azharuddin and Laxman.

And, the ICC chief recalled his advice to Azhar in 1989 which changed the course of the latter’s career after he had hit a low. “My simple advice to him was to change his grip and the rest was there for all to see,” said a modest Zaheer. Azhar had approached him about his struggle to get power in his strokes.

As Zaheer and Laxman were conversing, the 1983 World Cup-winning team’s wicket-keeper Syed Kirmani joined them. And the bonhomie between Zaheer and Kirmani was commendable.

One stylist meets another... V. V. S. Laxman with Zaheer Abbas.-

When Zaheer was taken around ‘The Pavilion’, he was clearly amazed at what he felt was “an unbelievable collection. I don’t think any individual can match this. Hats off to Man Singh,” exclaimed Zaheer! It was not just a cursory glance from him for he evinced great interest in some of the exhibits.

The action frames of some of the illustrious cricketers like the late M. L. Jaisimha, Aussie all-rounder Keith Miller and the great all-rounder Sir Garfield Sobers made him pause for a moment and go on a trip down memory lane.

“What a handsome cricketer he was. Oh, a great all-rounder,” was Zaheer’s tribute to the Aussie. And, the spontaneous joy on seeing Sobers’ photo was reflective of the admiration the Pakistani had for the West Indian genius. “I played with him for the Rest of World XI in Australia. It was a privilege. He scored a brilliant century and me 80-plus. What a player!” was his reaction.

“When India toured Pakistan in 1978, the tour was over even before we realized it. Almost every evening we used to party. There was so much of warmth and affection. I don’t think we see this kind of thing amongst the modern day cricketers,” Zaheer reflected on that tour which was a revival of cricketing links between the two countries after a long gap. And when gently reminded about how he played a key role in scripting the end of the careers of the famous spinners, Bishan Singh Bedi, B. S. Chandrasekhar and Erapalli Prasanna, a sober Zaheer pointed out that they were great cricketers. “It was great fun playing against them. We always loved these contests on the field and shared a wonderful relationship off it,” he signed off.

Former India off-spinner and now HCA President Arshad Ayub and India’s fielding coach R. Sridhar were also present.