Little master's epic knock

HANIF MOHAMMAD was a champion batsman whose stature worldwide was in direct proportion to his height.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Pakistan, following on 473 runs behind the West Indies, needed a monumental effort to save the Test and Hanif Mohammad did not let his countrymen down, writes Gulu Ezekiel.

Pakistan's first visit to the West Indies in 1958 produced some fascinating cricket and batting records that survive to this day. For the home team it was a period of transition. The era of the wondrous three Ws — Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott and Frank Worrell — was coming to an end. Worrell was unavailable for the series (he was studying in England) while Walcott announced his retirement at the end of the fifth Test. In the second Test at Port of Spain, the last great spinner to represent the West Indies, Lance Gibbs, would make his debut. There was also the case of the young genius Garry Sobers, who had made his Test debut four years earlier as a teenager and was seemingly at a crossroads. The third Test at Kingston, Jamaica, would be his 17th Test and as he had yet to score a century; questions were being raised about his ability. He certainly put all that to rest with a world record 365 not out that stood till Brian Lara eclipsed it in 1994.

There was a hint of controversy too preceding the series with F. C. M. `Gerry' Alexander named as captain. West Indies would have to wait another two years before natural justice prevailed and a black man (Worrell) was finally appointed to lead the side.

The young cricketing nation of Pakistan had made a big impression after their first two tours, to India in 1952 and England in 1954, on both of which they won a Test match. Now they were taking on the might of the Caribbeans on their own pitches. In Hanif Mohammad they had a batting champion whose stature worldwide was in direct proportion to his height. The pace bowling attack too was pretty formidable as proven in the Oval Test four years earlier.

The West Indies included debutant batsman Conrad Hunte for the first Test at Bridgetown, Barbados after he had impressed with 77 in the tour game for Barbados. Hunte, who would go on to become a great opening batsman, responded first time around with a magnificent 142. Not showing even a trace of nerves, he put 50 of the first 55 runs on the board. With Weekes smashing a typically belligerent 197 — his 16th and final Test century — and all the specialist batsmen chipping in with useful scores, West Indies declared late on the second day at a formidable 579 for nine.

It was a harsh beginning for another debutant, left-arm spinner Nasim-ul-Ghani who failed to pick up a wicket. He did, however, set a record for being the youngest Test player at the time, 16 years and 248 days. Though openers Hanif and Imtiaz Ahmed managed to add 35, the batsmen really had no answer to the express pace and hostility of Roy Gilchrist who captured four wickets in 15 overs. Pakistan collapsed to 106 all out, trailing by a massive 473 runs.

The task before them was a huge one. It was not even halfway through the third day and this was a Test stretching over six days. It would take a monumental feat of endurance if they were to come out of this ordeal unscathed. If any batsman of the time was capable of such a feat, it would be Hanif, the second of the famous four Mohammad brothers, who represented their country with such distinction.

The man originally dubbed `The Little Master' was known to possess massive powers of concentration. Now every ounce of those powers would be required. Hanif did not let his countrymen down. By the close of the third day Pakistan had responded well to the challenge to reach 162 for one, the indomitable opener batting on 61. His stand with wicket-keeper Imtiaz (91), worth 152, did much to blunt Windies' ferocious bowling attack. Still, there were three days to go.

Gilchrist's fiery temperament, extreme pace and dodgy action all made him a terrifying prospect. It took a sound piece of advice from Walcott to Hanif — never try hooking Gilchrist — that persuaded the opener to sway out of the line of the bouncers rather than try to hook or duck. "I was concentrating hard. The heat was exhausting and Gilchrist menacing. I was taking as much strike as possible and was successful in swaying away from the fearsome bouncers," wrote Hanif of his epic innings. In fact, such was the heat that layers of skin were peeling off beneath his eyes as he batted on and on and on.

Another century stand followed, this time 112 for the second wicket with Alimuddin. When Alimuddin was out for 37 at 264 for 2, there was still plenty of work to be done. Hanif did the lion's share. But he received tremendous support from debutant Saeed Ahmed (65) and elder brother Wazir (35). It meant the first four wickets all produced century stands with Hanif standing like a rock.

Even as they ended the fifth and penultimate day at 525 for three (Hanif on 270) and with the threat of an innings defeat now averted, a draw was still not a sure thing. Hanif had batted through the whole of the fourth day in scoring exactly 100 and then the fifth while adding 109 to his total. It certainly made for tedious viewing. But there was a job on hand — saving the Test — and Hanif was the saviour for his side.

At the tea break on the final day, his task had been achieved. But on 334 there was one more landmark to be crossed — Len Hutton's world record of 364 set in 1938. But that couldn't be achieved. Hanif fell three runs later, caught behind off medium pacer Denis Atkinson, his only reward for 62 overs of hard toil.

Captain Kardar immediately declared the innings at 657 for 8 — still the highest by a side following on. West Indies batted for 11 overs for 28 for no loss — their target was 185. Who would have guessed this outcome of the match a few days earlier when the Pakistani batting had crumbled in the first innings?

BRIEF SCORES

West Indies v Pakistan, 1957-58, 1st Test, Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados, January 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 1958.

Result: Match drawn.

West Indies 579 for nine decl. (C. C. Hunte 142, E. D. Weekes 197, O. G. Smith 78, G. S. Sobers 52, C. L. Walcott 43, Mahmood Hussain 4-153, Fazal Mahmood 3-145) and 28 for no loss drew with Pakistan 106 (R. Gilchrist 4-32, O. G. Smith 3-23) and 657 for eight decl. (Hanif Mohammad 337, Imtiaz Ahmed 91, Saeed Ahmed 65, Alimuddin 37, Wazir Mohammad 35).