Fitting honour for Z-class Abbas

Updated: 27 August, 2020 07:36 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

Pakistani batting great's International Cricket Council's Hall of Fame induction is a tribute to his sheer hunger for runs which helped him become the first Asian to score 100 first-class centuries.

Pakistan batsman Zaheer Abbas square drives an England bowler as wicketkeeper Bob Taylor looks on at the Lord's Cricket Ground, London, in 1982. PIC/Getty Images
Pakistan batsman Zaheer Abbas square drives an England bowler as wicketkeeper Bob Taylor looks on at the Lord's Cricket Ground, London, in 1982. PIC/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloA few days before Jimmy Anderson became the first fast bowler to claim 600 Test wickets, the last word in the English alphabet was in the forefront of cricket news. Young England batsman Zak Crawley fascinated cricket fans with his magnificent 267 against Pakistan at Southampton. And Zaheer Abbas was inducted in ICC's Hall of Fame along with South African all-round giant Jacques Kallis and Australian women's cricket great Lisa Sthelekar.

For Indian cricket fans, the name Zaheer Abbas conjures up images of tall scores, relentless attacking batsmanship and yes, his spectacles. Against Bishan Singh Bedi's touring team in 1978-79, he was more than just a pest; starting off the series with 176 and 96 in Faisalabad and following it up with unbeaten knocks of 235 and 34 at Lahore, where Pakistan reached their victory target of 126 in less than 21 overs. A public holiday was declared to celebrate Pakistan's first triumph over India since 1952.

There was considerable amount of delight among us India fans when Zaheer failed on the 1979-80 tour of India. As a schoolboy, the best news of the day on November 21, 1979 was Dilip Doshi having Zaheer stumped by Syed Kirmani for 40 on Day One of the six-match Test series in Bangalore. The Indian bowlers had not dismissed him for less than this in five previous innings. He smoked six fours in his brief innings and could well have gone on to hurt India again. Zaheer told Sportsweek magazine: "I was seeing the ball as large as a football and should never have got out. I guess you could say that I had a rush of blood." Zaheer stayed unbeaten on 30 in the second innings. In the next Test at New Delhi, he scored 50 in the second innings, which turned out to be his best effort in the series. With the exception of Dilip Doshi and Roger Binny on two occasions, Zaheer always fell to Kapil Dev and had to be dropped by skipper Asif Iqbal for the final Test at Kolkata.

Binny, who made his debut in the opening Test, bamboozled Zaheer with a perfect inswinger which demolished the furniture at the Wankhede Stadium. Zaheer was bowled in the second innings as well when a Kapil Dev delivery clipped a bail. Pundits reckoned Pakistan never recovered from those two blows. Zaheer ended the series with 19.62, a far cry from the 194.33 average he achieved against the same opponents in 1978-79.

The next India v Pakistan Test series was in 1982-83, dominated by that winter lion Imran Khan, who claimed 40 wickets in six Tests. But among the batting heroes were Zaheer, Javed Miandad and Mudassar Nazar. The opening Test at Lahore was a perfect setting for Zaheer's 100th first-class century and he helped himself to a big one - 215 off 254 balls.

In Zed, his autobiography, he remembered Indian spinner Dilip Doshi offering his congratulations. "Nice one, Zed," said Doshi, to which Zaheer replied: "You didn't do too badly yourself." Doshi claimed five wickets and was glad that his opponent didn't forget it. Zaheer's 215 was followed by 186 and 168, which made him the first batsman to have 150-plus scores in three consecutive innings. Amul's hoarding, 'Zaheer…Ab-bas!' seemed so apt.

Zaheer was captain when Pakistan came to India in 1983 for a three-Test battle, one of the most boring series on Indian soil with all three Tests ending in draws. He enraged Gavaskar fans like me when he walked off after completing 14 of the 20 mandatory overs with the Indian master on the cusp of his 28th Test century. He returned only when umpires Madhav Gothoskar and Swaroop Kishen informed him that the match would be awarded to India if his team were not back on the Chinnaswamy Stadium turf in Bangalore. Zaheer felt his team had bowled more than 77 overs in the day as per the playing conditions but this did not apply to the last day of a Test and 20 overs had to be bowled in the last hour.

Zaheer's best score of the series was 85 in Nagpur and despite his greatness, wasn't able to score a century in eight Test matches on Indian soil. Of his 12 three-figure efforts in Test cricket, eight were home hundreds, two in England, one each in Australia and New Zealand. The Englishmen will remember Zaheer for his two double centuries on Pakistan's 1971 and 1974 tours to England, the first – 274 coming only in his second Test. No non-Australian, leave alone Asian batsman, scored that many against an England Test team back then. Among the Aussies were Don Bradman, Bob Simpson and Bob Cowper.

Imran Khan reckoned he didn't relish fast bowling but he never saw a timer of the ball like Zaheer. Doubtless, his fans would have liked to see him perform better at the Test level. But he told his interviewer Afia Salam in 1985: "It is one of the drawbacks of the professional game that we continue to play cricket and people expect us to churn out excellent performances every time we go out in the field. I too, after all, am human and despite the title, I am not a run-making machine." A tally of 108 first-class centuries suggests that Zaheer was being pragmatic and modest in that assessment.

He was also a toiler with great values, which were brought to bear when he played for Pakistan and Gloucestershire on the English county cricket scene. He worked hard at everything he did, something that his father had instilled in him on the day he took young Zaheer to a railway station in Karachi. Zaheer told Patrick Murphy in the book, The Centurions: "He [Zaheer's dad] pointed to all the sweating masses in the over-crowded third-class compartments. He then showed me the air-conditioned first-class compartments and told me that would be my reward if I worked hard."

Zaheer's train full of runs was certainly his reward for those hard yards.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello

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First Published: 27 August, 2020 06:51 IST

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