The summer of 1982 was an exciting time for sports-lovers in England.
The highlight was the FIFA World Cup in Spain, where England returned after a gap of 12 years. At Wimbledon, it was a case of starting the post-Bjorn Borg era. As for the cricket-lovers, the summer saw series against India and Pakistan.
At that time the South Asian giants were still building their reputations as major cricket powers. The Indian team included a group of solid batsmen, but there was little venom in the bowling. Pakistan were considered a group of highly talented but inconsistent cricketers.
There was only moderate public interest about these series. England beat India 1-0 in a high-scoring contest, but even a typically aggressive 208 by Ian Botham in the third Test at the Oval failed to generate hype. The cricketing media were looking for a character to emerge and they found their man before the Pakistan series in the form of a 26-year-old from Lahore.
Abdul Qadir, the Pakistan leggie, was already in his fifth year of international cricket, but there was little global recognition of him before the England tour. But encouraged by new captain Imran Khan, he produced some fine performances against the county teams. These successes combined with his aggressive, bold attitude made him a great media attraction prior to the series.
But despite the hype, he failed to shine in the Test series. The pitches were slow – something that never suits the wrist spinners.
David Gower looked fairly comfortable against him and Chris Tavare handled him in his own obdurate way, thrusting his front pad long forward whenever in doubt. Qadir bowled long spells, and while he was accurate, he failed to show the killer venom.
His only impressive effort came in the first innings at Lord’s as he took 4-39. This helped Pakistan win the match by ten wickets, only their second Test success in England and the first for 28 years.
It was in the three-Test home series against Kim Hughes’ Australia that Qadir really came into his own. He took 22 wickets to help his team whitewash the Aussies.
And he needed this success. Although he had taken 6-44 against England in January 1978 in only his second Test, the successes were few and far between for him after that. Opportunities were rare, and when they came, Qadir failed to take them.
His problems were compounded by the dirty politics within the Pakistan camp at the time. Politics were always involved in Pakistan cricket, but they became especially dirty following the resignation of Abdul Hafeez Kardar from the post of the president of the cricket board in 1977. For the previous five years he had run the board in dictatorial fashion.
Fortunately for Abdul Qadir, the appointment of Imran as national team captain in 1982 came as a big boost to his career, and before the year was over, he was Pakistan’s premier spinner. Over the remainder of the decade, his Test career followed a simple pattern – lots and lots of success at home, little or no success in away Tests. And he always struggled against India, home or away.
The Aussies, for example, got their revenge in the home series of 1983-84. This time the Aussies were determined not to take any risk. In a bid to tame the threat of the leggie, they picked five left-handers in their top seven for the opening Test at WACA.
And it was the debutant opener Wayne Philips (159) and No.3 Graham Yallop (141) – both left-handers – who led the foundation of an Aussie victory in the Test. Throughout the series, Qadir toiled hard manfully with little reward. There was little support for him from the other end. Pakistan’s inspirational captain Imran missed the first three Tests, and although he returned in the fourth match at MCG, he was unable to bowl and was playing just as a batsman.
Qadir took ten wickets against England at the Oval in 1987 – 7-96 and 3-115 – but failed to win the match as Mike Gatting scored a fine hundred on the final day. Prior to this Test, Qadir had only taken five wickets in his previous six Tests against India and England. Perhaps his most impressive bowling display outside his home soil came in the spring of 1988 as he took 14 wickets in three Tests against the mighty West Indies. This effort confirmed his reputation as the best spin bowler of the decade.
Earlier in the season, he had taken 30 wickets in a three-match series at home against England. But the series was marred by controversial umpiring decisions culminating in the infamous Shakoor Rana incident involving the England skipper Mike Gatting.
Yet the ever- present uncertainty regarding Pakistan cricket meant that within two years he was struggling to hold his place in the side. The emergence of Mushtaq Ahmed was a factor. But an even bigger factor was the two Ws: Wasim and Waqar. With their ability to reverse swing the old ball, they were wining Tests both home and abroad. Pakistan no longer required its slow bowlers to win Tests at home.
Qadir’s last Test match was at Lahore against the West Indies in December 1990. His Test career ended just as it had started in his home town.
Qadir’s Test bowling average of above 32 in Tests combined with his poor record against India leaves his place among the greats of the game in some doubt. But no one can question his effectiveness as an ODI bowler – 132 wickets at an average of 26.16 is impressive, and at a time when spinners were considered big liabilities in the shorter version of the game, he showed his class and his value as an ODI bowler.
Interestingly, so great was the consensus about the ineffectiveness of the slow bowlers in limited-overs game that Qadir only made his ODI debut in the summer of 1983 – almost five-and-a-half years after his Test debut. Once into action, though, he wasted no time in making his presence felt.
At Edgbaston, the NZ side slumped to 5-120 from 0-57 as the Kiwi middle order looked hapless against the guile of Qadir. He returned the magnificent figures of 12-4-21-4 in his debut match. A poor batting display cost Pakistan the match, but Qadir was adjudged the man of the match. He was man of the match again at Headingley for taking 5-44 against Sri Lanka.
The next World Cup in 1987 saw Qadir at his majestic best. All the top-order batsmen struggled against him. Saleem Yousuf, the Pakistan keeper, struggled badly to pick him.
He didn’t win the World Cup for his team, but he was among the outstanding performers in the event. Ironically, his proudest moment in this World Cup came with the bat – at Lahore, where he scored an unbeaten nine-ball 16 to ensure a nail biting one-wicket victory against the West Indies on the final delivery of a low-scoring match. Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992, but by that time Mushtaq had taken over the leg spinner’s role.
Statistically, it is very difficult to justify Qadir’s place among the greats. But perhaps he was one of the cricketers whose value cannot be fully measured by the stats alone.
At a time when Test cricket was becoming a bit boring with too many teams focusing on the safety-first approach, his bold and aggressive approach was a welcome change. He was always a great favourite of the media, although he was a decade ahead of his time. The 1990s saw the TV channels start to bring big money into the Asian cricket. Cricket became more of a WWE-like form of entertainment than sports, and Qadir would have been the ideal man from the media’s perspective.
But his greatest contribution to the game was preserving the classic art of leg-spin bowling during an age when spinners of all varieties were struggling to perform. Pitches were becoming too slow, and many captains were too cautious in their approach. It was players like Qadir who brought the crowd to the ground. He was lucky to have Imran as his captain a lot of the time – Imran always seemed to bring the best out of Abdul Qadir.
And it was his antics that encouraged many young cricketers like Shane Warne to take interest in the art of wrist spin.
RIP Abdul Qadir (1955-2019).