What makes a cricketer your childhood hero? Well, there is no definitive answer to the question.
It can be after a great knock or a match-winning bowling spell that someone becomes your hero. Or it can be from sympathy – a batsman getting out on 99, for example.
It’s not always mandatory that you have to see your hero on action. Radio commentary can make you excited or you can read about him in the newspapers. And things can change very quickly as well – a hero can become a villain in a couple of hours or vice versa.
I was introduced to this great game by my dad who took me to watch the MCC versus Bangladesh match at the Dacca Stadium in January 1977. A couple of months later BTV showed highlights of the centenary match at the MCG. Now, more than four decades later, I am going down memory lane to form a Test team out of my childhood cricketing heroes.
After forming the team, I noticed that only one member from my team – an Australian wicketkeeper-batsman from WA – can claim a position among the greats of the game. But this doesn’t matter to me.
I remember them as men who gave me so much joy during my childhood and early teen days. Along with the Six Million Dollar Man, MASH 4077, ABBA, Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, they are integral parts of my childhood memories.
In the first part of this two-part article, I will look at the top six batsmen in my team. One of them, Mudassar Nazar, will also play the part of the third seamer in the team.
Mudassar Nazar (Pakistan)
Though he was an opening bat, he impressed me more with his medium-pace bowling. The man with ‘the golden arm for Pakistan’ featured prominently with the ball in two historic Test successes for Pakistan.
The first came at Lahore in the autumn of 1978, against the arch rivals India. At the half way point of the match, the home side enjoyed a massive first innings lead of 340, thanks mainly to Zaheer Abbas’ unbeaten 235. But then the Indian team started their fightback.
The openers Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan put on 192 and although both missed their tons – falling victims to dubious umpiring decisions – the middle order carried on the good work. And when India reached 4-406 on the final day, a draw looked inevitable.
But then Mushtaq, the Pakistan captain, turned to Mudassar, and in a four-over spell, he changed the course of the match by dismissing Gundappa Viswanath for 83 and Dilip Vengsarkar for 17. After that, the Indian tail collapsed and Pakistan won the match by eight wickets, their first ever home success against India in Test cricket.
At Lord’s in 1982, a double hundred by Mudassar’s opening partner Mohsin Khan gave the Pakistanis the early initiative. But although England was forced to follow on, it seemed that time was against the Pakistanis in this rain-affected fixture. But Mudassar’s superlative bowling effort (6-32) led to a ten-wicket victory for his team. This was Pakistan’s first ever Test victory at Lord’s.
In 1990, Mudassar served as the coach of the Tigers for a short period. He did a good job as the Tigers finished third (behind Zimbabwe and the Netherlands) in the fourth ICC trophy in the Netherlands.
Roy Fredericks (West Indies)
His international career ended in early 1977, and my only visual memory of him was the video of his unfortunate dismissal at Lord’s in the 1975 World Cup final. But it was the tales of his fearless batting against Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson at the WACA that had made a lasting impression in my mind.
His 145-ball 169 against Lillee and Thomson on the fastest pitch in the world has a legitimate claim for the best Test innings of the decade. It is worth mentioning that those were the days before the helmets.
Both teams had gone in to this match with four-pronged pace attacks, but the much feared Australian pace attack made little impression on the Guyanese left hander. He pulled and hooked effortlessly on his way to a match-winning knock.
Dilip Vengsarkar (India)
Among the international teams, I followed India most closely during my childhood days, thanks to Akashbani, the Indian radio. But, interestingly, I wasn’t a big fan of Indian cricket at the time. Maybe it had something to do with their defensive approach to the game.
But I liked Vengsarkar a lot, partly because his development as a top-order Test batsman ran parallel to the growth of my interest in the royal game. For example, his first Test ton came at Calcutta, against the second-string West Indies team during the 1978-79 season. This was the first Calcuatta Test that I followed over the radio, and thus became acquainted with the voices of Kamal Da and Ajay Da.
In a sense, Dilip was lucky at Calcutta. In the first innings he had batted at number five. But regular opener Chauhan was unable to bat in the second due to illness, Anshuman Gaekwad moved to the opening slot, allowing Dilip to come at number three. After Sylvester Clarke bowled Gaekwad cheaply, Gavaskar (182*) and Vengsarkar (157*) took the score 1-361 (declared).
Even more impressive was Vengsarkar’s ton at Lord’s in the following summer. There, Vengsarkar (103) and Viswanath (113) shared a third-wicket stand of 210 in the second innings to ensure the safety of the team, despite India being bowled out for only 96 in the first innings.
Vengsarkar continued to impress in the following home series against Australia and Pakistan. But he was always a makeshift number three, and his vulnerability against genuine pace came apparent during the tour down under in 1980-81. The return of Mohinder Amarnath to the Test team allowed Vengsarkar to move to number four: the position that most suited his technique.
He enjoyed a purple patch between the middle of 1986 until the end of 1987, when he scored eight Test tons in 18 months.
Graham Yallop (Australia)
In the summer of 1977 Bangladesh became an associate member of ICC, thus taking a big step towards establishing the game of cricket in this country. The summer also saw the cricketing world facing its biggest challenge ever, as the news of the breakaway Kerry Packer series came to the media.
So, the next Australian summer saw two different sets of top-level cricket: the establishment official matches and the Packer circus. The media here in Dacca obviously focused more on the official matches. But a Bangladeshi doctor, living in Sydney at the time, regularly wrote about the day-night matches and the Supertests in the weekly Bichitra (Variety), thus keeping me informed about the rebels as well .
I was only eight at the time and using my naïve thinking process, I reached my conclusion. Ian Chappell’s men and Clive Lloyd’s men were traitors and betrayers. Bob Simpson and Alvin Kallicharran were the real heroes. And I formed a special liking for the second-string Australian team.
In 1978-79 the Australian team under Yallop was battered and humiliated in front of their own crowd by Mike Brearley’s England. To me, Graham Yallop was a victim of international conspiracy.
His early Test career was interesting. After playing against the West Indies during the 1975-76 season, he was recalled in the fifth Test against India in 1978. He was basically included to tame the threat of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. He scored a fine hundred, and a good series in the Caribbean saw him not only cement his place in the team, he in fact became the captain for the next summer.
His Test captaincy record is poor: six losses and one win in seven Tests. Of course, he had to lead a group of hugely inexperienced players, a few of them perhaps not good enough for Test cricket. He certainly didn’t have luck in his side as a captain. After the humiliation against England, he saw his batsmen snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against Pakistan at the MCG. The young Aussies did win the next match, but Yallop missed the match through injury, and Kim Hughes led the team.
So, for the autumn (northern) tour to India in 1979, Yallop was relieved of his captaincy duties. It was a good thing for him. He did a good job as a middle-order bat, but his best innings came as an opener, at the jam-packed Eden Gardens in the fifth Test.
With the regular openers Graeme Wood and Rick Darling struggling for both form and fitness, he became the opening partner of Andrew Hilditch. He played a superb innings, scoring 167. Things started badly though. Even before facing a delivery himself, he saw Hilditch depart, edging a Kapil Dev out-swinger to the keeper. But the middle order gave him good support with both Hughes and Allan Border contributing handsomely. When Yallop was dismissed in the second afternoon, the 80,000 crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Following the game over the radi0, I was absolutely delighted. More importantly for me, he got rich plaudits from our beloved Kamal Da. At that time, to me, getting plaudits from Kamal Da was the equivalent to winning the Oscar in Hollywood.
Yallop had a start-stop Test career, but still ended with a batting average of 40-plus in Tests
Larry Gomes (West Indies)
The early part of Gomes’ Test career is somewhat similar to that of Yallop’s. His international prospects looked bleak after failures in the 1976 tour to England. But the exodus of key members of the West Indies team presented him with his chances in 1978, and he took his chances with both hands, scoring a couple of hundreds against Bob Simpson’s Australia. Overall, he enjoyed consistent success against the Aussies – six of his nine Test hundreds came against them.
Then in the 1978-79 season, he showed excellent technique against the Indian spinners. His 91 out of a second-innings team total of 151 at Madras in the fourth Test very nearly won the match for the tourists – at the end they lost by three wickets.
I first saw a glimpse of the West Indies’ talent on TV in early 1982 as BTV started showing highlights of ODI matches played in Australia. The Windies team at the time was full of explosive batsmen, but Gomes caught my eyes most because I found his batting technique to be somewhat similar to mine. His game was mostly based on pushes and nudges with only occasional drives.
He scored a lot square of the wicket on the off side. Now, it won’t be correct to say that I scored a lot in that same region; I never scored too many runs anyway. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that a good percentage of my runs came in the gully/point region. And, of course, I was left hander as well.
Gomes reached the zenith of his career in 1984 when he scored four hundreds (and an unbeaten 92 at Lord’s on the final day) as the West Indies enjoyed a spell of 11 successive Test wins.
Asif Iqbal (Pakistan)
After a couple of establishment players in my team comes a man who was very prominent in Packer cricket. In fact, well before the Packer saga, Asif was the leader of a group of senior Pakistan players who were regularly demanding better a pay package from the board.
This often led to conflict between the players and the board, and there were members within the board who wanted Asif to be out of the team. In fact, when he was out for a duck in the first innings at the Adelaide Oval in December 1976, there were men back in Pakistan who scoffed at his misery.
He answered his critics in the most emphatic manner in the second innings. His brilliant 152 not out gave Pakistan a great chance of victory – the match eventually ended in an exciting draw.
He shared an 87-run last-wicket stand in 96 minutes with the debutant Iqbal Qasim – remarkably Qasim only contributed four runs before being run out.
Just to show that his Adelaide effort wasn’t a fluke, Asif added another fine hundred at the SCG, as the Pakistan side recorded a historic win. Asif’s 120 combined with Imran Khan’s 12 wickets laid the foundations of the victory. Most Pakistan cricket experts consider the SCG in 1977 to be the beginning of the modern era in Pakistan cricket.
When he joined World Series Cricket, Asif considered his international career to be over. But the prospect of playing against India in the autumn of 1978 brought him back to the Test arena. He was born in Hyderabad (India) and his maternal uncle Ghulam Ahmad had led India in Tests. So he was especially keen to play against Bishen Bedi’s men.
At Faisalabad, in the second innings of the first Test, Asif scored 104. But his greatest joy came in the second Test at Lahore, when Asif (21*) and Zaheer (34*) took Pakistan home for an eight-wicket win on the final evening. Asif was promoted to the opening slot as Pakistan produced a famous successful chase at Karachi in the final Test.
Pakistan reached their target of 164 in less than 25 overs to win by eight wickets. Asif scored 44 and the 97-run second-wicket stand with Javed Miandad was highlighted by some brilliant running between the wickets by the two fastest runners between the wickets in world cricket at the time.
His final Test ton came against Australia in early 1979. His 134*against Rodney Hogg and Alan Hurst on a bouncy pitch at the WACA deserved rich plaudits, but sadly most of the cricket in this short series was overshadowed by improper behaviours from both teams and some controversial umpiring decisions.
Later in the year, Asif led the Pakistan team for a six-match series in India. It wasn’t a happy experience, with Imran struggling with injuries, and key players struggling for form. The Pakistanis were well beaten 2-0 in the series. With the series lost, Asif declared his decision to retire from international cricket.
Later, he played a big part in establishing cricket in Sharjah, UAE.