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Opinion

The original little master: Hanif Mohammad

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Roar Rookie
22nd December, 2020
8

Pakistan cricket legend Hanif Mohammad, who was born on December 21 in 1934, is regarded as one of the best batsmen of his time.

This week was his 86th birth anniversary. He was the original little master and a national hero who turned cricket in Pakistan from the preserve of the educated elite into the mass sport. His title of the little master later was assumed by Sunny Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar.

In his starting days in Mumbai, often a thwack sound was heard in Brabourne Stadium and this was heard from nearby areas also. Naturally Mumbai was less populated and much more open then.

It was the sound of the forward defence that Hanif used to play while practising at the Brabourne ground. This sweet sound can only be created if the ball hits the middle of the bat.

Hanif was the epitome of concentration, traditional technique and determination. He was a master of keeping the ball on the ground and hardly played in the air before he settled down in the wicket.

Peter Oborne in his famous book A History of Pakistan Cricket explained why Hanif was so good to keep the ball down to the ground. Hanif was born in Junagadh in India. Hanif said that all the free times after education were reserved for cricket.

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They used to play Test matches on the terrace of their house perfectly located on the busy station in the bustling main street of Junagadh on Sundays. The rules were interesting. If a player hit the ball in the air and got caught after the ball rebounded from the trees, he was out.

To avoid the risk of the ball going out of the roof he tried to keep the ball down, it is difficult to keep a bouncy tennis ball down in the ground but Hanif practised hard. Thus, from the very beginning, he learnt the defensive shots.

Later he sharpened his trick and became one of the finest defensive bats during the ’50s and ’60s.

Hanif Mohammad

(Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

Also his stamina and concentration were legendary. He displayed the same in the West Indies. In 1958, in Bridgetown, Barbados, the Pakistan captain Abdul Hafeez Kardar lost the toss. The West Indies put up a big total.

In response, Pakistan were bundled out for just 106 and trailed by 473 runs. It was impossible to save the match for Pakistan. The West Indies had the likes of Alf Valentine, who could bamboozle any line-up on a track that would break up as the play progressed.

But Hanif did something that was simply extraordinary. On the close of day five, Pakistan were 3-525 and Hanif was 270 not out. He was not only exhausted but badly bruised as thunderbolts often hit his unprotected upper thigh. There were no thigh pads in those days.

His cheek bones in the upper portion were bruised with blood. Hanif did not stop though. The next day he went on to show his stamina and ultimately got out when he was on 337. His innings lasted for 16 hours and 39 minutes. It was an unforgettable knock and Pakistan saved the game.

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What about his 499 in the first-class game? He batted for 635 minutes and hit 64 boundaries and then was run out taking his 500th run. Can you imagine someone getting run out after scoring 499 runs?

But Hanif was not only defence. He could play beautiful strokes too. In Nottingham in 1954, Hanif made an eye-catching 51 in the second innings against the England attack. He hit ten boundaries in his knock. Hanif had a beautiful and patient 187 at Lord’s also in the ’67 series.

I can give numerous examples of his batting but I must stop. Hanif Mohammad is one of the greatest batsmen the subcontinent has ever seen and in my dream all-time Pakistan XI, he would take guard and face the new ball along with Saeed Anwar.

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Hanif played 55 matches and scored 3915 runs at an average of 43.98 with 12 hundreds. This is a good number considering the conditions of wickets that were not so well maintained compared to modern times.

He died on 11 August 2016 at the age of 81 in Karachi after suffering multiple breathing and liver problems, having undergone an operation for liver cancer.