Remembering Hanif Mohammad
By DrSaleemAKhanani, MD, MBBS Dow
After him the deluge was the adage when Hanif Mohammad, the little master, carried the fragile Pakistani batting on his young shoulders. He celebrated his 18th birthday on the very first tour to India in 1952-53 where the youngster kept the wickets in the first two test matches, scored the first half century ever for his country, and showed experience beyond his years.
Amazing concentration, technique and stamina were reflected in his first century against India in Bhalwapur in 1954-55, the first test century on the Pakistan soil, and later in the West Indies where his 337 in 970 minutes still remains the longest innings in history. Hanif achieved what was more impossible than going down to the depth of the Atlantic Ocean and coming back to the surface without oxygen. Facing a deficit of 473 runs with almost four days to go a draw was unthinkable.
Hanif could defend as he did in England with 20 off three hours in the first test but then he also attacked with a blitzkrieg against Bedser and Statham with a fifty that included 10 fours at Nottingham in 1954.
An unassuming gentleman he would go to the ground on his bicycle being paid Rs 50 per day during the test match. He could have scored more runs given his technique and the strokes he had in his repertoire. Yet he knew that if he went, the rest would succumb.
His first class career spanned over a quarter centuries. Fifty centuries and an average of over 50 runs per innings testify to his consistency.
He failed to overtake Sir Len Hutton's 364 that stood as the highest test score at that time but managed to achieve something even more remarkable. No one would have thought that anyone could go past another knight, Sir Donald Bradman's record of the highest first class score. Hanif did it with 64 boundaries and fell just one run short of what would have been the first score of 500 runs in first class cricket. His run out was a sacrilegious act by the fieldsman but such is the way of cricket. I don't recall Hanif ever criticizing or blaming the poor fielder on January 11, 1959 in Karachi.
Hanif had batted three hundred and thirty-five balls less than in his 337.
The number of boundaries was the third highest in first class cricket.
Twelve centuries and 3915 runs at an average of 43 runs per innings does not seem like the record of a great batsman. However, during the same period, Colin Cowdrey scored 7,000 runs with 22 centuries at an average fractionally higher in 104 matches compared with 55 played by Hanif.
I have every reason to believe that if the little master had played that many tests in a stronger batting line-up his record would have been better than that of Cowdrey.
Two excellent series against India and England plus his seniority made him the obvious choice to captain the team to England in 1962. The powers that be chose a young and inexperienced JavedBurki instead for a disastrous tour that destroyed the new captain's career.
Such was the paucity of international cricket played by Pakistan in those days that over the next five years the green team played only six tests against New Zealand and two against Australia in which Hanif captained an almost new team. The old guard of the fifties had bowed out. The likes of Asif Iqbal and Majid Jahangir, as the Mighty Khan was known then, emerged on the scene. Their captain was their mentor. Hanif scored two centuries, including a double against the Kiwis, and a century and ninety in Australia. His second innings dismissal was likely an umpiring error.
The 1967 tour to England saw Pakistan lose the series but it was the beginning of a new era. Hanif scored 187 at Lord's guiding Asif Iqbal who then shot into prominence with a swashbuckling and record-smashing 146 at the Oval. The chicks had finally grown up and would be ready to fly soon to greater heights with the captain watching them off the field.
Hanif duly won a place in Wisden's five cricketers of year but something was not right at home. He was removed from the captaincy for reasons that remain classified to date. Whatever happened led to the little master's premature retirement after the Karachi test against New Zealand in 1969. The three Mohammad brothers played together for the first and the last time as the youngest of the five siblings Sadiq made his debut with Hanif and Mushtaque proudly watching him make 69.
The humble stalwart continued to be active in local tournaments and then contributed to the game and the country in administrative and coaching responsibilities besides his popular role as a radio and TV expert.
He influenced a number of young cricketers and continued to be active.
Son Shoaib played for the country with distinction and had a better batting average than his father. He could not find himself on the right side of the selectors despite technical soundness.
Hanif had been sick for a number of years but he and his family kept it a secret until the very end.
It's a sad day in the history of Pakistani cricket and for his admirers like me. May he rest in peace, Ameen!