Sultan of Spin - Abdul Qadir - Obituary
The passing on of Abdul Qadir, Pakistan’s much admired star leg-spinner, on Friday in his hometown of Lahore, prompted outpouring of emotional responses, all around the world of cricket.
The 63-year year old, collapsed, following a cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead on his arrival at the Services Hospital. He was buried in the nearby Mian Mir graveyard on Saturday.
A modest individual from humble beginnings, with a prayer mat as an essential item in his cricket coffin, Qadir was a well-grounded individual, unfazed by the fame. His pathway to success was based on relentless hard work in his youth with Dharampura Gymkhana, learning to spin the ball and even harder of acquiring control, in mostly limited-overs club cricket, on a variety of surfaces, i.e. turf, matting and cement.
Having first interviewed Qadir back in 1994 at St. James Court hotel in London, one found him, true to his public image. A genius of a cricketer, whose warmth and passion for his country and countrymen, never diminished. On the whole, he enjoyed good relationship with the crowd and the media and was seen willing engaging and seeking advice from cricketers of the previous generation. His public acknowledgement of Rawalpindi’s Mohammad Sabir, a fellow leg-spinner of repute, who sadly missed out on an international opportunity, was one such example.
In 1977 with both Intikhab Alam and Mushtaq Mohammed, coming to the end of their long careers and Wasim Raja and Javed Miandad, concentrating more on their batting, Qadir arrived on the scene with lot of promise and optimism. A wrist spinner of his quality, who spun the ball appreciably more than his predecessors and had a much better googly, was set to make a contribution in winning matches and the entertainment value of cricket in Pakistan and so it proved.
As an all-rounder, he had made a name for himself with Dharampura Gymkhana and Government College, before being snapped up by Habib Bank, a new team in the domestic cricket, to be teamed up with captain Abdul Raqib, a slow left-armer. The two Abduls formed a devastating duo and in 1977-78, with Miandad now captain, Habib Bank achieved the first and only Grand Slam in Pakistan’s history by claiming three first-class titles – Quaid-i-Azam Trophy, BCCP Invitation Tournament and BCCP Patron’s Trophy.
At 22, ‘Baoo’ Qadir, as he was referred to in Lahore, had enough experience of first-class cricket and was ready for the international stage. In only his second Test, in Hyderabad, the exciting wrist spinner, bewildered every English batsman, except Geoff Boycott at his stonewalling best, in scoring 79 and a match-saving unbeaten 100, with figures of 6-44 and was named Wills Man of the Match. A star had arrived on the cricket horizon but Qadir would soon find himself out of favour and relegated back to domestic first-class.
Despite winning selection for the tours of England (1978) and India (1979-80), Qadir had an uphill struggle to compete with the spinning trio of Iqbal Qasim, Tauseef Ahmed and Mohammad Nazir Jr, as he sat out, perhaps never before appreciated, no less than 25 Test matches in this period. This disappointment of being side-lined would simply make him more determined to perform at the domestic level to ensure his return to the Pakistan team.
After his debut series against the 1977-78 England team, Qadir went out of favour with an ‘in and out’ run in the national side, till Imran Khan was appointed captain. It was on Imran’s insistence that Qadir was included in the 1982 Pakistan squad on a tour of England as a ‘secret weapon’ and would remain captain’s first choice, for almost a decade. By backing Qadir, Imran showed his clear preference for a wrist spinner to be a far greater match-winner than a finger spinner. After over-bowling his ‘star’ spinner with over ambitious field-placing in England, Imran gradually learned to rotate the bowlers better. The presence of Intikhab, a leg-spinner himself with Surrey till previous year and now Pakistan team manager, also worked to Qadir’s advantage.
On his second tour of England in 1982, now supporting a designer French goatee, Qadir’s rise drew comparison with Australia’s Richie Benaud and India’s Subash Gupte – two of the best post-World War II leg-spinners. Qadir is very rightly credited with the renaissance of the subtle art of leg-spin in an era of dominance of fast bowling and accurate medium pace and introduction of helmet for the batsmen. It was a period of great concern for the purists, to see spinners’ role on the wane.
A spin bowler with a fast bowler’s mind-set in terms of his attacking nature, Qadir’s status in world cricket took off with raving reviews in media, both in England and Australia, always fascinated by the magic of leg-spin bowling. Bill ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly, tall aggressive wrist-spinner who single-handedly won Tests for Australia in the 1930s, sat with binoculars at Sydney Cricket Ground in 1984 to watch Qadir, only to conclude with, ‘I can’t pick him. I haven’t a clue. What a great bowler.’
Short and stocky, Qadir’s greatness as a bowler went far beyond than the weight of statistics, he ended up in his distinguished career. His command of flight, variation of pace, angle of delivery, a dip before the ball pitched, fizzy spin, two different types of googlies and variation of top spinners, made him a hard bowler to dominate as a batsman, in any conditions. His wrong un was not easy to detect, from the hand, in the air or off the pitch and quite often nimble footwork was the only way to survive against him. A well disguised googly, helped to enhance his reputation and saw the 1982-83 Australians, suffer its first ever whitewash in the sub-continent. In the same winter, he became the first Pakistan bowler to claim hundred wickets in a season, often looking unplayable.
The slow Pakistan wickets with low bounce were not ideal for a wrist spinner but Qadir was always prepared to toil for his wickets with lengthy spells. Apart from a few exceptions when he ran through the opposition, Qadir defied frustration and simply bowled on, once with the series level at one-all and his left-hand in plaster, he bowled 75.5 overs in the match against West Indies at Karachi in 1986-87.
Australia blunted his effectiveness by including four left-handers, amongst the top six in the batting line-up, at home in 1983-84. In the same winter, England captain David Gower, also a left-hander, displayed excellent technique and perhaps played Qadir better than anyone in Pakistan, with innings of 152 and an unbeaten 173, at Faisalabad and Lahore respectively.
A wrist spinner of rare quality who had wonderful control over the amount of spin he wished to impart whilst plotting the downfall of batsmen, with a range that featured orthodox leg-spin, googly, flipper, and a top spinner. Qadir brought joy and excitement on to the cricket field and inspired the following generation including Australia’s Shane Warne, to take up and enjoy leg-spin.
On his first trip to Pakistan in 1994, Warne made a point of visiting Qadir at his home in Dharampura, Lahore – a meeting arranged with the courtesy of Lahore Gymkhana’s Jamil Rana. Imran Tahir, who migrated to South Africa, also benefited from Qadir’s experience by attending the coaching clinic at Lahore City Cricket Association (LCCA) ground, next to Gaddafi Stadium.
Arguably the finest slow bowler to emerge from Pakistan, Qadir was a match winner, who one suspects would have reached greater heights in the modern day of neutral umpires and DRS system. A point taken up by both Imran Khan and Asif Iqbal. He would win most votes in an all-time Pakistan XI and with a bit more luck would have enjoyed considerably more success overseas.
A devoted family man, Qadir often battled with home sickness and often requested breaks before or after overseas tours and for that very reason could not agree to play a long season of county cricket in England. It is hard to speculate whether a season or two in English or Australian conditions, for which he was eagerly sought, would have made Qadir, an even better bowler.
A series of mannerism, was essential for Qadir’s bowling rhythm. A short angular run-up with a trademark twist, hop and a jump to go with his passionate appealing, he was a bundle of a joy for spectators but not quite for the opposing batsmen. His finest moment perhaps in Test matches was a return of 6-16 – including Viv Richards for a duck - that saw the mighty West Indies crumble to 53 all out at Faisalabad in 1986-87. The game took an unexpected turn with Qadir exploiting the fourth-day track to earn a 186-run win for his country. His career-best 9-56 against England in 1987-88 series at Lahore, was as good as an exhibition of slow bowling, on the opening day of a Test match, as any witnessed in Pakistan.
His masterly control and rich variety enabled him to convince Imran for his inclusion in the 1983 World Cup. No other wrist spinner in world cricket, prior to Qadir had achieved much, for that breed was considered a luxury in the limited-overs cricket. The sight of a spinner bowling with an attacking field – often with three close-in fielders – was a new phenomenon in a 60-over match, for which both Imran and Qadir deserved credit. Right till the end of his career, it seemed Imran would be the one who got the most, out of the leg-spinner, which perhaps other Pakistan captains, could not quite do.
From 1985 onwards, the Imran-Qadir combination of pace and spin, so often worked wonders, both at home and away. Both complimented each other so well and alongside Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram, were the four key match winners to watch, both in Test and ODI. No wonder Pakistan team became the second most feared team in world, behind West Indies. Having clinched Austral-Asia Cup (1986) to dethrone India as the best ODI in the world, Pakistan was a strong favourite to lift the 1987 World Cup. The unexpected loss against Australia in the semi-final at Lahore left the nation in state of disbelief. The Nehru Cup win against West Indies at Calcutta in 1989 saw Pakistan at its most thrilling best with Qadir now being paired with Mushtaq Ahmed, his leg-spinner protégé.
A popular figure in his playing days as a gutsy cricketer, both with ball and bat, Qadir was never shy to voice his mind in the media as a critic, till the very end. One of the very few cricketers to claim friendship with Imran Khan, now PM of Pakistan, he was a man with no pretences. Refusing to compromise on merit, he could not fit in with Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and resigned as the chairman of selectors in June 2009, after just seven months in the job. He finalized the Pakistan squad against Sri Lanka, for the last Test series to be played on home soil and quit whilst the team were in England, for the ICC T20 World Championship.
Following Qadir’s retirement, thankfully Pakistan continues to breed leg-spinners in Mushtaq Ahmed, Shahid Afridi, Danish Kaneria and Yasir Shah but none could come close to the aura of the great man from Lahore. His younger brother Ali Bahadur and all four sons – Rehman, Imran, Sulaman and Usman – had a hard act to follow and though played first-class cricket but even collectively, could not come anywhere near to Qadir’s 960 wickets @23.24, after spinning his last leg-break aged 40, whilst leading Habib Bank against Railways in Sialkot in the 1995-96 PCB Patron’s Trophy.
Taher Memon, ‘Abdul Qadir was a well-liked personality in the cricket circles and I got to know him in my 21-year association with the game in Pakistan. He was winner of the Wills Man of the Match award in only his second Test at Hyderabad in the 1977-78 series against England. He would go on to win many awards in his distinguished career. I found him both warm-hearted and courteous. In April this year, in our book launch of ‘Another Perspective’ at Media Centre in Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore, Qadir attended the best part of the function before rushing to the wedding of Saleem Malik’s daughter. Both myself and my co-author, Salim Parvez, were honoured with his presence. His death was a shocking news. I would like to extend my condolences to his family and pray for their well-being.’
Arshad Pervez Bata, ‘I played with Qadir for two decades whilst at Habib Bank and what a wonderful bowler he was. He was so determined that nothing could stop him reach the top. I recall the time he refused to tour India (1983-84), when the cricket Board, refused to pay him in advance for him to rebuild his house in Lahore. I was not happy that he did not tour and missed international cricket and told hm so. His argument was that if the Board can take care of expenses of injured Imran Khan, why not me? On a rare occasion that we came up against each other at first-class level in the 1984-85 BCCP Patron’s Trophy, I was representing Sargodha against Lahore City Blues and made sure I didn’t get out to him.’
Asif Iqbal, ‘Abdul Qadir was an exceptional bowler with great variety and control and was well known for his deceptive googly. In the early half of his career, he didn’t make much impression in the three Tests he played, under my captaincy, on the 1979-80 tour of India. The only spinning wicket we encountered in the six Test matches was the one in Bombay. He spoke his mind and didn’t fear the consequences. I found him very courteous with older players and he was also keen to pass on his own experience to the youngsters.’
Majid Khan, ‘A bowling wizard, in fact it will be true to say Qadir was the first world-class wrist spinner produced by Pakistan. In my opinion, his number of Test wickets – 236 in 67 matches – could have been much higher had he been handled by a more sympathetic captain. The two Australian captains – Ian Chappell and Ricky Ponting – come to my mind. Often it seemed Qadir was given far too many close-in fielders, even when the batsmen were well set. With four men around the bat, he was then forced to push through and that made him less effective than he was. As a wrist spinner he needed to give more air. He bowled for far too long on the 1982 tour of England and would have much more impact than he did with shorter spells and a couple of close-in fielders. I know he had two googlies, one more flighted than the other and his subtle variations needed to be picked from hand. Qadir’s Punjabi humour was so essential, particularly when touring and playing under considerable pressure.’
Agha Zahid, ‘I have lost a very special friend, just like a younger brother. He was loving, brave and prepared to fight for what he believed. My association with Qadir dated back to his early days in cricket. His talent with both bat and ball made me fight for his place in the Government College team, even after the initial trials had picked 15 players which would be reduced to six in the end. Due to financial hardship, Qadir was first supported by WAPDA before I arranged for his contract with Habib Bank. I also convinced skipper Aftab Gul for Qadir’s inclusion in the Punjab team.’
‘In the 27-year period, starting in 1975, we spent lot of time together, both on and off the field, often room-mates and had great fun. If I was of any help to him it was Allah’s will and his talent deserved it. The club rivalry between Cantt Gymkhana and Dharampura Gymkhana, whom Qadir represented, was a local derby that brought us against each other. Baoo Qadir was a dynamite of a player who also opened the innings, making life very difficult for opposition in his own backyard – a smallish ground in Mian Mir Darbar’s Baradaree.’
Aijaz Baig, ‘I played for Cantt Gymkhana in the 1950s in the period when Dharampura, where Qadir grew up, did not have a cricket team, just as yet. He was a touch different from the typical Pakistan players who toured England with the national team. My first brief meeting with Qadir was in Scarborough when he was accompanying the 1978 Pakistan team. My dear friend Zafar Altaf, who I believe was the manager of the team, invited me to represent Pakistan Press against English Press. I had the honour of opening the batting with the great Imtiaz Ahmed and our line-up also included Khan Mohammed. Then almost 15 years later in Lahore, Qadir recognized me and came over to say hello, I was taken aback with his warmth. He was courteous on both occasions and I am proud to have known him.’