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The Zaheer Abbas Dossier – 1

Kamran Wasti

Around half a decade ago, Cricinfo went about its project of selecting all-time test XIs for all test teams barring Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Pools of openers, middle-order batsmen, wicketkeepers, all-rounders, fast-bowlers and spinners were shortlisted before a panel of experts chose the final XI.

The Pakistani team chosen featured one predictable taboo selection: A player whose record masquerades the inadequacies that never dawned upon his fans. Zaheer Abbas, of the most bewitching grace, scorer of a hundred first-class centuries, two double hundreds in England, the decimator of the cricket history’s greatest spin quartet and what not. Subsequently, he has gone on to become the apple of the eye of everyone from David Foot and Dickie Bird to a plethora of Pakistani cricket writers and commentators including Qamar Ahmad whose quote was used as a justification for Zaheer’s inclusion in Pakistan’s

This write-up, without any fanfare, seeks to carry out a factual assessment of Zaheer Abbas’s career.

The Beginning:

April 21, 1966: Makes his first-class debut for Karachi Whites in a draw against Punjab University. He is run out for 4 in the first innings and scores an unbeaten 19 in the second and takes no catches. This is the only match he plays in this season and gets to play just two more in the next. His record, after two seasons, stands at 3 matches with 71 runs at 23.67.

October 18, 1968: Zaheer plays for PWD against PIA in what would be the first of the six matches. His scores 42 before the left-arm spinner Pervez Sajjad bowls him. In the second innings, he scores an unbeaten 59, his first score of 50 or above. In all, he gets to play six matches and scores 409 runs at 68.17 including his maiden first-class hundred – a swift and eye-catching 197 out of a score of 680 in a draw. The venue is National Stadium, Karachi and the bowlers are from a hopelessly weak East Pakistan side. This, we shall see, was a sign of things to come as Zaheer would routinely plunder poor bowling attacks on shirtfronts.

September 4, 1969: Having impressed Hanif Muhammad sufficiently with his ability, Zaheer, now playing for PIA, scores his first hundred of the season. He goes on to score two more, each of them coming on flat wickets and at blistering pace. His obvious ability and the manner in which he scores his runs earns him a place in the squad facing New Zealand at Lahore.

October 24, 1969: Makes his debut against New Zealand at his adopted home ground. The match itself is a poignant moment in Pakistan’s history: Hanif Muhammad, the only remaining member from Pakistan’s squad in its inaugural test, returns to open the innings, this time first time with his brother, the debutant Sadiq Muhammad, and together with Mushtaq, formed the unique instance of three brothers playing in the same test. The Pakistani team, forever obsessed with self-imposed transition was actually going through a genuine one for a change with Sadiq and Zaheer joining Younis Ahmed as debutants in the batting-line-up to join Muhammad Nazir (Junior), an off-spinner. The match never goes into the fifth day and is drawn with Pakistan closing in on a win. All the debutants excelled except for Zaheer who had a return of 12 and 27 and is dropped. This too, like his first first-class hundred, is a harbinger for the future.

The 1969-70 Pakistan Season: Although he does not score any more hundreds, Zaheer puts up a series of consistent performances for a return of an excellent 939 runs at 55.23 from 13 matches.

The 1970-71 Pakistan Season: This is the season that sees Zaheer come of age. Scoring five hundreds, including three scores of 161, 196 and 202, he plunders 962 runs in just 8 games at an average of 96.20.

Zaheer’s first-class record is this stage is phenomenal, even though it has quite a few big scores against weak teams like East Pakistan on very flat wickets:

Matches Inns Not Outs Runs HS Ave 100 50 Ct
30 43 7 2381 202 66.14 9 7 33

 

The reward is a fully-merited return to the national squad and a ticket to England.

Pakistan in England 1971:

Reels off two more remarkable hundreds in the side games – 138 scored in just 4 hours against Kent and then a swift 110 scored in under 3 hours. It gets him into the squad for the first test at Birmingham where he bats at Number 3, coming to the crease with the score at 10 with the opener Aftab Gul retired hurt. Zaheer goes on hit 274, again being noted not merely for the quantum of runs but the manner in which they are scored: Mushtaq Muhammad scores a round 100 but this is his share in s 291 run stand, Zaheer completely dominating the partnership. When finally dismissed, he has accumulated 61% of the runs scored during his stay. The match though is a high-scoring draw on a flat wicket although it can be argued, and not very unreasonably so, that Pakistan’s Asif Masood, with a little better support, could probably have won it for them. Unfortunately, he only had an ineffective in-swinging medium-paced debutant called Imran Khan who took 0 for 55 from 28 overs.

Zaheer has an excellent tour and has a return of 386 test runs at 96.50 and a total of 1461 first-class runs from 18 matches at 58.44 with four hundreds. A county contract beckons and Gloucestershire are the ones who snap him up.

The World XI Tour to Australia 1971-72:

Has a moderate tour of Australia where he has a good double at Perth scoring 112 and 52 albeit against a Western Australian attack missing Dennis Lillee. He then scores 14 and 51 in the innings defeat at Perth where Dennis Lillee blows his team away for a match return of 12 for 92 (including a monumental 8 for 29 in the first innings). Garth McKenzie takes 5 wickets and the two share 17 out of the 20 wickets that the World XI lose. He scores another hundred against a second string first-class team from Tasmania before scoring 86 and sees Gary Sobers tee off for his memorable 254 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. He scores 73 in the last match versus Australia to finish the tour with a moderate 709 runs at 37.31 with two hundreds against state teams. His credentials though are enhanced in a high profile series as he and Intikhab Alam are the only two Pakistanis selected for the World XI.

1972 to 1975:

Scores just 353 runs at 25 with no hundreds in his first season for Gloucestershire in 1972 and although he scores 4 hundreds in the side games on the tour to Australia and New Zealand in 1972-73, a total of 179 runs with one 50 and an average of 16.27 confirms a miserable tour. Has a particularly torrid time in New Zealand where Bruce Taylor dismisses him regularly with monotonous ease and he ends with just 35 runs at an average of 7. Has moderate success on his return to Pakistan and manages to score a hundred but has another poor test series against England at home.

1973 sees him score his first two hundreds in county cricket but 1064 runs at 35.47 from 22 matches are a poor return for a batsman of his potential. A return to Pakistan later that year is seminal: Zaheer piles up a record 1597 runs at an average of 84.05 with 5 hundreds and a highest of 174. His catching is also top-class and he snares 19 catches in the 13 matches he plays.

The 1974 English season, in which he represents his county in the first half and Pakistan in the second, is another ordinary one for Zaheer where his 1182 runs come in 21 first class matches and an average of 45.46 owes much to his 240 in the Oval test for Pakistan. This is his second hundred in 15 tests. This is followed by another ordinary return in Pakistan including another poor home test series, this time against the West Indies.

In 1975, Zaheer finally has a relatively respectable return for Gloucestershire scoring 1426 runs from 16 matches at 47.53. Though he only scores 2 hundreds, he has 11 other fifties which highlight his consistency. Alongside, he represents Pakistan in the World Cup where his standout performance is a 97 in the meaningless match against Sri Lanka.

Pakistan no tests during the 1975-76 season and Zaheer has a quietly successful run at home scoring 861 runs at 50.65 with 2 hundreds and a highest of 170. A moderate tour to Sri Lanka follows.

The 1976 English Season:

The 1976 English season is notably dry and the usually slow, moist wickets are drier and faster. Zaheer finally has his breakthrough as he smashes 2554 runs at 75.11 scoring 11 hundreds. The hundreds include two double hundreds, scores of 188, 156 not out and two more scores of 177. Against Kent, he scores 230 and 104 remaining unbeaten in both digs. His return against Surrey is even more mindboggling where has another unbeaten double of 156 and 216. Scoring hundreds in each innings and in fact scoring a hundred and a double hundred in the same first-class match would soon become synonymous with him.

1976-77 Pakistan Season:

Has a horror run in Pakistan amid huge expectations as a return of 109 runs from six first-class matches confirms. Scores just 60 runs in 5 innings in the New Zealand test series against whom, his record now stands at 6 tests, 95 runs at an average of 9.50 and a highest of 16, each time falling to a part-timer or some mediocre second-string bowler. The fact that the debutant Javed Miandad averages 126 with the bat and four others average over 50 highlights the nature of his failure on flat wickets where his fellow batsmen regularly rack up high scores at brisk pace.

Zaheer’s test record at this stage paints a sorry picture:

Matches Inns Not Outs Runs HS Ave 100 50 Ducks
20 35 1 1109 274 32.62 2 2 3

If one were to remove his two double hundreds, the record becomes a spectacularly poor return for a proper batsman – 595 runs at 18.59.

This is in sharp contrast to his overall first-class record where he has racked up nearly 16000 runs at almost 51 with 49 hundreds in 210 matches, clearly showing where he is more comfortable.

End of Part 1

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