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Mohsin Khan’s Slow Demise

Kamran Wasti

A West Indian Story

When the West Indies began their 1992-93 tour of Australia, Dennis Lillee identified Dean Jones in his syndicated column as the one to go. This was telling given that Jones’ last test innings in Australia had been a match-winnings unbeaten 150 and he had topped the averages in Sri Lanka, Australia’s last tests before the Frank Worrell Trophy. No such concerns had worried Mohsin Khan when the West Indies had landed in Pakistan six years earlier during the fall of 1986.

West Indians arrived with a seemingly depleted fast-bowling line-up as Joel Garner and Michael Holding had decided to skip the tour. However, this was of little consequence: Holding was already in decline and would play just one more test after this rubber without adding to his tally of 249 wickets. Garner would play two. Malcolm Marshall had been the acknowledged leader of the pack anyway for the past three years when Michael Holding himself had advised Lloyd, “Give the new ball to Malcolm. He is the fastest now.” Supporting him was Patrick Patterson, all force and muscle and good enough to destroy England with a deadly mixture of bouncers and yorkers on underprepared wickets. Then there was Courtney Walsh, an ideal stock bowler playing a role similar to Joel Garner’s early days. Tony Gray from Trinidad & Tobago completed the prime quartet. Gray was the taller than everyone but Garner and bowled at genuine pace but most significantly generated frightening bounce from a disturbingly effortless action. It would transpire that this team would play four successive drawn series but each of the losses amounted to batting failures. Finding fault with West Indian pacemen in the 1980s was akin to blasphemy.

The West Indians themselves were coming on the back of seven successive test wins under Viv Richards. They had lost just one test over the past five years and it was not without reason that both Javed Miandad and Imran Khan would later identify this particular season as the most critical in the history of Pakistan cricket. Pakistan, after facing the West Indies at home, were to have two five test tours to India and England. Following that was the World Cup. Miandad writes how both he and Imran sensed that time had come to take Pakistan cricket to another level. There was no formal sitting or even discussion on the subject: They just knew it. Mohsin was to play an important role in this phase or so they thought.

Two Big Hundreds but little more

Mohsin justifiably featured high in the favourites of both Imran, his fan since the 1981 tour to Australia and Miandad, his captain at Habib Bank and witness to numerous innings of brilliance. Imran expected Mohsin to feature prominently in what he was hoping to be a dream run ending with a World Cup win in 1987 and to have his opinionated vice-captain agreeing with him on this would have been a pleasant surprise for him.

In reality, things were different. While being a favourite with both Imran and Miandad had helped camouflage some glaring chinks in the armour, it should have been obvious that Mohsin had been in decline and had been in the side more out of hope than genuine expectation. Since his second hundred in the 1983-84 series against Australia, he had scored just around 700 runs at 27 with just one hundred and four fifties. In that series against Australia he had hit two big hundreds and scored the most runs. Closer inspection would have revealed that those two hundreds amounted to almost 80% of his eventual tally of 390 runs and had come on the two flattest wickets used in the series. In the rest of the series, Mohsin had totalled 88 runs in 7 innings and his form had been disastrous in the one-day series that followed.

On January 30, 1984, Pakistan crashed to a 70-run defeat at the Adelaide Oval against Australia. Javed Miandad, leading Pakistan that day, had actually opened the innings instead of Mohsin Khan who came at number 6 and fell to part-timer Kepler Wessels. Two days before this match against Australia, Mohsin had been dropped against the West Indies, also at Adelaide where Miandad again had captained Pakistan.

The Two-Day Retirement

After the match against Australia, Mohsin hurriedly called a press conference with Imran Khan, the Pakistani tour captain, desperately trying to prevent him from doing so in full view of the media. Mike Coward, reporting for The Melbourne Age, noted how Imran sensing what Mohsin was up to, talked to him in Urdu asking him to be rethink but was asked by the latter not to interfere. He then announced, “From today I have retired from international cricket. I wouldn’t like to give any reasons. But you can put down that it is due to personal reasons.” A frustrated Imran then explained to the media that Mohsin was an emotional, angry young man and that how he was in the very prime of his career.

The very next day, Pakistan’s cricket selection committee was sacked and Mohsin immediately announced how he was considering a comeback but that he would skip the England series.

And indeed the next day, he did announce his comeback and actually played for Pakistan in their next game against the West Indies at Perth, scoring 32 off 74 balls at one drop in a defeat.

Predictably, the purported break from international cricket did not come and Mohsin played against England as well. Pakistanis were without Javed Miandad and Imran Khan, both out due to injury, and with his opening partner Mudassar Nazar not entirely in favour, Mohsin along with his captain Zaheer Abbas formed the backbone of the batting lineup. The series should have been revealing: Mohsin’s best innings came in the first test on a raging turner when he fell to the spin of Nick Cook both times. He did hit a last innings hundred at Lahore full of enterprising running sharing a brilliant opening stand of 173 with Shoaib Mohammad as Pakistan, following a sporting declaration by David Gower, made an equally sporting bid to win but was constantly bothered by the English fast-bowlers even on the flattest of wickets designed to keep Pakistan’s 1-0 lead intact. At 29 though, things did not look that bad to the unsuspecting eye and in any case, no replacements were ready.

Steady Decline

When India visited Pakistan in 1984 for the third successive annual rubber between the two sides, they were welcomed with wickets which would have had Dennis Lillee spoiled for choice for the place of his burial. Zaheer Abbas, Pakistan’s extremely defensive captain, adopted a safety-first policy even against India’s weak bowling line-up: Pakistanis scored 1100 runs in their two innings (both unfinished) for the loss of 15 wickets. Mohsin was bowled for 4 in Chetan Sharma’s first over in test cricket and scored 59 at Faisalabad in a 141-run opening stand with Mudassar Nazar which, surprisingly, was dominated by the latter.

New Zealand were next and Mohsin played just two tests of the three tests. Umpiring controversies adequately masked the batting problems that Pakistanis had been faced with. Mohsin scored a 50 in the win at Lahore but generally struggled to get going. Things did not improve during Pakistan’s return tour to New Zealand. The struggle was obvious but Zaheer’s well-documented fallout with Abdul Qadir, his (Zaheer’s) alarming decline as a batsman and the inability of Pakistan’s bowling in Imran Khan’s absence clouded everything else. By the end of the tour, it was obvious that Zaheer was no longer an asset in international cricket and that upon Imran Khan’s return Azeem Hafeez was likely to give way in a two-pronged pace attack as a new fast-bowler by the name of Wasim Akram had emerged. Mohsin’s troubles had once again evaded the limelight.

Pakistanis travelled to Australia for a high-profile one-day tournament, the World Championship of Cricket. It was here that Mohsin played a quite brilliant innings of 81 against Australia at Melbourne, sharing a record 141-run stand with Mudassar Nazar. Not many realised though that this was his first fifty since he slept on the Oval wicket against the West Indies scoring 70 off 176 balls in the 1983 World Cup semi-final. Fewer cared to see that in the rest of the series, Mohsin managed just 40 from 4 innings. The one-day returns were to diminish progressively although Mohsin played a good innings of 86 against the West Indies in Sharjah later that year.

At the test level, Mohsin should have panicked. He did score 143 runs from two tests (and an average of 47.67) in the home series against Sri Lanka but alarmingly, just 50 (12.50) on the return trip. It was a controversial series notable only for some atrocious umpiring by the hosts and some horrible batting and fielding by the Pakistanis. Immediately following this series came the Austral-Asia Cup, immortalised by Miandad’s six. Mohsin’s performances in the one-day games that had been reasonably consistent in a format where he, despite his fluent strokeplay, had never been a star and a return of 525 runs at 35.00 over 17 matches was markedly better than his overall career record.

Pakistanis were slowly on their way up as Imran Khan sought to build what would eventually turn out to be the second, and ultimately the more achieving, of his two great teams. Following that away series loss to New Zealand mentioned earlier, the team would lose just one single series over the next eight years. These were the circumstances under which the West Indians arrived in Pakistan.

Since the 1983-84 Australian tour, Mohsin had played 15 tests and scored just 687 runs at an average of under 29 with one hundred and four fifties. In one-dayers, things had been similarly mediocre – 1055 runs at under 23 with no hundreds and a strike rate of 53 – this included the relatively successful 1985-86 season. Yet, in any Pakistani team led by Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, Mohsin was an automatic starter in the playing XI. The two of them, for varying reasons, had genuine belief in his ability.

An Embarrassing Finale

The 1986-87 season though had started on the wrong note for Mohsin. For starters, he only played Wills Cup limited-over games. His team Habib Bank had two other test batsmen – Salim Malik who was batting extremely well and Javed Miandad, who was in poor form. The latter tried to get himself in by playing a side match against the West Indies. Mohsin did not. His run of scores in the Wills Cup was 2, 6, 0 and a painstaking 54 – seemingly a match-winning effort but in reality, only a proof of his struggles against fast-bowling. In three of the innings, he fell to fast-bowlers: Sikander Bakht, Zakir Khan and Wasim Haider. In the fourth, he struggled for over 10 overs scoring 6 before falling to left-arm spin. These were ominous signs.

A week after that 54 though, Pakistan were playing the West Indies in their first one-day international, fielding what was fast becoming a familiar batting line-up: Mudassar and Mohsin opening with Rameez Raja at one drop, followed by Miandad and Salim Malik. Mohsin struggled for around 9 overs before Marshall had him LBW. However, it was put down to early season blues.

A week later came the Faisalabad test and like the one-dayer before, Mohsin was again leg before to Marshall very early. These were early days and Mohsin had barely faced 50 deliveries in all in the series. Yet, he was already looking visibly shaken by the pace of the West Indians who were repeatedly attacking the stumps he seemed to abandon instead of employing the more familiar tactic of short-pitched bowling: Mohsin looked scared.

In the second innings, with Pakistan facing an 89-run deficit, Marshall got Mudassar early. Rameez Raja, batting at one drop, tried to counter attack but was taken at gully. Mohsin, summoning all his grit, dug in and played an uncharacteristically dour innings that reminded one of his vigil at the Oval three years earlier. On a day when Pakistan scored just 155 runs, Mohsin scored a patient 40 that went a long way in blunting the resolve of the West Indian pacemen on a wicket which had started off as lively and was now breaking up and preparing itself for what was to be a killer assault by Abdul Qadir. However, Mohsin clearly looked unsettled and the resolve, though effective, seemed unnatural. Something was amiss.

The second test at Lahore made it obvious: Mohsin was blown away for a duck in the first over by Marshall and then trapped leg before by Tony Gray in the second innings in a Pakistani defeat. At Karachi, he fell twice to Marshall – both time shying towards the leg-side and limply holding his bat, almost guiding the ball to the slip cordon.

Between the first and the second tests, he had played another one-day too and managed to hit a boundary before the inevitable happened: Mohsin Khan bowled Marshall!

Imran was still hopeful though as Mohsin featured in his World Cup 1987 plans. On easier wickets and less hostile attacks, he expected the 31-year-old him to revive himself. It was with this intent that Mohsin was taken to Sharjah and shielded and almost nursed to help him get back into form. He was not played against the West Indies and then pitched against Sri Lanka who were fielding hopelessly outgunned attack to defend a target of 160 in 45 overs with Graeme Labrooy, a medium-paced inswing bowler in his debut season, bowling the first over. The situation was tailor-made for him to ease back into form and he went out wearing a hat instead of the white helmet that he usually wore. However, it was a painful, almost endless struggle for him before he mercifully slogged at a straight delivery from Labrooy and was bowled.

Mohsin’s figures in the 1986-87 season were pitifully bad: In three tests, he scored 48 runs at an average of 8 with 40 of them coming in a single outing. In one-days, he had a total of 15 runs at 5 from three innings.

Imran then dropped Mohsin and promoted Rameez Raja to open instead with Shoaib Muhammad and the two provided Pakistan with the first 50-run opening stand of the season. Mohsin then made himself unavailable for the Australian tour that was to play a one-day tourney at Perth where he would have been expected to struggle on the springy bounce of the WACA wicket. It was more likely though that he would not have made it anyway.

The Return that never came

The situation was ripe for him to score some easy runs in the domestic circuit and avoid a potentially disastrous outing at Perth. What happened though was another absurd little chapter in the history of Pakistan cricket: Pakistan were to tour India after the Perth Challenge Cup and while the team was there, the BCCI announced the touring party without Imran’s consent with two members, Qasim Omar and Mohsin Khan missing. Imran immediately refused to tour on grounds that he wanted his own squad. By the time the assurance came, Qasim Omar, guessing that Imran was behind his ouster, had made thrown the innuendo that the Pakistani Captain did so because he was smuggling drugs of abuse and Mohsin flew to India. Again, it was speculated that it was a ploy by Imran but then Mohsin quit Habib Bank, his national first-class team.

The supposed recall to the team never came as Pakistan, through various mix-and-match combinations of Rizwan-uz-Zaman, Rameez Raja and Shoaib Muhammad somehow managed the series well enough to return home as winners. Around this time, Mohsin gave an irresponsible interview to an Indian journal in which he claimed that his axing was part of a conspiracy. At a time, when it was glaringly obvious that that he was not working hard enough or even trying to get going, such a claim was preposterous. Furthermore, rumours of Mohsin seeking a career in the Indian film industry also started to come out, something noted in The Urdu Cricketer in March 1987. His own statements were conflicting: At times, he blamed Imran, once lamenting that despite playing well against the West Indies (48 runs @ 8), he was dropped. On another occasion, he felt that he had not been the only one to fail. What he could not justify was his visibly scared demeanor and his shying away towards the fine leg when facing the West Indian pacemen. And by quitting Habib Bank, he gave a clear sign of his intentions himself. Indeed, his failure at Sharjah against Sri Lanka was his last international outing.

Mohsin’s Career: A brief assessment

His returns in one-dayers (1877 runs at  under 27 and a strike rate of under 56 i.e. 3.3 runs per over) were not outstanding.

His test career can clearly be divided into three phases:

Span

Matches Innings NO Runs HS Average 100

50

18-Jan-78 to 21-Mar-82

9

15

0

439

74

29.27

0

1

22-Mar-82 to 24-Mar-84

24

39 5 1726 200 50.76 7

5

25-March-84 to 25-Nov-86

15

25 1 544 59 22.67 0

3

 

His peak had lasted exactly two years – starting with his first hundred and ending with his last. Besides this phase, he was, at one point, declared as the best opener in the world by Sunil Gavaskar himself. However, either side of this period, Mohsin scored less than a thousand runs at 25 with just four fifties and no hundreds: certainly not enough for someone used to talking big.

The later years

Ironically, around two years later, he gave an interview stating that he was ready to make a comeback and praised Imran as a leader without blaming him for what he had earlier depicted as a conspiracy to oust him. That never happened because Mohsin had not played even an exhibition game after that Graeme Labrooy dismissal (and has not done so since). If that was not enough, Mohsin appeared two years later in Neelam Ghar, a long-running game show on Pakistan Television and stated that he could easily make a comeback but doing so would be at a cost of a younger, more deserving player, something he would not want to do. This, considering that he had not played any game of cricket for four years, and had been in decline well before that, should have embarrassed him. It did not.

After a string of mediocre films in the Pakistani and the Indian film industries, Mohsin started trying to find his way back into cricket. Among his first commentary assignments was the 1996 Sahara Cup where he sounded like reading a movie script, most obvious when he was on air when describing the third umpire’s call for a run-out.

Around 15 years later, after a mix of assignments with the PCB, including numerous roles in the Selection Committee (which he headed too for a while), he found himself coaching the Pakistani team in 2011 after Waqar Younis quit.

While he was coach, Pakistanis, feasting on England’s inherent fear of spin-bowling and lack of recent exposure to quality spin, whitewashed their opponents. Mohsin was on his way out but wanted to keep the position and predictably, like his emotional retirement and that immature interview in India, reacted recklessly and claimed all credit for himself. A few days later, Pakistanis were whitewashed in the one-day series which though of far lesser importance highlighted the obvious failures in their batting: In the tests, Pakistanis won two close games through spinners but primarily because they did not bat last while the first one was all about Saeed Ajmal shocking unprepared Englishmen. As for Mohsin, he was actually enjoying the fruits of the dirty work that Waqar Younis had done in sorting out a defeated, troubled Pakistani squad.

His replacement, Dav Whatmore, had a tougher task managing what was essentially a mediocre Pakistani line-up and Mohsin expended all his energies in slandering the Australian in a manner that seemed to draw inspiration subconsciously from his earlier days. The biggest embarrassment was that when Whatmore’s tenure ended, Mohsin demanded that he be named his replacement without even submitting an application. Later, he refused to acknowledge Waqar’s position claiming that the former fast-bowler was ‘tainted with corruption’, something he had no problem with earlier when he (Mohsin) was the Chief Selector.

Mohsin could have done better: Perhaps, Imran and Miandad could have been firmer and a more ruthless resolve from them after his retirement could have helped Mohsin think clearly and not take things for granted. His demise at 31 meant the end of the Mudassar-Mohsin era and Pakistan then had to wait for over seven years until Saeed Anwar paired up with Aamer Sohail at Auckland in 1994. In between, several batsmen opened for Pakistan: Mudassar Nazar, Rameez Raja, Shoaib Muhammad and Aamer Sohail. Despite the absence of a steady pair, Pakistan still achieved more than at any other time in its cricketing history, losing just one test series in 8 years.

As for Mohsin, the film career did him little good – apart from a catastrophic family failure, it took away the natural in him and his return to cricket, punctuated with highs, lows and indeed contradiction, left with an overdose of disillusioned impatience which has left him a bitter man, a far cry from what should have been.

What is very, very clear though is that Mohsin’s ouster had nothing to do with Imran’s dictatorial approach or Miandad’s conspiracies. It had everything to do with his own attitude and his refusal to take responsibility and his desire to make easy (and big) money by acting in cheap films than slog it out in the middle at a time when he could easily have played till 1990.

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