When cricket in the 20th century is discussed, the only popular teams that one can think about are West Indies, Australia, and England. The likes of Sir Don Bradman, Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Leonard Hutton, and Walter Hammond were some of the best Test cricketers ever played the game and these legends royalty ruled the early years of the tenth and last century of the 2nd millennium. There was an unseen star, who was about to unleash himself among the best of the sport. He would bat for an unbelievable number of hours and at an age of 23, which he was barely for a month, and along rescue his country despite the 479-run deficit.
A baby-faced Hanif Mohammad, who had made his Test debut as an 18-year-old, was a part of Pakistan’s touring party that flew to the West Indies for a five-Test series. He was born in the princely British India’s state of Junagadh. His father serves the Indian army, worked in a salt factory and also ran a hotel. Following the partition in 1947, two months later, Hanif along with his family and extended family, were forced to move to Karachi. Although Hanif had been just 13 at the time of the partition, he was old enough to sense the loss and remember it forever.
‘We had left everything in India – we had hotels, shops, petrol pumps, many things,’ he remembers. We had a guesthouse, our own house. But we lost everything.’ While the family was gradually trying to begin afresh in Pakistan, Hanif lost his father, leaving his mother to bring up five children, all boys, including Hanif. His mother herself was a sportswoman and her wish was to watch Hanif play cricket and fill her room with trophies. From there, he extracted inspiration to get going. All he wanted to achieve in his life was to ensure that his mother always smiled.
According to the renowned English coach, Alf Gover, Hanif was born to play cricket. During 1950-51, he had said that he will not coach Hanif and had suggested everyone else in the coaching team do so. “He has got everything. He is a natural. He is a smallish chap with an ease of movement and completeness of technique that were Bradman’s. If he continues to develop normally, he can be one of the very great players,” Gover gave a huge compliment to Hanif, who was yet to show the world what he actually is as a batsman.
The rise of a new star
Six years had passed since Pakistan had played its maiden Test match. In 1958, Pakistan and West Indies locked horns for the first time in a Test series. Having played in the whites since 1928, the hosts were the patent favourites and were expected to thrash Pakistan in all the matches. The Test was hosted by Barbados’ Kensington Oval. During those days, a Test was played for six days with a rest day that was taken after Day two. West Indian skipper Gerry Alexander won the toss and elected to bat first.
West Indies’ innings took off with flying colours. The opening pair shared a 122-run stand before Pakistan’s Fazal Mahmood drew first blood as he dismissed Rohan Kanhai. Meanwhile, Sir Conrad Hunte went on to touch triple digits before he became Mahmood’s second victim. The middle-order batsman Sir Everton Weekes also chipped in with a century and missed a two hundred by mere three runs. Towards the end of the second day, West Indies declared at 579 for 9 and Pakistan batted for a few overs before stumps.
The West Indian duo of Roy Gilchrist and Collie Smith led the attack as Pakistan were bowled out cheaply for 106 runs. In no time, the young Hanif saw himself again at the crease. He surely was under immense pressure with a very less hope to save the Test considering Pakistan were 479 runs behind. This time Hanif and Imtiaz Ahmed found solutions to tackle Gilchrist—the bowler who was considered the fastest of that era. While the wicketkeeper-batsman, Imtiaz, was dismissed due to a terrible LBW decision, Hanif prevailed Day three as he remained not out on 61. Pakistan were 161 for 1.
The situation bettered on Day 4 when Hanif started to catch pace. He had an answer to Gilchrist’s bounce, Eric Atkinson’s swings and tricky spin from Alf Valentine. As the fourth day proceeded, impressed with Hanif’s resistance, the legendary West Indian middle-order batsman, Clyde Walcott, advised the Pakistani to not go for the hook shot against the quickie, Gilchrist.
Hanif seemed way too confident with his shots. Even before the bowler had delivered, he knew what was going to happen and that way he had his shot well planned. Hanif surpassed his previous highest Test score and finished Day four on an unbeaten 161 and Pakistan were 339 for 2, having lost just one wicket that day. The fifth day witnessed Hanif went into what is called ‘zone’ in cricketing terms. He had switched off with the entire world around him; there seemed no pressure of saving the Test; he looked absolutely cool and all that mattered was the bowler in from of him and his next ball.
Recollecting the mindboggling Test, Hanif once said, “By now I had played three new balls and felt that I knew every particle of the wicket and every face on the ground. The wicket was beginning to crack and the ball beginning to stay low on occasion and turn more.” By now he batted for more than two days and was well to complete the third day as stumps on the penultimate day of the Test was not very far then. Middle-order batsman Saeed Ahmed kept him company throughout the day before falling to Collie Smith. He departed for 65 and he was the third consecutive batsman who had shared a 100r-run stand with Hanif in that innings.
Next came in his brother, Wazir Mohammad, who joined Hanif at the middle. Both the brothers remained not out at stumps on Day five at 270 and 31 respectively.
The feat will never be repeated
A frustrated West Indian attack went against cricket’s protocol and allowed their pacer Eric Atkinson to bowl Hanif at the nets ahead of the sixth and final day of the Test. However, the fast bowler troubled Hanif not with the ball but with his whistling tunes while he neared the crease; that distracted the batsman, who then asked the umpire to tell Eric to stop. Incidentally, after a few silent run-ups, Hanif was more distracted and eventually asked Eric to continue his whistles.
At 297, he was a boundary away from becoming the first-ever Pakistan batsman to clinch a Test triple hundred. He achieved that and also went past Hutton’s record of the longest Test innings in terms of minutes. At tea, he was on 334 and that was followed by a superb milestone in Hanif’s career. He went past Don Bradman’s 334, Walter Hammond’s 336 and suddenly only Hutton’s record 364 was unbroken.
At 337, he had shared a 100-run partnership with four batsmen during his 970 minute-innings. If he was dismissed then, the world would never ever witness a classic performance like this one. The knock that lasted for 16 hours will be cherished with memorable anecdotes from the players who were lucky to be a part of. The moment came, Hanif opened his bat to hit the ball past slips but he could only edge Denis Atkinson to the wicketkeeper. However, his job was done. He, single-handedly, had rescued Pakistan’s ship that had almost sunk in Barbados.
Pakistan later in the day declared at 657 for 8 and set a target of 185 for the hosts. The Caribbean’s batted for 11 overs before the match ended in a magnificent draw.
Prior to the first Test between West Indies and Pakistan, that is scheduled to begin on April 21, let’s recount Hanif, the first “Little Master.” The tag was later given to Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar. He was the original inventor of the reverse sweep and was known to never hit the ball in the air. At an age of 23, the concentration displayed by Hanif in Barbados was astonishing. Later he explained it to be god gifted, and why not, the young boy indeed was a gift for cricket from the heavens!