Saeed Anwar was all about style. Watching him bat was like having a happiness pill…..
Cricket in the 90s was fantastic. The departure of the likes of Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Sir Vivian Richards or Sir Ian Botham did not matter much as their replacements were not only extremely talented but possessed the aura, which left the fans and critics spellbound. The emergence of Sri Lanka as a force added a dynamic flavour in that decade. Be it the Test or the 50-over format, cricket was not one-dimensional, but extremely competitive and a treat for the eyes.
In the 1980s, pace attacks apart from the West Indians were unidimensional – one Imran, one Kapil, one Hadlee, one McDermott in patches, Lillee in the early 80s – Botham and Bob Willis in phases.
But in the 90s, every attack became potent. Wasim-Waqar, Donald-Pollock-de Villiers, Ambrose-Walsh-Bishop and McGrath-Gillespie-Flemming.
If Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Curtly Ambrose or Allan Donald were in a devastating mood at one end, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Aravinda de Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya would dominate the best of attacks like the gods. Whereas, batters like Michael Atherton and Steve Waugh would fight against all odds to prove that talent is not everything and sheer willpower can conquer any adversity. On the other hand, two guys named Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan waved the magic of spin to leave the world moved with astonishment.
In fact, the 90s saw the revival of spin in a big way, which made it more challenging, as because, the 80s had excellent pacers but no spinners apart from Abdul Qadir. But the 90s saw an explosion of spin with Warne, Murali, Anil Kumble, Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq with his doosras.
A bunch of all-time bests wandered around the cricket fields in a single era like the 90s. Their impact was so immense that some artists like Saeed Anwar got unnoticed. But somehow, whenever the Men in Green took the field, even the neutrals wished to watch Anwar in action. The Pakistan of 90s was more about the Two Ws, Saqlain’s doosra, Inzamam-ul-Haq’s run-outs and match-saving abilities and Shahid Afridi’s mad-hitting. When Anwar came out to bat, in the twinkle of an eye, Wasim, Waqar or Afridi were forgotten as because, nothing in this world could match the aura of that stylish batsman.
Anwar was not as gifted as Lara or Tendulkar. Neither did he have the technique of Sachin nor the temperament of Lara to play a long innings. Perhaps, his problems with fatigue syndrome halted him from playing long innings in Test matches; but on one occasion, when he decided to overcome fatigue, in 1999, the Eden Gardens witnessed one of the best knocks in the history of Test cricket. Anwar had his limitations with footwork and defence, but still, he was the centre of attraction when he was at the crease.
But why everyone loved to watch Anwar, even when a Tendulkar or Mark Waugh was around, remains a moot question. When the matter was about displaying grace and style, there were hardly any batsmen other than Lara to challenge Anwar. His style was the result of a brilliant hand-eye co-ordination, which could place the ball through the tiniest of gaps in the field.
Anwar’s timing was a treat for the romantics. Those drives through the V and covers from the middle of the willow were reminiscent of a David Gower. The sweetly-timed drives would be followed up by some leg-glance with a Hyderabadiflavourr. Those were the moments for which a cricket lover can spend a whole day without getting tired.
Batting is a very complex mechanism. Some batters would make you feel the tension, while others would take you to a thriller-minute ride. Anwar belonged to the category of artists, who are born to provide pleasure.
As long as Anwar batted, you would forget the pangs and anxieties of life, because one could feel the flavor of Iqbal’s poetry and Noorjahan’s song in each stroke of Anwar.
Serenity and calmness prevailed while Anwar batted. That’s why everyone loved to watch Anwar bat.