Farewell to Inzamam
23 Mar 2007
By: Manan Shah
Few cricketers have endured more criticism and ridicule than Inzamam-ul-Haq. Inzamam's exceptional talents with the bat are often overshadowed by his less than ideal physique. His disdain for running singles, matched only by the contempt he shows opposing bowlers, is legendary: yet he has never received the accolades reserved for the other greats of his era. In 2005, he was mysteriously left out of Rest of World XI and most observers do not put him alongside Ponting and Dravid as one of the great batsmen of this era. All this despite being the first name opposing teams circled when looking at the Pakistani line up, and scoring just as many runs as the other greats. All through it, he kept making runs - heaps of them in fact. And he made them at perfect times too: his average of almost 80 in winning tests underlines his importance to the fortunes of his team.
Conventional wisdom says that players from the subcontinent cannot play quality fast bowling. Well, except Inzy. The great Imran Khan called him the best player in the world against pace, and it was no exaggeration. Bowl a bouncer: prepare to be hooked and pulled; bowl wide: prepare to suffer. Tim de Lisle once said that the mark of a great batsman is the time that he has to play the ball and if that is indeed the benchmark, then Inzy should be at the top of the list. His style was described as "lazy", and in fact, it was. But the un-initiated never realised how much of a compliment that was. No, he did not like running singles, but he didn't have to. He ended with an average of 50, and 25 centuries to boot, while batting with the grandeur of a king; the pressure never interfering with the quickness of his feet. Cricket is a game of skill, of the mind, and of the reflexes and he possessed all three in abundance.
He leaves the game as the second leading run scorer in one-day internationals - behind only Sachin Tendulkar. As a captain, he was underrated and served his country in that capacity for three years - the longest tenure since Imran Khan and the fourth longest overall. In what is arguably the most difficult job in cricket, he united a historically fractious bunch and stopped England in their tracks after their Ashes high. There was also the small matter of five consecutive fifties in the series, including twin centuries in the second Test. That might have been his best moment as captain and as a batsman: with his shrewd captaincy and magnificent batting, he destroyed English hopes for a recovery in the series.
Of course, that was before it all fell apart at the Oval, with scandal after scandal rocking Pakistani cricket. Inzy seemed like the last person to make a statement, but after being accused of ball tampering by Darrell Hair, he decided he had enough and stayed in the dressing room as a protest. The umpires decided to award the match to England and thus Pakistan became the first side in the history of Test Cricket to forfeit a game. He became a hero to most Pakistanis and a villain to most others, but he stuck by his decision. The subsequent inquiry cleared his team of ball tampering, but found him guilty of bringing the game into disrepute. This verdict was welcomed by Inzy and PCB, who only wanted to be vindicated of cheating.
That entire fiasco aside, and with all due respect to Javed Miandad, Hanif Mohammad, and Saeed Anwar, Inzy has been arguably the greatest batsman Pakistan has ever produced. His 20,000 international runs put him in elite company: company that he thoroughly deserves. His biggest innings was a massive 329 against New Zealand, where he came in at 57 for two and clobbered the New Zealand attack for close to ten hours. Apart from Imran Nazir's 127, no one else in the top seven made 30 and Pakistan ended up winning by an innings. Any illusions of the pitch being a typical subcontinent road were dispelled by Shoaib Akhtar when he took six wickets for just 11 runs in the New Zealand's first innings, lending even more weight to the runs scored by Inzamam.
He got progressively better with age, too: his average after ten tests was 31.06; after 50, it was 43.48; after a hundred tests, it was over fifty. Add the fact that 17 of his 25 centuries came in winning tests, and he is peerless in the modern era. He was a true champion playing for his country, and played more match winning knocks to see Pakistan through than any player alive. It is true that he was there when Pakistani cricket hit seemingly bottomless lows, but he was an integral part of the unbelievable highs too: from the World Cup win in 1992, when his impetuous 60 off 37 balls transformed the semi final against New Zealand, to the epic performance in the England series in 2005.
Cricket at its best is more than a game, and more than mere escapism - especially in the subcontinent. It is followed with fervour unmatched in any sport, anywhere. It enriches our lives: it can give us hope, or plunge us into despair. Inzamam provided all of that in abundance, and the highest compliment we can pay is that while Inzamam was out in the middle, we always had hope. Inzamam may or may not play another game in whites, but if he does not, cricket will be poorer for it. Goodbye, Inzy - and thanks for the highs.