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Majid Khan: The Prince of Wales

These days Majid Khan’s name seems in the main to attach itself to that item of cricketing trivia that records that his is one of the two families that have given three generations to Test cricket, not to mention two cousins and an uncle. This is a great pity because at his best Majid was as brilliant a stroke maker as there was in world cricket, and he was in the vanguard of the influx of overseas players who broadened the appeal of English county cricket from 1968. .

Majid’s father, Jahangir Khan, was an all-rounder who played in India’s inaugural Test, at Lord’s in 1932 and, whilst at Cambridge University, all three Tests in the 1936 series. He achieved nothing with the bat in any of them, and took just four wickets, all in the second innings of the 1932 match, but they were a useful quartet; Percy Holmes, Frank Woolley, Walter Hammond and Eddie Paynter. Son Bazid had just a single opportunity, against West Indies in the Caribbean in 2005, innings of 9 and 23 in a 276 run defeat not being enough to keep his place.

A prodigious young talent Majid was, initially, primarily a fast medium bowler, although his ability as a batsman was also clear from the beginning. He made his First Class debut at just 15, and began with figures of 6-67. When his side, Lahore B, replied they had slumped to 51-5 when the teenager came to the crease. An unbeaten 111 later and they were on course for victory. Pakistan’s selectors have never been backward in giving youth a chance and there was talk of the teenager being chosen for the party that toured England in 1962 under his cousin, Javed Burki, but in the end the selectors decided against that and his first visit to England was delayed until the following summer when he was a member of a young Pakistan Eaglets side for whom he did enough to earn praise from Wisden

After 1962 it was more than two years before Pakistan played another Test, a one off at home against Australia and, by now 18, Majid was called up. He celebrated his selection by inviting his friends to an ice cream party and in the years ahead would gain a reputation as something of a trencherman. In his first Test innings he batted at eight. He was out without scoring and did not get to the crease in the second innings. He opened the bowling with another Pakistani batting star of the not too distant future, Asif Iqbal. There were three wickets for Majid in a match that Pakistan emerged from with an honourable draw. Twice Majid dismissed Bill Lawry and his other victim was Brian Booth. All three wickets were taken with short pitched deliveries.

Despite those results the end of Majid the strike bowler was nigh. There were doubts expressed about the legality of his action, particularly when he bowled the bouncer, and he never attempted to bowl fast again. The remainder of the 27 Test wickets that he ended his career with were taken with either medium pace or off spin. It is a shame about the kink in his action as he was clearly pretty sharp, teammate Shafqat Rana saying of that bouncer; it was really nasty, quick and coming straight at your eyes.

There followed a return trip to Australia and New Zealand which, because of his bowling travails, Majid missed out on. Pakistan drew all of the Tests that they played, but only Hanif Mohammad and, to a lesser extent, Saeed Ahmed excelled with the bat, and once the New Zealanders followed the Pakistanis back for a three Test home series Majid, having scored plenty of runs domestically in the meantime, found his way into the side as a front line batsman. He did not achieve much on his return but, his side enjoying a big win, he kept his place and in the second Test cemented his position by contributing 80 to a stand of 217 with Hanif, and adding another 44 in the second innings.

In 1967 Pakistan returned to England for a three match series. They shared the summer with the Indians who, unfortunately for them, had the first and damper half and although they put on a brave performance in the first Test after conceding a first innings lead of 386 they lost their series 3-0. Pakistan at least managed to draw at Lord’s, courtesy of a nine hour marathon from Hanif with staunch support from Asif, but they lost the other two Tests and Majid managed just 38 runs in six innings. 

On the tour as a whole Majid did rather better, finishing second to Hanif in the averages with 42.30. He also played one particular innings that changed the course of his career. At Swansea between the first two Tests, in a mere 89 minutes at the crease, Majid scored an unbeaten 147 including as many as 13 sixes, then a record for an innings in England. The match itself was drawn but the Glamorgan club and their supporters were captivated. The club’s secretary, the autocratic Wilf Wooller, had been at Cambridge with Majid’s father and he persuaded the committee that Majid was their man for the new era of overseas players.

In 1967 Glamorgan had finished fourteenth in the County Championship, as they had the season before. In 1968 however their fortunes changed and, Majid second only in their batting averages to Alan Jones, rose to third in the table and recorded the same number of wins as the Champions, Yorkshire. Had they not lost of each of their last three matches the Welsh county might have lifted the title. Of Majid Wisden commented; By July he had found his touch and the power of his batting was beginning to thrill the crowd. His quick and natural reaction made him a joy to watch, and he played some brilliant innings.

Majid’s ready acceptance by his teammates and public alike was no doubt made easier by his calm approach to everything he did. He never got rattled by events on the field and treated everything on its merits and not by the reputation of whoever was bowling. Certainly in those days Majid neither smoked or drank although, an orthodox Muslim, he did not express any disapproval of those who chose to. He was also a great believer in the spirit of the game and throughout his career would immediately leave the crease if he thought he was out. No doubt that Test average of his would have crossed the threshold of forty had he been less scrupulous in that respect. 

There were three Tests for Majid against England during the hastily arranged series in the following winter of 1968/69 in which his best score in four innings was 68. He then returned to Wales for a season that began slowly but ended with Glamorgan winning the title by 31 clear points and going through the season unbeaten. Once again Majid was second only to Jones in the averages and his efforts earned him recognition as one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year. The best example of the way he could play came in the penultimate Championship fixture of the season against Worcestershire, a match that would almost certainly have been lost had not, in a Glamorgan first innings of 265, Majid not looked in a different class to everyone else on show – he scored a century before lunch and ended up on 156, with no one else scoring more than 37.

The following season Majid followed in his father’s footsteps and went up to Cambridge. Had he not done so and been available for the whole season Glamorgan would almost certainly have made it back to back titles. As it was they had to be content with just half a season from their overseas star and the runners up spot. Again the batting averages were headed by Jones and Majid, the distance between them now reduced to just a single run.

In 1971 Pakistan visited England again. His studies prevented Majid joining the party, although he was available for the first two Tests. He got to the crease twice, and while innings of 35 and 9 were better than in 1967, he had still failed to do himself justice in the Test arena. He did however play a leading role in the other tour game in which he took part, and was the main reason for Pakistan’s defeat. Majid played for Cambridge against the tourists, top scored with 94 in his side’s first innings and captained the light blues to a ten wicket victory.

His academic year and the tour over Majid returned to South Wales, but had a disappointing time as he was well behind skipper Tony Lewis and the second overseas player the county were now permitted, West Indian Roy Fredericks, in the county’s averages. To make matters much worse the county tumbled to sixteenth in the table. They didn’t do a great deal better the following summer, but for Majid at least the 1972 season was a memorable one. He was the only man in the country to score more than 2,000 runs (1,332 at 66.60 for Glamorgan) and was well ahead of Fredericks, Lewis and Jones in the county’s averages. In the country as a whole only Geoffrey Boycott and Rohan Kanhai averaged more than Majid’s 61.00.

By December of 1972 Majid was 26 and had been a Test player for eight years. Despite that he had played only a dozen Tests over that time and had managed just a couple of half centuries. It had been seven years sine Pakistan had played a Test against anyone other than England, but finally that winter in the space of just over three months they were to play three Tests in Australia, followed by three more in New Zealand, and round that off with three at home against England.

The Pakistanis lost all three Tests in Australia, but at least Majid had the consolation of finally scoring a Test century in the second match at the MCG. His 158 helped Pakistan to a total of 574 and a lead of 133, although in an exciting match they were all out for 200 in the fourth innings chasing 293 for victory. Majid impressed all the Australians, and Dennis Lillee in particular. Lillee describes Majid as;  a fantastic player, one of the best I ever bowled to, a true stroke player. He had as much grace as anyone I had ever seen. Everything was done with style and elegance; he was like my image of a prince, and everything was just majestic.

It is Lillee who also gives rise to one of the enduring stories about Majid, whose appearance at the crease was always distinctive as he wore cream pads and, throughout his career, a wide brimmed white canvas hat. In reality that too, although it was no doubt white when new, over the years became anything but. Lillee made it his mission to remove the hat and came close on a few occasions in 1972/73. Majid promised him he would give him the hat were he ever to do so and when, four years later, Lillee eventually succeeded Majid’s immediate reaction was to pick up the hat and hand it to Lillee. Sadly for those who are fascinated by such items of memorabilia Mrs Lillee did not know what was going on, and later threw the treasured trophy into the washing machine causing it to rather lose its magic.

In New Zealand Pakistan were more successful, winning that series 1-0. There was another century for Majid in the third Test, and he also scored 79 in each innings of the first Test thus failing to make a significant contribution only, rather oddly, in the match his side won. Returning home to face England Majid almost made it centuries in three consecutive series when, in the last of three draws, he was one of three men (teammate Mushtaq Mohammad and Dennis Amiss were the other two) to be dismissed for 99. Majid had led Pakistan in this series, but there was a feeling that despite the way he batted his captaincy was rather pedestrian and that the series should have been won. In any event when Pakistan played their next series, in England in 1974, Majid was back in the ranks.

Appointed county captain for 1973 Majid’s leadership of Glamorgan was no more successful than that of his country. In the end in 1976 his tenure ended and with it his association with the county. He had carried the batting through the years 1973-75 and it was not his fault that the bowling resources at his disposal lacked penetration. Nonetheless a whispering campaign against him gathered pace amongst supporters and eventually he could take no more, resigning the captaincy in 1976, a summer when he also suffered a loss of form. It was a sad end to an association that had given so much pleasure to so many.

Whilst his county career had its troubles Majid had found a new role for Pakistan, taking over as opening batsman for the second Test with England in 1974 and forging what proved to be a solid partnership with Sadiq Mohammad, the youngest of the famous brotherhood. He just missed a century at the Oval in 1974, scoring 98, but made his first century from the top of the order at home against West Indies the following winter.

If Majid wanted a distraction from events in Glamorgan he certainly got it over the southern hemisphere summer of 1976/77 with a visit from New Zealand followed by tours to Australia and West Indies. The New Zealanders were beaten 2-0, and only dropped catches prevented the Pakistanis taking a clean sweep of the three Tests. Majid’s tendency to get out when close to a century struck again in the second Test when he scored 98, but he got over the line in the drawn third Test with a magnificent century before lunch, adding another 50 in the second innings.

It was during the Australian trip that Majid surrendered his hat to Lillee, but a great Australian side, beginning to age and no doubt distracted by the forthcoming World Series Cricket adventure could not repeat their 3-0 triumph of four years before, both sides enjoying one big win with an interesting draw in the first Test meaning the series was shared. There were no big scores for Majid but he averaged almost fifty to ensure he was in the right frame of mind for the trip to the Caribbean.

The series between West Indies and Pakistan, only the second ever between the two nations and eighteen years after the first, was an excellent one. The West Indian pace battery was not quite at its most fearsome, but Colin Croft, Joel Garner and Andy Roberts were a formidable combination. In the end the home side won the series 2-1, but their last pair had to hang on amidst great tension to save the first Test. For Majid there were 530 runs at 53.00 and his six hour 167 in the third Test, destined to remain his highest Test score, ensured a draw in that one.

At 31 Majid was at his best in the West Indies and it is hardly surprising that Kerry Packer wanted him for WSC, nor that the was attracted by the financial rewards that came with it, and he was one of five Pakistanis who signed (the others were Imran, Asif, Zaheer Abbas and Mushtaq Mohammad). Majid did not however enjoy a great deal of success. Only selected for two Supertests he had a single half century to show for those. In fifteen ODIs he never once passed fifty, and had the miserable average of 11.21. 

Once peace returned to the world game in 1979 Majid resumed his Test career and played on for another three years. He wasn’t quite the player he had been although there were still some highlights, including a final century against Lillee and Australia at home in Lahore. After that however major innings eluded Majid and his last important knock was one of 74 against Australia at the MCG in December 1981 which helped set up a face saving innings victory. That apart there was little to celebrate for Majid whose relationship with cousin Imran became strained as the latter came to the view that Majid was no longer worth his place in the side.

After leaving Glamorgan in 1976 Majid had been back to England, but had not played any First Class cricket. At 35 he had a last opportunity when picked for an experienced side, led for the first time by Imran, who toured in the second half of the 1982 summer. Sadly Majid was patently not the player he had been and he struggled for runs, only coming in to the Test side for the third and final match after first Wasim Raja and then Haroon Rashid had been discarded. In a close match Majid scored 21 and 10. In the course of the first innings he became his country’s leading scorer, but there was no fluency and he never looked at ease. He passed fifty just once during the tour, although that would have given him some satisfaction as his 88 came against Glamorgan.

His many supporters would have hoped that Majid would go out on a high, and with nine home Tests scheduled for 1982/83, including six against India, the opportunity was certainly there, particularly as Pakistan took three of the first four Indian Tests to move into an unassailable 3-0 lead. Despite Imran’s views Majid came in for the fifth Test. He survived nine deliveries but was then adjudged to have feathered a Kapil Dev delivery to Syed Kirmani behind the stumps. He chose to stay put, perhaps just disappointed, or perhaps hoping that his reputation as a walker would come to his aid and the umpire would not end his innings before it had started. In any event the Majid who walked back to the pavilion for a final innings duck appeared, for once, to be less than happy with the decision that had sent him on his way. Rain made sure that he did not get a second opportunity to go out in style.

His playing days over Majid remained in the game with, at times, both Pakistan and the ICC. The most controversial of his administrative roles was after he was appointed to the position of Chief Executive of the Pakistan Cricket Board in 1996 a position he resigned three years later after making allegations of match fixing against the side following their unexpected defeat by Bangladesh at the 1999 World Cup in England. Significant as Majid’s off field contributions to the game were they paled into insignificance when compared with his majestic batting. He was a fine batsman at Test level for Pakistan, but even then was not quite the man he had been in the valleys of South Wales in the late 1960s and early 1970s.


Thanks. Lovely article

Comment by Mkbeg | 8:59am GMT 19 December 2021

Thanks for the lovely article. An elegant, graceful player. I was lucky to see him at the Oval in 74 when he got 98 before lunch, missed his hundred, would’ve been the first ton before lunch since Bradman. John Arlott described it as Majid giving the impression that he had something more important to attend to other than the cricket. Saw him at Trent Bridge a week or two later when he got a hundred against England in the one-day game.
He played hockey for Glamorgan too, certainly for Swansea. I have relatives there who did.

Comment by Sandy | 5:26pm GMT 1 February 2022

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