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Pakistan’s First Captain

Abdul Hafeez Kardar was the founding father of Pakistan cricket. He was the country’s first captain and then as administrator, some would say despot, he oversaw the change from the weak and uncompetitive side of the 1960s to a side that was to become one of the strongest in the world game. Kardar’s tenure ended in 1977, so just before his country became the main threat to the West Indian domination of the world game, but Imran Khan’s generation still had much to thank Kardar for. He was responsible for introducing professionalism into the game in Pakistan by encouraging commercial organisations to put money into the game. Some argue that it is a moot point as to whether the country’s rise in cricketing stature was because of or in spite of Kardar’s influence, and there were certainly many who disliked him, and he did make some strange decisions, but ultimately it cannot be argued but that when he left Pakistan cricket it was considerably stronger than when he took over.

Although Kardar was not, as his bearing tended to suggest, of noble birth he did come from a privileged background, his father being a wealthy banker. Kardar senior had two wives, both of whom were said to be devoted to young Kardar. One wonders how much that unusual upbringing might have affected the development of his personality.

Unlike many aspiring sportsmen Kardar seems not to have had the support of his father in the development of his talents. Kardar senior was much more interested in his son maximising his achievements academically, although once it became clear that Kardar’s was a special cricketing talent his father’s attitude did soften and, then known simply as Abdul Hafeez, he made his First Class debut in the 1943/44 season at 18.

An all-rounder, Kardar batted left handed in the middle order and, depending on the needs of his side, could either defend obdurately or attack, although his preference was always to take the game to the bowler if he could. With the ball he was primarily an orthodox left arm spinner, but could turn his hand to medium pace seamers when needed. He was also a fine fielder anywhere, but in particular had a safe pair of hands close to the wicket. He came right to the forefront of the game in what was then still India in 1945/46 by scoring more than 500 runs against Lindsay Hassett’s Australian Services side, who wound down after their tour of England by playing a series of matches on the sub-continent on their way home.

Test cricket returned to England in 1946 with a visit from India and his performances against the Services side won Kardar a place in the side. In truth he experienced a lean tour. At this time he was purely a batsman (he bowled only seven wicketless overs on the whole trip) and in a damp English summer the soft wickets did not suit him. He averaged just 17, failed to make even a half century and came tenth in the tour averages. There were however moments. His highest score, 43, came in the first Test by way of a spirited counter attack and in the second Test a second innings 35 in partnership with Vinoo Mankad was instrumental in enabling India to hold on for a draw.

The most significant development to occur in Kardar’s life whilst on tour was the introduction by his captain, the former England Test cap Iftikhar Ali Khan (the Nawab of Pataudi Senior), to Oxford University. Kardar spent three years studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He won his blue in each of the three summers between 1947 and 1949. His batting remained a little hit and miss, but with the ball he rapidly got used to English conditions and by his final summer at Oxford, after which he played for Warwickshire, he was fourth in the national averages and of those who played anything like a full season behind only Gloucestershire’s off spinner Tom Goddard.

There was one more season for Kardar with Warwickshire in 1950. He was not quite as successful with the ball as in past summers, but he was selected to play for the Gentlemen at Lord’s, and the county would certainly have been happy if he had chosen to stay. Instead he returned to Pakistan to help them in their bid for Test status. His appointment as captain looks an obvious one. He was a fluent English speaker and, more importantly, had experience of playing cricket full time and in unfamiliar conditions. Initially his appointment proved controversial in Pakistan, but that did not last long. In 1951/52 Nigel Howard led an MCC tour of the sub-continent and the itinerary included two unofficial Tests against Pakistan. Kardar led Pakistan to the better of a draw in the first match before, in the second, finding himself at the crease with his side wobbling on 178-5 chasing 284 to win. With an unbeaten 50 Kardar saw his side home by four wickets, and became a national hero overnight. His detractors were silenced.

Test status came soon after the victory over Howard’s men and that was followed by an inaugural series in India in 1952/53. Considering it would be more than a quarter of a century later that a Test between the two countries next resulted in a win for either side the 52/53 series was an exciting one. In the first Test Pakistan had no answer to India’s spinners and lost by an innings. In the second it was the Indians turn to be perplexed, this time by the seam bowling of Fazal Mahmood on the Lucknow mat, and Pakistan returned the favour by inflicting an innings defeat on their hosts.

The third Test proved decisive as the Indian spinners once more dominated the Pakistanis and the home side took the match by ten wickets. Pakistan might have drawn level in the fourth match in Madras (Chennai) had rain not washed out the third and fourth days. In the two days play that were possible Kardar, with a fighting 79, was helped by the Pakistan tail to get his side to 344 and when the rain came India were 175-6 in reply, two of the wickets having been taken by the Pakistani skipper. The fifth Test was another opportunity to draw level. Pakistan started well, then looked in danger of defeat before ending up drawing the game without too many alarms.

In 1954 Kardar returned to England as captain of his country. In view of the lack of any real First Class infrastructure he was able to persuade the Board to organise an extended training camp before the trip, and he was largely able to select the squad he wanted. There were only two truly international class players in Pakistan’s side, Hanif Mohammad and Fazal Mahmood, but they still surpassed all expectations by winning the final Test at the Oval to square the series. The hard hearted will say that only the weather saved them in the second Test, and that England’s complacency on various fronts led to their own demise at the Oval. But the truth is that in a damp summer wholly alien to the Pakistanis they undertook a full tour of England and lost only three times. One of those defeats, to Yorkshire at Sheffield, featured a splendid fightback from the visitors that included Kardar’s one century of the tour. The second Test apart the only other occasion on which their colours were lowered was by a powerful invitational eleven at the Scarborough Festival right at the end of the tour.

As far as the Oval is concerned Kardar led his men superbly. In a very low scoring game his own contributions of 36 and 17 were gritty innings which were crucial to his side’s victory. Overall on the tour his achievements were modest, and a shoulder problem hampered his bowling to the extent that he took only ten wickets all summer, and paid more than fifty runs each for them, but his captaincy could not be faulted. He led his young team with great skill.

After they returned from England Pakistan hosted their first ever Tests, a five match series against India. It proved to be attritional stuff as all five Tests were drawn without either side ever really having an opening. The possible exception was the final Test, sadly interrupted by rain. Had the weather held what was to remain Kardar’s highest Test score of 93 might have given his side a chance had there been another day available.

The next season saw Pakistan’s first series victory when they entertained New Zealand. The home side won the three match series 2-0 and would certainly have made that a clean sweep had the weather allowed just a little more play in the third Test. The series was the only time in his Test career that Kardar made a real impact with the ball, taking ten wickets at 15.10, the shoulder problems clearly behind him.

In 1956, on the way home from their ‘Lakering’ in England the Australians played a single Test in Pakistan. Ian Johnson won the toss for the visitors and batted. Their innings lasted 53 overs and one ball, every single one of them bowled by Fazal and Khan Mohammad. Fazal took the first six wickets, before Khan mopped up the rest. Australia were all out for just 80. In turn the Australian bowlers reduced Pakistan to 70-5, Kardar’s cue for another captain’s innings. With the eldest Mohammad brother, Wazir, he added 104 before being dismissed for 69. Eventually the lead was 119. Australia did better in their second innings so that, although Fazal and Khan were once again the only wicket takers they did need a break. Kardar took on that task and kept Australia under the cosh as he conceded just twelve runs in twelve overs. With a target of only 69 Pakistan recorded a historic victory by nine wickets.

The end of Kardar’s tenure as Pakistan captain came at the conclusion of their first series against West Indies, in the Caribbean in 1959. Pakistan saved the first Test thanks to Hanif’s monumental 337, an innings which stretched to more than 16 hours. West Indies won the next three Tests but at least Pakistan comfortably achieved a consolation victory in the last, so Kardar went out on a high. He never really gave a clear explanation as to why he chose to retire at 33. He wasn’t lost to the game however as he was immediately appointed a national selector, and there was a school of thought that believed he always intended to make a comeback.

The new captain was Fazal, and under him Pakistan lost at home to both West Indies and Australia. In 1960/61 a tour of India was due and, after surgery in England on a troublesome cartilage, Kardar resigned his role of selector and announced the comeback, clearly with an eye on the captaincy for the Indian series. There was a trial match between sides led by Fazal and Kardar. In time the old warhorse realised he was neither fit enough for the First Class game nor in any sort of form and he stood aside, leaving Fazal to lead Pakistan on a tour that will surely never be matched for its tedium. Not only were all five Tests, extended to five days in order to produce results, drawn, but so were all of the other ten tour matches.

In the final analysis Kardar’s playing career looks ordinary. For Pakistan his batting average was only 24.91, and his 21 wickets came at a cost of 45.42 runs each. There were some extremely valuable innings in there however, and very few easy runs. With the ball he used himself as a stock bowler, always leaving the best bowling conditions to Fazal, Khan and Mahmood Hussain and the confidence he gave to his young team and the pressure he took from them cannot be measured in terms of runs and wickets.

Pakistani cricket went backwards in the 1960s, until Kardar was given his second shot at the job of national selector in 1969, and was subsequently elevated to the presidency of the BCCP in 1972. His friendship with Prime Minister Bhutto meant that what is now known as the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore became the Board’s property and a permanent office was established there. It was from here that Kardar set about financing cricket by persuading the country’s major companies to employ cricketers and form their own sides, after which the major teams in the country became the likes of Habib Bank, National Bank and Pakistan International Airways.

On the other side of the coin Kardar could be capricious and was not a man to get on the wrong side of. Saeed Ahmed was one man whose career ended prematurely as a result of upsetting him. Saeed was a stylish batsman, good enough to average a fraction over 40 in a 41 Test career. He wasn’t the world’s worst off spinner either and initially was admired greatly by Kardar who was responsible for  the start of his international career when he took him to the Caribbean in 1957/58.

The problems for Saeed came to a head in Australia in 1973 where his Test career came to an ignominious end at Kardar’s hands, the headline being that he was banned for life for what amounted to cowardice. The truth was rather more complex. No respecter of instructions Saeed had taken on the board twice in the mid sixties, taking his wife on tours to New Zealand and England against instructions, although that disobedience was presumably forgotten when he was appointed captain for the series against England in 1968/69.

The tour had been hastily arranged when, because of the D’Oliveira Affair, England’s planned trip to South Africa was cancelled. This was a time of much unrest in Pakistan generally, and indeed a riot in the third Test brought a series that should have been abandoned at the first sign of trouble weeks before to a swift end. To be fair to Saeed drawing all three Tests was not a bad result, particularly in light of the ill-feeling his appointment in place of Hanif had caused.

Kardar moved swiftly to take the captaincy from Saeed in order to install his own man, leg spinner Intikhab Alam. Saeed was furious and deeply critical of the decision. Banned by Kardar for his impertinence he clearly realised that he had bitten off more than he could chew and apologised. The apology was accepted but did not see Saeed get a place in the party to tour New Zealand in 1969/70.  He did however make the side for the trip to England in 1971, but then went absent without leave for the first two Tests. Kardar set great store by punctuality and must have been furious.

In 1972/73 Pakistan visited Australia for the first time. In the second Test, contrary to his wishes, Saeed was selected to open the innings. With innings of 50 and 6 the experiment could not be said to have been a failure, but there was a spat with a young Dennis Lillee and with the prospect of a Sydney green top to come Saeed pulled out of the third Test with a back injury. Kardar didn’t believe him, and he was unceremoniously dropped, sent home and banned for life by Kardar. The ban was eventually lifted, but Saeed never played for Pakistan again. Was there any truth in the allegation of cowardice? Given Saeed’s first five Tests were as a twenty year old in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Caribbean, and he averaged 56 against an attack that included the legendary Roy Gilchrist that seems improbable. Fazal Mahmood described him as the bravest batsman Pakistan had ever had. On the other hand Mushtaq Mohammad has expressed the view that Saeed was always a nervous, cowardly player at the best of times. Only Saeed himself will know exactly where the truth lies

Back in 1952 a 17 year old Hanif opened the batting for his country thanks in large part to the efforts of Kardar to secure his selection. Hanif went on to forge a reputation as his country’s first great batsman. At the start of the 1969/70 season he ran off a string of centuries and was looking forward to another three or four years at the top, buoyed by assurances from his old skipper that the selectors thinking was the same. In the first Test against New Zealand Hanif opened the batting with his youngest brother Sadiq and, on an underprepared pitch, showed all his grim determination during two half century partnerships.

Sadiq apart only another debutant, Younis Ahmed, scored more runs in the match for Pakistan than Hanif. The blemish was that Hanif put down four catches. The wicket made slip catching a difficult occupation, vividly illustrated by the fact that two of Hanif’s transgressions were opportunities that had already hit ‘keeper Wasim Bari’s gloves. Kardar however decided enough was enough. He told fellow selector and Hanif’s eldest brother Wazir to tell the ‘Little Master’ to immediately announce his retirement. Wazir refused so Kardar tried to enlist journalists to do his dirty work for him. Hanif didn’t fall for that though and in the end Kardar had to confront Hanif himself and, according to Hanif, threw in to the mix the suggestion that if he didn’t do as he was told the careers of Sadiq and Mushtaq would suffer. Hanif felt he had no choice, and duly retired. In his autobiography Hanif said that later Kardar invited him to make himself available for selection again. Hanif told Kardar he would, but only in response to a public request from him. Perhaps not surprisingly that would have been a climb down too far for Kardar, and it never came.

Another man whose Test career suffered from Kardar’s attitude was the aforesaid Younis. After his gritty performance on debut he was less impressive in the second Test but still did not expect to be dropped from the side for the third. When he was left out he let Kardar know he was not happy and in doing so no doubt sowed the seeds of what happened later. There was no invitation to tour England in 1971, but then in 1972/73 Kardar remembered Younis and asked him to make himself available for the tour of Australia. Younis had already signed a contract to play for South Australia in the Sheffield Shield and decided he had to honour that. When, the following season, Younis visited South Africa with a private tour the hard line anti-apartheid Kardar banned him for life, thus ending any prospect of a lengthy Test career*.

Another career that bit the dust on the tour to Australia was that of Mohammad Ilyas. A batsman who had never quite fulfilled his promise he had been in trouble for disciplinary reasons during the tour and had, most unhelpfully, thrown a punch at Kardar during one ‘meeting’. Sacked on the spot on one version of the story Ilyas had his wallet, luggage and passport confiscated and was deserted by the team necessitating his spending several nights sleeping rough before the Sinhalese cricketer Gamini Goonesena recognised him and took pity on him. Wherever the truth Ilyas stayed in Australia before relocating to England. He did eventually return to Pakistan and in time became Chairman of selectors himself. The red mist clearly never left him though as in 2007 he was banned from the Gaddafi stadium after making threats following the omission from a side of Imran Farhat, his son in law.

In 1987 Kardar published an autobiography in Pakistan, although he made no mention of any of the above incidents. He confined himself to making the observation that as Hanif and Mushtaq turned pompous as they matured, and he told a story of how, before the 1972/73 Australasian trip, Mushtaq refused to miss a match in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) he had been contracted to play in. Implacably hostile to Apartheid Kardar was clearly deeply hurt and angered by the stand off and will not have forgotten it.

It was not only with his countrymen that Kardar was difficult. Back in the 1970s he was already trying to establish a South Asian bloc with a view to abolishing the veto that England and Australia held in the ICC. He also made waves by, as long ago as 1975, stressing a need for neutral umpires in Test matches.

By the time Mushtaq Mohammad became captain of Pakistan the cricket world was changing. Kardar probably believed that Pakistan’s Test players should be grateful to him for the fact that they were paid at all, and there was a series of bitter disputes in which the players sought greater remuneration. World Series Cricket was just around the corner and when it arrived and his senior players signed for Kerry Packer Kardar accused them of being mercenaries. The end was close for Kardar however and, his influence greatly reduced by the 1977 coup d’etat that removed Bhutto from power, he resigned and the Imran era began. That his reign should end on a sour note was unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable given the way the balance of power between players and administrators was shifting.

In terms of any official involvement Kardar was lost to the game, but he did move into the commentary box. It was whilst doing that job that he suffered a heart attack in India in 1987. Kardar survived that particular setback and briefly returned to public life, being Pakistan’s ambassador to Switzerland between 1991 and 1993. At that point his health problems necessitated two angioplasty operations. Tough as old boots as ever he got over those as well but the end came in 1996 when he collapsed whilst watching the India versus Pakistan World Cup quarter final. He recovered sufficiently to return home but died in his sleep three days later. He was 71. His wife of more than forty years had predeceased him four years earlier. The couple were survived by a son and two daughters.

*Younis was recalled for two further Tests by Imran Khan more than 17 years later. He is an interesting character whose story you can find here, and whose excellent autobiography we reviewed last year.



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