Monday, January 17, 2022

The first star

Hanif Mohammad played a vital role in Pakistan’s love affair with cricket.

By: |
August 13, 2016 12:37:58 am

On a late November evening in 1951, the then Pakistan prime minister Khawaja Nazimuddin was screaming with joy in Karachi. “Pakistan Zindabad!” was his rallying cry, joined in by 20,000 delirious people — Pakistan had just registered a maiden triumph against visiting Englishmen of the MCC and the moment’s import was sensed by the politician and the crowd that had stayed behind after the game. It was barely a month since the mysterious assassination of the charismatic leader Liaquat Ali Khan, and Nazimuddin had in his embrace two prominent cricketers from the game, Fazal Mahmood and A.H. Kardar. It was the beginning of Pakistan’s love affair with cricket. When things fell apart in society, cricket could be depended on to lift the mood and give pride — and not much has changed since.

Playing a vital part in that game was a diminutive 16-year-old, Hanif Mohammad. He had spent four hours for 64, a key contribution in the victory that hastened Pakistan’s election to the International Cricket Conference. In the previous game, he had earned respect with a knock of 26 accrued in nearly three hours against Brian Statham and Derek Shackleton. At the end of the tour, he was sent to the famous Alf Gover academy in England where Gover announced that he had nothing to teach this “natural” batsman. From a teenage star to its first adult cricketing hero, Hanif, who died in Karachi on August 11, was involved in most of Pakistan’s early triumphs on the field, a stature that was to only grow in the decades to come as Pakistan managed to find many a bowling star but struggled to find great batsmen.

For some, his success validated the idea of Pakistan. Just a few years before that important match against MCC, Hanif would have seen his elder brother Wazir set off to Karachi, even as Indian tanks entered their hometown of Junagadh in Gujarat, to see if the new place was safe for the family to move. The family shifted into a disused temple in Karachi, and saw Hanif rise to demi-god status in a new nation’s imagination.

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