The Famed Spin Wizard

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The Famed Spin Wizard


Abdul Qadir will be remembered as the man who rejuvenated the dying art of leg-spin

Inducted into PCB’s Hall of Fame last week, Abdul Qadir will be remembered forever as the man who not only rejuvenated the dying art of leg-spin but also took it to another level.

With his googlies and other varieties, later to be called flipper and straighter ones, he left many from batters to commentators to cricket writers in absolute awe of his skill.

He was all the more a mystic due to his rumble jumble bowling action with his arms flailing as he ran up and with a high elbow and a leap finally releasing the ball. Often his arm doing a repeat action that the late Richie Benaud, commentating, once described it as: “He bowls. And then he bowls again!”

When he made his Test debut against England in Lahore in 1977-78, he was marketed as a prodigy but few in Pakistan knew about him. After the first appearance, even though he took just one wicket, he was the most talked about.

Some say that his time came for Pakistan earlier than it would have because of the late Kerry Packer, who whisked away four top Pakistani cricketers, among them the captain Mushtaq Mohammad, for the breakaway league.


For long Mushtaq, a specialist batter but a wily leg-spinner had craved to be the lead leggie in the Pakistan team. However, he was relegated to a stopgap by Intikhab Alam, Pakistan’s captain from the early to the mid-70s who was then rated the best leg-spinner in the world.

Once the captaincy came to Mushtaq in late 1976, he jumped to claim what he thought to be his rightful place, and Intikhab was ousted from the team itself, retiring within a year.

Now he wanted to bowl again though on a lesser level since Iqbal Qasim, the left armer, had by then become the first-choice spinner for Pakistan. But Mushtaq was still good enough to take 5-28 in a match-winning performance in the fourth Test in Trinidad in 1977 and also had match figures of 9-119 in the first Test in New Zealand two years later.

In between that, with Mushtaq playing in the Packer series and the Pakistani Cricket Board deciding not to play those players against the touring England team in 1977-78, they opted to bring in the 23-year-old Abdul Qadir for the first Test in Lahore.

The Pakistanis all over the country were thus introduced to his effervescence on the field, the bubbly character who may have taken a solitary wicket on a deader than dead pitch and negative batting by both England and Pakistan, but excited with his flight.

Even with the deadpan and defensive captaincy of stand-in skipper Wasim Bari, who just wanted to draw the series, Abdul Qadir devastated England batting on another flat pitch in the second Test in Hyderabad, taking 6-44.


It moved John Woodcock, considered one of the most insightful cricket writers of the world, to write in The Times, “Qadir bowled beautifully. He has a well-disguised googly, is a genuine spinner of the ball and gives very little away.”

However, on the return tour to England a few months later, Bari opted to play Iqbal Qasim as the sole spinner and Qadir never got the opportunity.

He was to remain in the wilderness until the summer of ’82 when Imran Khan became the captain and immediately asked for Qadir for the tour of England.

The selectors resisted, insisting he would not be useful in English conditions but Imran was adamant. By the end of the sixth county game, Qadir was the most talked about cricketer in the English media as he ran circles around the county batters taking some 30 wickets in the process.

But Qadir was time and again denied wickets in the Test matches and Imran at the end of the series put it down to the inexperience of England’s home umpires. He felt that they never read Qadir’s leg spinners, let alone his googlies and flippers as they had never umpired to that level of leg spin.

Time and again he was denied LBWs and it has been said that had DRS technology been employed in those days and through the 1980s, Qadir could well have finished with over 400 Test wickets.



Breaking into one day cricket

Rarely has a cricketer pressed for his right to play one day cricket the way Abdul Qadir did back in the early 80s. And that considering the whole world of cricket, not just the PCB and selectors, was of the firm opinion that leg-spinners didn’t have a place in limited-overs cricket.

Interestingly, it was Imran Khan, who publicly advocated for Qadir to come back into the Test side after he had been consistently ignored following his debut series, who told him that his style of bowling wouldn’t be successful in the one-day format.

The story was told by Qadir himself. It was in the spring of 1983 at Lahore’s Bagh-e-Jinnah ground where the two often practised. Qadir hardly played one-day cricket admittedly (four matches in the 1980-81 season) but told Imran that he bowls well, can get 20-25 runs with his batting and is a reasonably good fielder. Imran answered that nobody plays a leg-spinner in one-dayers.

At this, Qadir threw him a challenge. He would bowl to Imran and if he hit him for fours and sixes he’d accept his logic but if he got him out Imran would seriously think about playing Qadir in the ODIs.


Imran agreed and threatened to hit him in the car park. After a few deliveries that Imran played along the ground, he was bowled by what was a pacy googly. Qadir recalls that neither of them said anything but Imran didn’t hit any six. They promised to play again the next day.

The next day, a few shots went in the air but no six. Qadir knew Imran’s weakness was around leg-stump and bowled a bit there until he bowled him again with a googly. Imran was convinced and once again locked horns with the selectors when the team for the 1983 World Cup was to be announced.

The selectors were upset. Qadir had never played ODIs and to take him to the World Cup, that also in English conditions, just didn’t make sense. Imran, as always, prevailed.

A few weeks later, Qadir was on the plane to England with the Pakistan team that was going to play in the 1983 World Cup. But his place in the final eleven was still not guaranteed.


The match winner


He wasn’t selected for the first group game against Sri Lanka but in the subsequent fixture against New Zealand, Imran brought him on within 10 overs as the Kiwis’ openers were spraying the field.

To his credit, Qadir returned with figures of 4-21 off his 12 overs (at the time World Cup consisted of 60 overs matches) while all other bowlers went between 3 and 6 runs an over.

Though Pakistan still lost the game, Qadir, however, had proved his point. The world looked in awe as a specialist leg-spinner had not just been included and bowled his full quota but also played the role of a strike bowler.

And the performance was such that in his very first ODI, he won the man of the match award despite being on the losing side. Remember, he’d also won the MoM in only his second Test back in 1978.

However he went for over five an over against England without a wicket and on the eve of the return match against Sri Lanka, manager Intikhab Alam walked up to him and told him he would not be playing the game.

Qadir was bitterly disappointed wondering why one bad game against England had been put against him. Intikhab told him it was just that Sri Lankans played spin well. They had scored 288 in the first game against Pakistan.


The next morning as he was practising, Intikhab ran up to him again and told him to get into the kit as he was playing. Qadir recalled he was upset at not being mentally prepared but of course, ran inside to get ready.

Pakistan batted first and were restricted to 235. A couple of hours later they seemed to be facing certain defeat as Sri Lanka reached 162-1 with some 15 overs to go. Once again, Imran turned to Qadir who had been economical and taken one wicket.

Qadir proceeded to take three wickets in just balls of all key batsmen and started a collapse that saw Pakistan win by 11 runs. Qadir returned with 5-44 and although Pakistan didn’t make the final, he shattered the myth about leg-spinners playing limited-overs cricket.

Later that year in the triangular series in Australia which included the mighty West Indies, Qadir took 15 wickets in eight games at an average of just 18.13. This included 5-53 against Australia, a match Pakistan lost by 43 runs.

Later in the Nehru Cup in 1989, he was second in the list of leading wicket-takers, with 12 scalps from seven games at the paltry average of 21.75.

His record speaks for itself as he had a better average in ODIs than in Tests, finishing with 132 wickets at 26.16 in 104 ODIs.



Attacking option

From then on, he was always used as an attacking option even by Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad whenever they captained Pakistan in the absence of Imran.

In the 1987 home series against England under Miandad, Qadir took 30 wickets in the three Test matches, including 9-56, still the best bowling by any Pakistani bowler in Test cricket.

A year earlier, he’d run rings around what was then considered the best batting side in the world — West Indies. In the Faisalabad Test in 1986, he shred them with 6-16.

Qadir’s bubbliness was also apparent in his batting and Imran sometimes sent him as a pinch hitter. His most memorable piece of batting came in Lahore during the 1987 World Cup.


Pakistan needed a miracle to get past West Indies in the final over with 9 wickets down when Qadir hit their prime bowler Walsh for a six over long-off and eventually won the game.

Back in the Australasia Cup final which is renowned for Miandad’s century and last-ball six to win the game, his 34 off 39 balls in a 71-run stand was crucial in the final analysis.

It was after several years of retiring that Qadir came back into the public domain as private channels were launched. And one saw his amazing candidness in analysing cricketers and game strategy.

In a discussion once where Aqib Javed was present by his side, he flatly told the anchor that the Pakistani pacemen lost their penetration once they couldn’t ‘make’ the ball. He was immediately removed from the program but stuck to his stand that he had spoken the truth.

On another occasion after his mentor Imran Khan had become the Prime Minister, he vehemently defended departmental cricket and said Imran would destroy the domestic cricket structure if he succeeded in removing the departments.

But then that was the kind of man Qadir was. Honest to the core and not worried about repercussions. He was also a man of principles. When made Chief Selector in 2008, he publicly opposed the selection of Younis Khan in the limited-overs team, much less as captain of the 2009 World T20 in England.


But selecting the captain was the prerogative of the PCB Chairman so Qadir had to agree. Yet, he remained his critique even during the tournament. And when Younus returned victorious, he resigned from the job.

Since then he was never involved with the PCB and his caustic comments on those he feels were bleeding the board for years ruled the airwaves for a long time.

He would have made a good spin bowling coach, for he would have instilled bravery among the bowlers and not just taught them the art of spin.

He chose therefore to open his academy and pass on what he could to aspiring children and young adults. He had been selfless even when his place in the side was at risk with the emerging Mushtaq Ahmed, willingly passing on all his craft to him.

He had enormous stamina, once bowling 50.5 overs on a flat pitch in Faisalabad in a Test against Australia.



Shane Warne’s acknowledgement

Among those he taught was Shane Warne. In his book, Shane Warne’s Century: My Top 100 Test Cricketers, Warne has written, “One of the most interesting nights of my life was at Qadir’s house when we sat on the floor and flipped an orange to each other with different grips and forms of spin and discussed tactics and how to sum up batsmen. That was an education and a very good night between two spinners.”

Graham Gooch who played against both Qadir and Warne rated Qadir as a superior bowler to Warne claiming that Qadir was more awkward to face. He said at the time, “Reading him is one thing; playing him is another. He’d show you a googly you could read, then he would bowl one you suspected of being a googly but weren’t sure about. Then he’d send down one you’d be completely bamboozled by, but it would usually turn out to be another googly. These were all bowled with a different action, to complement his leg-break, top-spinner and flipper.”

Richie Benaud included him in his shortlist of his Greatest XI, naming him as one of the three in the spin role, next to Shane Warne and Bill O’Reilly.


The candid critic


He would unleash frank, unbridled criticism of all things that didn’t go down well with him. Yet, had a big heart that would welcome you at a moment’s notice, tell you that he’ll be brief and spend the next half hour in a soliloquy about how he would run things in Pakistan cricket.

Mushtaq Ahmed recalls his son Usman Qadir telling him that his father being so religious and who loved the Prophet Mohammad (saw), would often pray to Allah that his age may not cross that of Prophet Mohammad. Abdul Qadir died aged 63, the same age as Prophet Mohammad.

He will always be missed and not just by his children for whom he never pressurized the PCB into selecting them for Pakistan though all played First-Class cricket.

His son Usman made his debut after he passed away. He will be missed by all those who understood him and those who knew his values.

He brought to life the fine art of leg spin and died after nurturing it and inspiring a new generation to adopt it. He gave all his heart on the field and when speaking for Pakistan cricket. In the end, perhaps his heart couldn’t take it any longer.

‘Bao’ was a man who wore his heart on his sleeve, called a spade a spade, and got excited from the very first word when he talked about anything to do with cricket.


He retired from cricket. That is finite. But Abdul Qadir the man remains omnipresent when you talk of leg-spin or everything that is wrong about Pakistan cricket. That is eternal.


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