The great Pakistan leg-spinner Abdul Qadir died last week. This article about him first appeared in my book, The Pakistani Masters.
“Mummy, I want to be a leg-spinner when I grow up.”
How often, one wonders, is that plaintive cry heard? Not very, is almost certainly the answer. Even in those households where cricket is a dominant theme when the little ones are dandled on the knee, it will be the likes of (I promise you that this is the one and only time in this book that that egregious phrase is used, and I maintain that it is not superfluous here) Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar, Andrew Flintoff and Sachin Tendulkar whose images stoke the fires of childish and parental ambition. You have to be a bit older to want to be a leg-spinner; old enough to know that there is, alas, a rough that goes with the smooth, that every cloud has a nasty dark bit just behind that nice fluffy corner, and that, like it or not, God is a batsman. As Ian Peebles, a considerable leg-spinner himself and one of the most enjoyable of cricket writers, said, a leg-spinner has to prepare himself for the hideous days when everything goes wrong and the glorious moments when everything goes right.
The mechanics of “back of the hand” bowling – the leg-break or the slow left armer’s equivalent, the chinaman – leave much scope for error. Finger spin has its own techniques and demands but the actual spin is imparted by a flick of the finger; the turn of a leg-break requires a combination of movements in shoulder, wrist and fingers that if not co-ordinated correctly can send the ball sailing over the batsman’s head or dribbling towards him – or not, as the case may be – along the ground. The ball comes out of the side of the hand and turns to the leg – to the right-handed batsman – or at least that is usually the plan. Some hundred years ago or so the Middlesex and England amateur Bernard Bosanquet – father of the colourful television newscaster Reginald – discovered with the aid of a ping pong ball that if he turned his wrist further, so that the ball came out of the back of the hand, it would turn from off to leg rather than from leg to off – (rather like Flanders and Swann’s honeysuckle and bindweed). Hence, the “bosie”, the googly, the wrong ‘un, – or in the subcontinent, more formally and engagingly, the “wrong one”. The masters usually, but not always try to make the googly difficult for the batsman to distinguish from the leg-break: that indeed, is usually the point of it. That is good if you can do it, but not the only way to prosper. Shane Warne, the Australian maestro, has a wrong’un most Test batsmen could spot on a foggy evening in Manchester after the pubs have closed but it has not stopped him taking 600 Test wickets Leg-spinners have all sorts of additional variations – flippers, which go straight and apparently at increased speed; top spinners, sliders. Ultimately, there is only so much you can do with a cricket ball, but as Warne has triumphantly demonstrated over many years, a keen cricketing brain and an indomitable competitive spirit and self-confidence, when allied to supreme natural gifts, can get you almost anywhere. But the physical strains and stresses incurred in order to produce these variations can have serious consequences of various types; Warne’s shoulder and wrist have been ravaged by years of hard work, while Peebles, striving to produce the perfect googly, lost his leg-break altogether.
Leg-spinners are often intriguing personalities. The Australian Arthur Mailey – Australia with its hard, bouncy wickets, is a natural setting for legspin – was a great early exponent operating before and after the First World War. Cartoonist, raconteur and landscape painter he too was a great writer on the game. The legspinner’s leg-spinner, he was a whimsical character and a prodigious spinner of the ball. He took many Test wickets but his favourite analysis came in Victoria’s record score of 1107 against New South Wales in 1926-27: Mailey took four for 362. “A chap in the outer kept dropping his catches” Mailey said, “I was just finding my length when the innings finished”.
Legspinners are generally of two types rather like waves – rollers and breakers. Mailey was a breaker, giving the ball an almighty tweak. One of his successors in the Australian side, Bill O’ Reilly, was more of a roller, bowling at pretty well medium pace, like Anil Kumble or the post-war England bowler Doug Wright. He turned his googly more, and loathed batsmen with a passion. Don Bradman, with whom he had an uneasy relationship, thought he was the best. His great contemporary, Clarrie Grimmett was different – slower, more controlled, with immensely subtle variations of flight and pace, and according to Peebles a googly that was “more an instrument of propaganda than deception”. They were sometimes joined in the Australian eleven by Leslie “Chuck” Fleetwood – Smith, the first purveyor of the chinaman to attain regular success at Test level; a terrific spinner of the ball, a match-winner on his day, but inconsistent and sometimes lacking discipline, on and off the field. At The Oval in 1938 when England made 903 for seven, he took one for 298: even Mailey must have thought that was a bit much.
After the war, Australia started exporting wrist-spinners to England. Bruce Dooland, Colin McCool and the left-armers Jack Walsh and George Tribe seemed at least as good as the Test rivals they left behind, Doug Ring and Jack Hill. But Ring and Hill had an understudy with them on the Ashes tour of 1953 who looked a good bet as a batsman and fielder too, an impression he confirmed when he toured again in 1956. When he returned to England as Australia’s captain in 1961, Richie Benaud was the most influential cricketer in the world. Many would argue he has yet to surrender that position.
By the time he gave up playing Benaud was the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket, as Grimmett had been before him. That says something about the potency of the top-class wristpinner. Tich Freeman, the Kent legspinner of the 1920s and 1930s tormented county batsmen for years but struggled at the highest level. In recent times, Ian Salisbury has had a similar experience, enjoying considerable success with Sussex and then Surrey but seldom troubling Test batsmen. Wrist spin and Englishness have rarely gone well together. In Yorkshire, wrist spinners were always looked upon with great suspicion. Johnny Wardle who won a Test series in South Africa with his chinamen and googlies, was never allowed to bowl them north of the Watford Gap; he had to stick to the orthodox stuff.
Now, of course, legspin has suddenly become fashionable. England won the Ashes in 2005 but the leading bowler in the series was the incomparable Warne. The genius of Warne has been at least in part to have combined some of the disparate and apparently incongruous attributes of Grimmett, O’Reilly and Fleetwood-Smith; astonishing accuracy and control, prodigious turn, subtle variations the aggressive intent of a fast bowler, a cricketing brain surely rarely equalled: a genius and a larrikin.
Few people now dispute that Warne is the greatest leg-spinner of all time. Many indeed assert that he is the greatest bowler of all time. The Englishman S.F. Barnes, a difficult bowler to classify, is perhaps his strongest challenger in both categories but comparisons between sportsmen from such widely differing eras are rather pointless. What can be said without any doubt is that Warne is the best leg-spinner since the imam’s son from the back streets of Lahore, Abdul Qadir, and that Qadir was the best since Benaud.
Since Warne’s emergence – in a way thanks to it – unorthodox spin has made a remarkable comeback. Australia themselves have a second leg-spinner, Stuart Macgill, who would be a first choice in most Test sides. One of the remarkable things about Qadir was that he was, literally, unique in his time. The 1980s was a period dominated by pace. This was most clearly demonstrated in the West Indies but it was true everywhere to some extent. Even in India, where there had been one of the great post-war leg-spinners in Subhash Gupta and a veritable galaxy of spinners after him, the leading bowler by a distance in the 1980s was Kapil Dev. Generally, spinners were used primarily to give the pacemen a rest and block an end: John Emburey, John Bracewell, Roger Harper, Greg Matthews. As a match-winning attacking leg-spinner Qadir was an anachronism, and a delight.
As today’s watchers, whether at the ground or perhaps to an even greater extent, on television, can testify, cricket has no more enthralling spectacle to offer than an attacking leg-spinner with plenty of variety. This is why Warne is so compelling, Qadir was similar, in a different class to any of his contemporaries. When he toured places like Englnad, where some county batsmen had perhaps never played a bowler of his type, he could be devastating.
For instance, there was genuine excitement when Qadir went to England with Imran Khan’s team in 1982 and tied county batsmen in all sorts of knots. Even that old curmudgeon Robin Marlar (an old curmudgeon even when young) described him as “a joy”. The normally down-to earth Jack Bannister waxed as rhapsodically as a Lake Poet about Qadir’s bowling in an article written after the Lord’s Test of that year. It was understandable. In England, to a far greater extent than in Australia, a good leg-spinner really was a rare treat. Qadir was almost like a freak show exhibit in an upmarket Victorian fairground.
Like Warne, Qadir was wonderful to watch with a marvellous action rippling and writhing with aggressive intent. He would toss the hard spun ball from hand to hand fast and licking his fingers like a man shuffling cards. His left arm was raised as if in greeting to the batsman in the manner of a diffident traffic policeman or a reluctantly remonstrative schoolmaster admonishing a tiresome class before he began his approach to the wicket with a few walking paces, his arms going back and forth as if he was winding himself up mechanically as much as pyschologically. Then a bouncy four pace run to the crease before he delivered the ball with a distinctive arm action, fast and loose, and quickly and powerfully followed through.
His pace was similar to Warne’s: just right, not too fast, not too slow. He had all the tricks. He spun his leg-break hard, and his googlies – yes, he had two – were difficult to spot. Like Warne in his younger days, he had a marvellous flipper – he shattered Graham Gooch’s stumps with one in the Lahore Test in 1987-88. He had two – at least – top spinners.
People delighted in his subtlety, his artistry. Like all artists, he needed a patron and in Imran Khan he had both a loyal and a powerful one. Indeed Scyld Berry, playing Peter Brough to Phil Edmonds’ Archie Andrews in the England player’s book on great bowlers, said that Imran sometimes overbowled Qadir.
Imran always wanted Qadir in his side, and he usually got his way. One occasion when he did not win in the third and deciding Test against India at Bangalore in 1986-87: Javed Miandad urged Imran to pick Iqbal Qasim instead of Qadir; Imran reluctlantly agreed, and Iqbal Qasim in effect won the match.
Then there was the artistic temperament Qadir was notoriously moody. He looked moody. You can see it in his face, his eyes. Physically he hardly changed (apart from the beard). Muscular, slightly podgy, hair all over the shop, five and a half feet tall, he is one of those people whose appearance will hardly alter between the ages of 18 and 60. Warne, writing in 2001, said he thought Qadir could still have been playing Test cricket then.
But his moods did swing. Occasionally, away from his native land, he suffered the cruel and unusual punishment of having an appeal for leg before turned down. This could trigger a decidedly feisty reaction. The depths were plunged during the tense final day of the Bridgetown Test in 1987-88 when Pakistan were desperately trying to maintain their one-nil lead and become the first team since Ian Chappell’s Australians in 1972-73 to beat the West Indies in a home series. Qadir was a key figure in this endeavour but he became distracted when a couple of close appeals were turned down. Things deteriorated markedly when he became the target of abuse from a spectator. Qadir was not the first cricketer to have been victimized in this way but he was the first to react by clambering over the fence into the crowd, singling out the perpetrator and thumping him in the face – twice. Only diplomatic intervention prevented him from being prosecuted. He was left out of the team that toured India in 1983 – 84 for disciplinary reasons. Javed Miandad sent him home from a tour of New Zealand in 1984-85 also for disciplinary reasons: Qadir launched an attack on the selectors. More than once there were personal distractions which delayed his arrival on a tour or interrupted its smooth progression.
How good was Qadir? He was the second Pakistani after Imran to take 200 Test wickets. Benaud was highly impressed, as was Ian Botham, who called him the best leg-spinner he ever faced: “only” could have done just as well. Warne, who met Qadir at his home in 1994, said he was one of the true greets. His novelty and the sheer fascination of watching him inevitably make up part of the equation when calculating how to assess his quality. In England, his reputation rested to a considerable extent on his achievements on the 1982 tour. He caused havoc in the county games. Pakistan secured three innings victories before the start of the one-day series, against Sussex, Glamorgan and Worcestershire, and in these games he took seven for 44 and six for 78, five for 31 and four for 20 and four for 30 and four for 75 respectively. There was a glitch at Southampton when promising middle-order batsman Mark Nicholas scored an unbeaten century in a Hampshire victory: Qadir took nought for 114. (Did England miss a trick here?) He took six for 77 against Leicestershire in another innings victory before the start of the Test series. Although he did little in the first Test (three wickets in 69 overs), he played a big part in Pakistan’s historic victory in the second Test at Lord’s. In England’s first innings, he bowled a long and aggressive spell on the third afternoon, earning a reprimand from Pakistan’s favourite umpire, David Constant, after dancing a jig – on a length – in the course of one of many appeals for leg before. He caused profound, almost embarrassing, problems for Derek Pringle and Ian Greig. Qadir took four for 39 in 24 overs. In England’s second innings, as Chris Tavare and Botham in particular fought hard to stave off defeat, Qadir took two for 94 in 37 overs, finishing the innings by dismissing last man Robin Jackman with the new ball. There was just enough time left for Pakistan to secure their win.
When he next toured England in 1987, there was an unusually wet summer, even by English standards. He arrived late because his wife was unwell and by early August he probably wished he had not bothered to come. But at The Oval, with Pakistan making a massive total, he took seven for 96 in England’s first innings and then when they followed on, three for 115 – England saved the game easily.
That was by some distance Qadir’s best innings and match analysis in a Test outside Pakistan. That is the question mark regarding Qadir’s stature as a great bowler. He was inquestionably a great bowler in Pakistan. There, he took 168 Test wickets at 26.08. Elsewhere, he took 68 wickets at 47.58. The difference – one really should say the contrast – is startling. On his first visit to England in 1978, he made no impression at all, taking six wickets – on the whole tour, not in the Tests, – at 66.00. Australia also rarely saw the best of him. He had a hard time of it there in 1983-84, taking twelve wickets in the five Tests at an average of 61. He had the Maileyesque figure of five for 160 in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne. He took the last four wickets while sixteen runs were added but earlier Graham Yallop had made 268. Australia had quite a few left – handers in their top order – Wayne Phillips, Kepler Wessels. Allan Border and Rod Marsh as well as Yallop – and this sometimes seemed to be a problem for Qadir. He had fared much better in Pakistan fifteen months earlier when Australia had lost all three Tests in the series and Qadir had taken 22 wickets at 25.54. He was the outstanding player in the series and the Australians found his variety and control too much to deal with. At Faisalabad in the second Test he took eleven wickets – four for 76 and seven for 142. Graeme Wood – another left-hander – defended stolidly in the first innings and Greg Ritchie made a fine unbeaten century in the second but nobody else had much of a clue.
West Indian batsmen had occasional hiccups against spin bowlers – even quite modest spin bowlers – and Qadir had his share of success against them in the two drawn series in 1986-87 (at home) and 1987-88 (away). In the first Test at Faisalabad in 1986-87 West Indies, having bowled Pakistan out for 328 in their second innings, needed 240 to win in four sessions. But their batsmen were utterly confounded by Qadir. He came on as soon as the openers were out, with the score on 16 for two. He dismissed Larry Gomes and Richie Richardson in three balls and then Viv Richards for a duck. He took five for 13 in seven overs and West Indies finished the fourth day on 43 for nine. When he caught and bowled Malcolm Marshall the next morning they were 53 all out: Qadir took six for 16. He finished the series with 18 wickets at 20 apiece.
In the Caribbean eighteen months later, he again bowled well but inconsistently. He was still suffering slightly from a kidney ailment diagnosed during the series against England late in 1987 and he missed the opening games of the tour. He did not take a lot of wickets in the historic win in the first Test at Georgetown but the wickets he took were important. He troubled all the upper order in the first innings, and his dismissal of Gus Logie with a flipper was the break which enabled Imran to burst through with a spell of four for 29 in nine overs. Pakistan secured a lead of 143 but were handicapped when West Indies resumed their second innings after the rest day by Imran’s temporary absence due to an injured foot. Qadir again made a vital breakthrough bowling. Phil Simmons with a top-spinner in the third over of the day. He also dismissed Richie Richardson and Carl Hopper: Imran returned to finish the job. In the second Test at Port-of-Spain he bowled wonderfully well. In the first innings, he took four for 83, including the threatening Richards caught at slip for 49 off 45 balls. In the second innings, he took four for 148: Marshall was his 200th Test wicket. At the thrilling climax of the game, he came in at number eleven to play out a tense final over from Richards to secure a draw.
It was the home series against England in 1987-88 that saw Qadir at his most fiendish. He had always been partial to England batsmen on Pakistan’s pitches. He had made his debut against England in 1977-78, taking six for 44 in his second Test at Hyderabad. Bowling into the rough he troubled all the batsmen; only Geoff Boycott (run out for 79) showed the technical nous to deal with him.
In 1983-84, the England players arrived in Pakistan after a controversial and disappointing tour of New Zealand. They were badly hit by injuries which deprived them of their captain Bob Willis, and their leading player, Botham. Having asked for a truncated tour they got their wish, and found themselves facing Qadir in the first Test at Karachi almost as soon as they got off their – much delayed – flight from Auckland. Pakistan won the match by three wickets but it was not really as close as the result suggests. The Pakistan batsmen panicked in their pursuit of a modest target of 65, slow left armer Nick Cook taking eleven wickets in the match. The key figures, though were Qadir, who bowled brilliantly to take five for 74 and three for 59, and David Gower who made 58 and 57: no other England batsman made more than 28 in either innings. The second Test, at Faisalabad, was a high-scoring draw; Gower, now England’s acting captain, made 152 and Qadir took a solitary wicket. The third Test, at Lahore, was also drawn. England struggled in their first innings, making 241. Gower failed for once, and Qadir took five for 84. Pakistan responded with 343. England’s second innings was built around Gower’s six and three quarter hour innings of 173 not out. Qadir took a further five wickets for 110, Pakistan were set 243 to win and would probably have got them but for a nervous middle order stutter and some blatant time-wasting.
It is difficult to think of a more sustained spell of success by a batsman against Qadir at home than this performance of Gower’s. It demonstrated again Qadir’s vulnerability against left-handers, a criticism occasionally levelled against Warne too. When Warne first toured England in 1993, and announced himself with his first ball in an Ashes Test, it sometimes seemed that Gower was the only English-qualified batsman between the ages of 21 and 40 who was not going to be considered for selection. None of the new faces selected prospered, except Graham Thorpe, and he had been dropped within a year.
The 1987-88 series was probably the most controversial Test series since the Bodyline tour of 1932-33. After the series in England in 1987, which Pakistan won one-nil, Qadir had a good World Cup in the sub-continent – as Scyld Berry noted, and as became true of Warne, Qadir on his day was a captain’s dream. He could be both a shock bowler and a stock bowler. (He had often been a successful one-day bowler with two match awards in the previous World Cup in England.) Then came England’s visit.
The seeds of the trouble in 1987-88 had been sown long before but the immediate causus belli was the attitude of the English cricket authorities, at the start of the 1987 tour, to the Pakistanis’ request to withdraw umpires David Constant and Ken Palmer from the Test match panel for the duration of the tour. The request was rather disdainfully refused. The Pakistan tour manager, Haseeb Ahsan muttered darkly that Pakistani umpires would officiate on England’s tour: this was a reference to the fact that neutral umpires – from India – had stood in two of the Tests against the West Indies in 1986-87. The presence of Pakistani umpires was not in itself a problem; various Pakistani officials performed with distinction in the World Cup. The real difficulty was the appointment of two umpires – Shakeel Khan and Shakoor Rana – who had not been thought suitable for the World Cup. Shakeel Khan was very inexperienced; Shakoor Rana had more than once been the object of criticism from touring sides: the New Zealanders had almost walked off in protest after Javed Miandad was given not out leg before in a Test at Karachi in 1984-85. Ironically – perhaps uniquely – television replays suggested Rana’s decision was right.
Qadir captained Pakistan in the one-day series which preceded the Tests. England won all three games. A good indication of the relationship between the teams came in the second game at Karachi. The result was clear well before the end – Pakistan were not going to reach the target of 270. The finale was not of purely academic interest, however. Off the last ball of the match, Pakistan’s opener, Rameez Raja, turned a ball off his legs and ran one and turned for a second. Running back to the striker’s end he intercepted the ball as it was thrown towards the wicket and batted it away. England appealed and Rameez was given out obstructed the field – for 99.
Shakeel Khan stood in the first Test at Lahore, which Pakistan won by an innings. There were seven leg befores in England’s two innings, compared to one in Pakistan’s innings (although, the dismissal that gave rise to most on-field protestation was Shakeel’s adjudication that Qadir had been stumped). England were convinced that five of those Ibws – all to Qadir – were not out – plus two absolute shockers successfully claimed by the wicket-keeper, Ashraf Ali, off Iqbal Qasim in the second innings and David Capel’s dismissal to a catch at slip. Even the Nation newspaper said that the umpiring was “deplorable”. England, though, made it difficult for themselves to claim they occupied the moral high ground by displaying unprecedented levels of dissent. First there was the captain, Mike Gatting, waiting, posed on one knee after being given out for a duck in the first innings stretching well forward to sweep. It culminated with Chris Broad having to be persuaded by his opening partner, Graham Gooch, to leave the field, after being adjudged to have been caught behind off a ball that he seemed to have missed by some distance.
Rana officiated in the second Test, at Faisalabad, where the inevitable flashpoint occurred just before close of play on the second day when he and Gatting engaged in an extraordinary – shocking, really – shouting match about a fielder being moved behind the batsman’s back. A day’s play was lost while “crisis talks” were held. That Test and the third, at Karachi, were drawn.
The umpiring controversy dominated the series. It thus obscured and deflected attention from a quite extraordinary display of legspin and googly bowling from Abdul Qadir. In the first innings of the Lahore Test, he took nine for 56, still statistically the seventh best analysis in Test history and the best against England. Qadir himself said the first fifteen overs he bowled in that innings constituted his best bowling in Tests. In his third over – the fifteenth of the match – he fooled Gooch with a flipper. Tim Robinson and Gatting were both out to leg breaks and England were 50 for four at lunch. That soon became 94 for eight but Neil Foster and Bruce French took the total to 175. Pakistan made 392 and then Qadir was at England again. He took four more wickets in the second innings before retiring with what was thought to be a side strain: it was subsequently diagnosed as kidney stones. He took seven wickets in the blighted game at Faisalabad and five in each innings – off 104 overs – at Karachi. In the course of his five for 88 in the first innings, he had a spell of three for six in six overs – and still found time to have an argument with a spectator. In all he took 30 wickets in the three Tests, at 14.37, Iqbal Qasim took ten. Nobody else on either side took more than seven. In the Karachi match, he also made his highest Test score, 61, hitting four sixes and six fours.
The series against England and the West Indies in 1987-88 were the climax of Qadir’s career. He was unable to reproduce quite the same quality after that. In 1988-89 Australia had their equivalent of the Gatting tour, arriving in Pakistan almost expecting to be defeated however they played. Pakistan won the first game at Karachi by an innings and the other two Tests were drawn. In the first Test, Qadir took five wickets in the match, but the damage was mainly done by Iqbal Qasim. In the acrimonious tour of New Zealand that came a few months later he took six for 160 in the drawn Test at Auckland. He struggled against India in 1989-90 taking six wickets in four Tests. In an exhibition match at Peshawar that was originally scheduled to be the first one-day international, he was hit for 27 in an overs, including three sixes. The batsman was the sixteen year old Sachin Tendulkar. When, Pakistan toured Australia a few months later, their leading leg-spinner was Mushtaq Ahmed.
Qadir remains a legendary figure. People visit him in the way they would visit a seer, or a survivor from some distant and historic age. He is revered too: Danish Kanena worships the loops he weaved. Warne, and Kumble too, went to see him, to pay homage and seek counsel. Rahul Bhattacharya visited him at his home in Lahore in 2003 as Berry had done in 1987. Bhattacharya’s book, Pundits from Pakistan is the best tour book since Berry’s Cricket Odyssey and ranks with the best, by Jack Fingleton and Alan Ross. Bhattacharya asked the question, “Why leg-spin?”. From twelve or fourteen years of age, Qadir had wanted to be a leg-spinner. Leg-spinners made things happen.
It was simple really. “I could bowl the same ball in ten different ways………I’ve seen people bowling in one style, and that’s it. But not me. I wanted to do miracles, you see.”
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