Cricket

Abdul Qadir troubled the rampaging West Indies of 1980s and revived the dying art of leg spin bowling

  • Hassan Cheema
  • September 7th, 2019
  • 22:29:46 IST

By late 1986 the West Indies were by far the best team in the world. In the six years prior to that they had not lost a single Test series. And it wasn’t as if they were squeaking by in those series – by the time they toured Pakistan that autumn they had lost only two of their previous 53 Tests, both to Australia in Australia. 18 wins in 22 Tests in an era when the draw appeared the most common result was what they brought to Pakistan. And when their famed quartet of pacers bowled Pakistan out for 159 in the first innings of the first Test it must have appeared more of the same. Three days later though Pakistan were on course to a famous win. The tourists had been bowled out for 53, the lowest score in their history. Abdul Qadir took 6-for-16.

Legendary Abdul Qadir in all his glory. Image courtesy: Twitter @ICC

Legendary Abdul Qadir in all his glory. Image courtesy: Twitter @ICC

Qadir, who passed away in Lahore on 6 September 2019, will always hold a special place in both Pakistan and world cricket. He was one of the pillars of the best Test side from Pakistan. From 1985 to 1990 Pakistan went unbeaten for 10 series in a row – a team renowned for its inconsistency had its most consistent run. For perspective, not until the 2010s would Pakistan even go six series in a row without losing. Qadir took 116 wickets across those 10 series, second only to Imran Khan's 122. No one bowled more overs, no one took more five-wicket or 10-wicket hauls than Qadir did during that time. In those five years, in addition to the game against West Indies, Qadir took 30 wickets from three Tests in a series against England, he survived the final over to clinch a draw in a Test in the Caribbean, and even scored 14 off the final over against the Windies in the final over of a World Cup match. He may not have the numbers that his successors would end up having, but he could give any of them a run for their money when it came to iconic moments.

Pakistan cricket prior to the 1970s had mostly been restricted to the elite and the middle class. Qadir was among the first who came from a working-class background to make his mark. The son of a muezzin in Lahore, he only went to college thanks to a cricket scholarship. Islamia College back then wasn’t your average college cricket team. It had once been home to the new ball pair of Fazal Mahmood and Khan Mohammad, and would later count Wasim Akram among its students. Qadir would go from there to the Habib Bank team – with departments having just been introduced to the Pakistan domestic system to support and promote players from backgrounds similar to Qadir’s. In his First Class debut he took 6-for-67, and never looked back. Two years late Qadir made his Test debut and by that time he already had 140 First Class wickets at an average of 16.82.

But despite being Pakistan’s top wicket taker in his debut series, he didn’t become a national team regular. Over the next five years he played only five of Pakistan’s 30 Tests. But the appointment of Imran Khan as the captain changed his fortunes. Over the next nine years only Saleem Malik and Javed Miandad played more Tests than him – under Imran he played 36 of 45 Tests during this time. Imran treated him as the second fast bowler alongside himself – in the days before Wasim and Waqar Younis Pakistan’s fortunes revolved around Qadir from one end and Imran from the other, with no real respite for either.

He was never able to replicate his home form outside of Pakistan, but he always maintained that had more to do with home umpires than anything else in particular. He was second only to Imran in his calls for neutral umpires, and he always pointed to the 1986 series at home to the West Indies as an example of that. He finished that series with 18 wickets in three Tests, tied with Imran for most wickets. That series was also the first instance of neutral umpires in Test cricket, with V.K. Ramaswamy and Piloo Reporter (both Indian) standing in two of the three Tests of that series.

The second half of that decade became a time for him to etch his name into Pakistan’s greatest moments, but the rise of a new generation and the rebuilding of a new team by Imran probably robbed him of his Indian summer. But by that stage not only had he revived the art of leg spin in the longest format, he had also provided a template for how spinners could succeed in the 50-over game. He took 132 wickets at 26.2 in ODI cricket – no contemporary or predecessor even got close to that. It wasn’t until 1996 that spinners began to match and surpass his tally, beginning with Anil Kumble and Mushtaq Ahmed and followed by Shane Warne, Saqlain Mushtaq and Muttiah Muralitharan. All followed the template that he had set for spinners in ODI cricket. In World Cups he took 24 wickets in 13 matches at just 21.08 – ten spinners have gone on to take more wickets since his retirement but only three (Warne, Murali and Brad Hogg) have done so at a better average than his, none have done a better economy rate than his.

He remained a lethal domestic bowler even in his twilight. In the 1994/95 season, months shy of his 40th birthday, he took 52 wickets at 20.21, but the dreams of Pakistan were long gone by then. He had become the first of his art form – his house in Lahore almost a shrine for visiting spinners to Pakistan in the 1990s.

In the end the numbers and records will fade away, what will remain are the stories – of Imran convincing him to sport a goatee for the 1982 tour to England to increase his mystique, of playing club cricket in Australia in his mid-40s, of scoring 10 off 3 balls against Courtney Walsh to win a World Cup match while not even wearing a helmet, of being the only man who troubled the West Indies in the era when no one troubled them, and of reviving a dying art.

Updated Date: September 07, 2019 22:29:46 IST

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