Hanif Mohammad: A legend for our times

Legends surpass greatness, for though the greats are frequently remembered, legends are never forgotten. Innate to all cultures are legends that sit at their core, whose tales of talent and accomplishment weave narratives to inspire and motivate

Hanif Mohammad:  A legend for our times

In 1951, four short years after its inception, Pakistan were hosting an MCC side for two unofficial Test matches, with inclusion into the exclusive Test playing nations fraternity a possible prize in case of success. In their playing eleven for the 1st “Test” at the famous Bagh e Jinnah ground in Lahore, was a 16 year old prodigy called Hanif Mohammad, who opened the batting with the renowned Nazar Mohammad and also performed as the side’s wicket-keeper. This match also marked Hanif’s first-class debut. He had been included in the national team on the strength of outstanding performances in domestic club and inter-school matches. A triple century in the final of the Rubie Shield school cricket tournament led to selection for the Sind Muslims side for the Sind Pentangular. Three centuries followed, including one against the Northern Muslims Eleven on a matting wicket at the Karachi Gymkhana ground, where he faced the great Fazal Mahmood for the first time. Playing against the ‘king of matting’ Hanif batted with immense concentration and immaculate technique for almost eight hours, neutralizing Fazal’s guile with a chanceless knock of 155 runs. A new star had certainly arrived.

Against the MCC Hanif, who then stood at merely 5 feet and 3 inches, and weighed just 125 pounds, made 26 in 165 minutes in the first innings. Brian Statham recalled that “he looked about 12 years old and we never looked like shifting him.” In the next ‘Test’, Pakistan were chasing a target of 285 in their second innings, and Hanif scored a pivotal 64 runs in four hours of defiant batting to enable Pakistan to reach the winning post. Conferral of Test status followed this success.

Even before his first-class debut against the MCC, Hanif had been chosen by the cricket board to attend Alf Gover’s famous indoor cricket school in south London. Gover was immediately impressed by Hanif, saying ‘everything is already perfect’, and urging Pakistan’s cricket authorities not to consider introducing any alteration to his technique. This was high praise from a leading coaching guru of his time.

In 1951-52, the Pakistan team visited India for their maiden international tour as a Test playing country. In the very first game of the tour, in only his 4th first class match, Hanif made a century in each innings against the North Zone. These centuries were his first in first-class games and created a few records. At the age of 17 years and 296 days, he became the youngest batsman ever to score twin centuries in a first class match, and also the first to do so in the same game in which he made his maiden hundred in first-class cricket.

He made his Test debut in the 1st Test at Delhi, playing as a wicketkeeper batsman, and at the age of 17 years and 300 days became the youngest wicket-keeper ever in Test history. There was more to come. Playing against Bombay twenty three days later, he scored 203 not out, becoming the youngest ever double centurion in first-class cricket. He was just 17 years and 323 days old. It was during this tour that Hanif was given the sobriquet of ‘The Little Master’ by the Indian press.

Touring England with the national team in 1954, in one of the wettest summers on record, Hanif had limited success in alien conditions. However, even here there were flashes of brilliance and glimpses of his immaculate technique and great powers of concentration. In the opening Test at Lords, he scored a total of 59 runs in 340 minutes, his 20 runs in the first innings built on solid defense in trying conditions, while during his 39 in the second innings, with Pakistan safe from the prospect of defeat, he displayed his repertoire of attacking shots, imperiously hooking and pulling England’s fast bowlers, specially Brian Statham.

When India visited Pakistan in 1954, Hanif scored his first Test century, with a patient innings of 142 in eight and a half hours occupancy of the crease at the famous Dring stadium in Bahawalpur. A year later Hanif established another batting record in the semi-final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Playing against the Combined Services team at the National Stadium in Karachi, Hanif and his brothers Wazir and Raees all made centuries, the only instance in first class cricket history of three brothers all scoring hundreds in the same innings.

By now Hanif was well established as Pakistan’s premier batsman. However, it was on Pakistan’s inaugural tour of the West Indies in 1957-58 that Hanif acquired international celebrity status. In the opening Test of the series at Bridgetown in Barbados, the West Indies had run up a mammoth score of 579 for 9 declared and had then skittled out the Pakistan side for a paltry 106. Starting their second innings 473 runs behind, an hour before tea on the third day of the six day Test match, a heavy Pakistani defeat was considered an almost foregone conclusion. However, fate had other plans in store.

Hanif now mounted the greatest rearguard action that Test cricket had ever witnessed. He guided Pakistan to 161 by close of play, with his own score on 61. That night there was a note in Hanif’s hotel room from his captain Kardar, exhorting him to stay at the wicket, “Hanif you can save it. Just stay there. You are our only hope.”

On the 4th day Pakistan extended their total to 339 runs without losing another wicket. Hanif, who had taken most of the strike, was unbeaten with 161, having added exactly 100 runs during the day. That night when he got back to his hotel room there was another note on his dressing table. It was again from Kardar and said, “You will have a big name in the world if you can save the match.”

Hanif had been batting for a day and a half in scorching heat. He had modified his technique to handle Gilchrist’s pace. Normally Hanif had no problems with bouncers. Being short in stature they would sail harmlessly over his head. Gilchrist, though, was different. He deliberately aimed his bouncers at the batsman’s head and Hanif, therefore, adopted a new strategy to deal with this. He watched the ball closely and swayed out of its line at the very last minute. Once he tried to hook Gilchrist but was unsuccessful. Between overs Clyde Walcott advised him not to try that again as Gilchrist was too fast for him.

By close of play on the 5th day Pakistan had advanced to 525 for 3 wickets and were nearly safe. Hanif was now on 270. During the lunch and tea intervals Hanif would just sit in a corner and have a piece of chicken before heading to the masseur for a rub down. Once he found the masseur asleep and asked why he wasn’t watching the match. He replied, “ Maan dem can’t get you out so why should I watch.”

Hanif had seen off three new balls by now. He was in what cricketers refer to as “the zone.” In his own words he said that he felt that he “ knew every particle of the wicket and every face on the ground.” He felt that he was playing every ball automatically and knew what the ball would do even before the bowler had delivered it. The note from Kardar that night said, “ You’ve got to stay till teatime, then we will save the game.”

Hanif was finally dismissed after tea the next day. He had made 337 and the team score was 626. Pakistan had averted defeat and Hanif had created history. He was at the crease for a record breaking 970 minutes. His innings lasted for 309 overs, which is again the longest on record. During it he lost three layers of skin underneath his eyes from the intense heat. There were no thigh pads in those days and Hanif had wrapped a towel around his thigh for protection. Despite this, he had palpable dents in his thigh muscles made by the hits he received from Gilchrist. That night Hanif was so tired that he went to sleep wearing his cricket kit. He was now a legend in cricket folklore.

In an amusing incident at the match, a spectator watching the game from a tree outside the ground fell and had to be admitted to hospital for treatment. On his discharge from the hospital he wanted to know if Hanif was still batting. On learning that he was, he climbed the tree again to resume his viewing.

Almost a year later, at the Karachi Parsi Institute, on 11th January 1959, Hanif broke the world record for the highest score in first class cricket with an innings of 499, which overtook Bradman’s previous landmark of 452. Hanif had begun his innings on 8th January, reaching 25 not out by close. He added another 230 on January 9th to be unbeaten on 255 at the end of the day’s play. Following a rest day, Hanif resumed his relentless progress, passing Bradman’s record of 452. With two balls left for the day, he was on 498, but the scoreboard had not been updated and showed him on 496 only. He played the penultimate ball past point and risked a second run in order to keep the strike for the last ball and try for 500. However, he was sadly run-out by over a yard. Had he known that he was on 496, he could have merely defended the penultimate ball and gone for the five hundred mark of the very last delivery.

Hanif had batted for 10 hours and 35 minutes and played only one lofted stroke during this epic knock. He was furious when he learnt about the scoreboard error, but calmed down after receiving congratulatory messages from a host of well wishers and luminaries, including President Ayub and Don Bradman himself.

Hanif continued his prodigious form in the remaining months of the year with Test centuries against the visiting West Indian and Australian teams. He was also in fine fettle for Blackpool, the club he represented, in the local Lancashire and other regional leagues.

In 1960-61 Pakistan toured India. Hanif began the tour in scintillating form, scoring a double century before tea in his opening match at Poona. This was a Hanif that was not often on display, showcasing his stroke making ability, with every shot in the book; Hanif bludgeoning an attack rather than wearing it down through attrition. But soon misfortune struck. When he arrived at the Bombay train station from Poona there was a crowd of people waiting to greet him and shake his hand. Hanif soon noticed that his hand was bleeding. Closer inspection revealed that one of his fingers had been lacerated by a razor, presumably during one of the handshakes. To add to his woes, the poor quality of footwear provided had led to a foot problem during his latest innings, which required surgery to remove both his toe nails.

An injured Hanif played what he considers to be.his finest Test innings. Changing his blood soaked socks during every interval, he scored 160 before a dubious run-out. He said “ it was like playing with nails stuck into your toes.”

Hanif Mohammad:  A legend for our times

The following year England toured Pakistan under Ted Dexter. In the 2nd Test at Dhaka Hanif made a century in each innings. spending a total of 893 minutes or 14 hrs and 53 minutes at the crease. Between January 1958 and February 1962, Hanif was at his peak, scoring 1857 Test runs at an average of 64.03.

Hanif was entrusted with the national side’s captaincy in 1964. On their tour of Australia and New Zealand, Hanif again demonstrated sublime form, missing a century in each innings in the solitary Test in Australia at the Melbourne cricket ground, through an umpiring error. On Pakistan’s tour of England in 1967, Hanif played another innings of supreme quality in the opening Test at Lords to save Pakistan from defeat. His handling of the much vaunted pace of John Snow was imperious and masterful, hooking and pulling his way to an unbeaten 187. John Arlott termed it as the best innings of the entire English season.

Captaincy had suited Hanif’s batting. In 11 Tests as the skipper he accumulated 881 runs at an average of 58.73, with 4 centuries. During this period he averaged over fifty versus each country he played against.

His final Test was against New Zealand at Karachi in 1969. Mushtaq and Sadiq also played in this Test, the third instance in cricket history of 3 brothers playing in the same Test match. However, it was the only instance when three brothers not only played in the same Test, but each one both batted and bowled.

Hanif retired from Test cricket after this match, in controversial circumstances. He played 55 Tests, scoring 3915 runs at an average of 43.98, with 12 centuries. In first class cricket his tally was 17059 runs, at an average of 53.32, with 55 centuries.

Some other records that Hanif held are that he was the first batsman to score a Test triple century away from his home country. He was also the first batsman to score a Test triple century in his team’s second innings. His 337 in Barbados is still the highest Test score ever in a side’s second innings. He is the only batsman to score at least two Test centuries against every country that he played against and at least one in every country that he played a Test in. Hanif, along with brother Mushtaq and son Shoaib, represents the only instance of three first line relatives of a family all scoring Test double centuries. Hanif, son Shoaib and grandson Shehzar form the only occasion when a grandfather, father and son have each scored a first-class double century, a unique achievement spanning three generations.

Hanif was the bedrock of Pakistan’s batting for its first fifteen years in the Test arena, the pivot around which his side’s batting revolved. A very private man, he was given to intense introspection and would replay every shot in his mind to correct any perceived weakness. A set of classical music cassettes and songs by his favourite singers accompanied him on all tours; it was his way of unwinding and handling stress after a day’s toil and effort. At the wicket he would adjust his cap and twirl his bat between strokes and regularly prayed as it helped to build his focus. He was blessed with immense powers of concentration and patience and great stamina, that belied his slight built. He sat atop a lonely perch, carrying the weight of a young nation’s expectations on his shoulders. A true hero of his time who has moved into the realms where legends reside.

Dr Salman Faridi is a senior surgeon, poet, sports aficionado and an avid reader with a private collection of over 7000 books.


Celebrating brilliance

Hanif Mohammad:  A legend for our times

On 29th April 2023, the Karachi Parsi Institute organised a gala evening to commemorate Hanif Mohammad’s world record of 499 runs set at the KPI ground in January 1959.

The Karachi Parsi Institute is an institution that is richly steeped in tradition and history. It came into existence in 1893 and was one of the earliest sports facilities in the city. It has hosted 22 first-class cricket matches, but none more famous than the semi final of the Quaid e Azam trophy between Karachi and Bahawalpur from 8th - 12th January 1959 in which Hanif made this monumental score.

Cricket was brought to the Indo-Pak subcontinent by the British and the first local community to take it up were the Parsis. The first team of Indian cricketers to tour England in 1886 consisted exclusively of Parsis and this was repeated two years later in 1888. Many Parsis have played Test and first class cricket, and a Parsi cricketer, Rusi Dinshaw, was a member of the Pakistan team on its inaugural tour of India in 1952.

The gala event was hosted by the KPI and was sponsored by the Liaquat National Hospital and Medical College. It was attended by over 400 guests, including a large number of Parsi families and members of the cricketing fraternity of the city.

The KPI’s present President Mr Maju Mavalwala has a personal link with cricket, as his father Mr. Soli Mavalwala had played for Sind versus the visiting West Indian team in 1948.

Video and audio messages from cricketing greats like Sunil Gavaskar, Ian Chappell, Zaheer Abbas, Farouk Engineer, Wazir Mohammad, Mushtaq Mohammad, Asif Iqbal, Wasim Bari, Wasim Akram and Intikhab Alam, extolled Hanif’s great skills and contribution to Pakistan cricket.

During a lively group discussion, Hanif’s younger brother Sadiq Mohammad recalled how Hanif had nurtured and guided him both on and off the field. He also explained how Hanif and their elder brother Wazir had planned this record breaking innings. Hanif’s son Shoaib Mohammad related how Hanif encouraged him to take up the game and pursue it with interest and commitment. He also remembered how Hanif was saddened by his premature retirement from the game against his will.

Veteran cricketer, BBC journalist and an icon in his own right, Mr Qamar Ahmed regaled the audience with wonderful anecdotes from his own association with Hanif. He related how he had once dismissed Hanif and narrated a wonderful story about the famous singer Lata Mangeshkar visiting Hanif during his tour of India in 1960-61.

Dr. Salman Faridi, the medical director of Liaquat National Hospital, talked about how Hanif and Fazal were the two pillars on whom Pakistan’s early cricketing success was built. He also mentioned some records established by Hanif and the Mohammad family.

The event was rounded off by a wonderful Parsi dinner, sale of some cricketing memorabilia and an auction of signed cricket bats.

– Dr. Salman Faridi

Hanif Mohammad: A legend for our times