It is not difficult to judge the cricketing acumen of a person who mentored both Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar. Between themselves the two Mumbai batsmen have 85 Test centuries and 26000 Test runs. That gentleman was the iconic Mumbai cricket coach Vasu Paranjape. Vasu also mentored Dilip Vengsarkar, Sanjay Manjrekar and Rohit Sharma. Vasu held important positions in Indian cricket and Sunil Gavaskar called him the “Conscience Keeper” of the game.
In 1978, India toured Pakistan after a gap of 17 years and Vasu Paranjape gave Sunil Gavaskar a piece of advice. Surprisingly it was not cricketing advice. Vasu insisted that while on tour to Pakistan, Sunil should pay his respects to the great Pakistani batsman Hanif Mohammad. As the flight of the Indian cricket team landed at Karachi airport, one man did not head to the hotel. Sunil Gavaskar caught a taxi and headed straight to the house of Hanif Mohamad. While Gavaskar never watched Hanif play, he had been well informed by Indian cricket experts of the previous generation about the great batting ability of Hanif Mohammad.
Unlike Sunil, Vasu had seen Hanif bat in Mumbai. While mentoring a young Sunil Gavaskar, Vasu had told him that nobody played the forward defensive push better than Hanif.
Indian cricket lovers never forget Hanif Mohammad’s connection with India. Hanif was born in the state of Junagadh in Gujarat. It was a princely state in western India that was ruled by a Nawab. The Partition of India in 1947 resulted in the exile of Nawab Muhammad Mahabat Khanji III, who was the last ruling Nawab of Junagadh. But the real prince of Junagadh never went into exile.
During his formative years Hanif was coached by Naoomal Jeoomal Makhija. Naoomal opened the batting for India in their first ever Test match in 1932. He once batted for 6 hours against Middlesex to score 164. Perhaps it was this grooming that enabled Hanif to play the longest innings ever in Test match history. Let’s consider the circumstances in which Hanif played that knock. It was away from home and in the first Test of a series against the best cricket team in the world. West Indies batted first and declared at close to 600 runs. Hunte got close to 150 and Weekes almost scored a double hundred. Pakistan were bundled out for 106 and were asked to follow on. Imagine the pressure that Hanif would have had while facing Sobers and Valentine with Pakistan 400 runs behind. Hanif Mohammad batted for 16 hours and 10 minutes and scored a mammoth 337.
In this innings, Hanif put on century partnerships with Imtiaz, Alimuddin, Saeed Ahmed and his elder brother Wazir. When he was sixth out, the team’s score was 626. The match had been saved, through arguably the bravest innings in cricketing history. And certainly the longest.
But Hanif’s legendary status was established much before this innings. Hanif first toured India in 1951-52 and the then Indian Prime Minister Nehru expressed his strong desire to meet Hanif. Indian cricket lovers were mesmerised with Hanif and kept their radios close to their ears to follow the scores of the great Pakistani opener.
It would be difficult for Pakistanis of today’s generation to believe that once during that series a match ticket of Rs50 was sold for Rs500 in the black market because Indians wanted to watch Hanif Mohammad bat. There was no television at that time. Hanif Mohammad’s defensive technique was so legendary that Indians were desperate to watch him bat. For previous generation Indian cricket lovers, Hanif Mohammad remained an eternal cult figure. The famous Indian cartoonist Balasaheb Thackrey who later formed a political party that ruled Mumbai called Hanif a “Young Veteran” because of Hanif’s capacity to dig himself in and play long innings. In a Test match at Dhaka in 1962, Hanif scored a hundred in each innings against the English attack including David Allen and Tony Lock.
Hanif Mohammad is the first member of the great group of ‘Little Masters’ of the subcontinent. The others being Sunil Gavaskar, GR Vishwanath and Sachin Tendulkar. During a Test innings in 2003-04 in Australia Sachin Tendulkar decided not to play the cover drive as he was regularly being dismissed playing that stroke. He batted for 10 hours and scored 241 not out. It was as if Hanif Mohammad had entered his soul that day.
Hanif Mohammad made a unique contribution to his nation’s cricket long after he retired. In a Test match at Karachi in the winter of 1990, a certain Mohammad batted for 10 hours to score 203 not out. Pakistan won that Test by an innings and 43 runs. That Mohammad was none other than Hanif’s son Shoaib.
Hanif’s son excelled his father when it came to fielding. In a Test match in 2005, when Pakistan toured India there was tremendous excitement in Bengaluru which hosted the third test match.
The excitement was not just about the match. News had spread that Hanif Mohammad was in the President’s box. Indian cricket lovers shall never forget Hanif Mohammad. He was the original little master from our subcontinent. Had Hanif Mohammad not been run out at the Brabourne Stadium in December 1960 he would still be batting in Mumbai till today.
Kush Singh is a cricket historian and columnist and founder of The Cricket Curry Tour Company. The inspiration for this piece comes from legendary cricket writer Ramchandra Guha.