The Pakistani who never gives up December 23, 2003

The streetfighter battles on

You could fault Moin Khan for many technical reasons - but you can't argue with his persistence and his heart

Moin Khan celebrates a career-best, and matchsaving, 137
© Getty Images

You can fault Moin Khan for a number of things. His glovework isn't as smooth or as safe as is expected of an international wicktkeeper. He wasn't the most assertive of captains during his two reigns, and he wasn't a terribly successful one either. His batting doesn't just flout the technical manual, it rips it apart and tosses it into the fire with contempt.

But one thing you could never fault Moin for is his heart. In what has been a stop-start career, sharing his time in the team with Rashid Latif, Moin has provided an often-fragile Pakistani team with a spine; a backbone on which a frail upper body has leant for support. His rearguard action at Hamilton, helping Pakistan to save the follow-on, and eventually the match, was a classic example of the art of a man used to pressure situations. With all the recognised batsmen back in the pavilion, Moin adroitly farmed the strike, protecting an increasingly confident Mohammad Sami, while simultaneously working his way belligerently to a fourth Test hundred. It was arguably his finest Test innings.

Initially unconvincing against Ian Butler, Moin settled down and began to unpack his gloriously unorthodox and inventive bag of tricks. A ramp here, a swat there, a cross-batted slog here and a sweep there, with a distant cousin of the cover-drive thrown in for good measure, he battled on. He stole singles, turned ones into twos, and generally ran the fielders ragged. He saved his best for the landmarks: for passing the follow-on, he saved a forehand to the extra-cover fence that would have had Lleyton Hewitt pumping his fists. The century was brought up with his own stretched sweep and two contrasting (but equally effective) straight-drives for a four and a six. Follow-on? What follow-on? Century? No problem. Crisis? What crisis?

And it isn't as if we haven't seen it before. It was Moin, remember, after Inzamam-ul-Haq's heroics at Auckland in the 1992 World Cup, who came in and coolly swept Chris Harris over long-off (yes, that's right, swept over long-off) for six, before pulling him for a four to snatch an unlikely victory. And it was Moin who launched the vicious assault on Glenn McGrath in the 1999 World Cup at Headingley, and then did the same to India in the Asia Cup the following year.

But this innings was crucial. It wasn't just that Pakistan was in trouble at that stage. It wasn't because he was still finding his way back into the team after being unceremoniously dumped. It wasn't because he had been unconvincing in the Test series against South Africa, dropping catches and looking scratchy with the bat. It wasn't because many in Pakistan thought he was past it and undeserving of selection ahead of the popular Latif.

Two streetfighters from Karachi

Instead, it was because it reaffirmed the belief of many that not since the days of Javed Miandad, a fellow Karachi street-fighter, has Pakistan had a player willing to grit his teeth, roll up his sleeves and get stuck into salvaging a situation. A man, again like Miandad, not unwilling to innovate to aggravate the opposition. Here is a man used to dealing in crises, a man willing to fight, and a man resourceful enough to survive because he has survived all the Machiavellian plots that various selectors, captains and players have sprung on him over the last ten years.

Before leaving for this tour, Inzamam, while stressing the importance of confidence within the team, laid an equal amount of importance on performance under pressure. He knew this would be a difficult tour, especially for a young team, and had decided long ago that people he knew could handle pressure situations would definitely go, not only for the performances they would provide, but also for the support they would give younger players.

Inzamam named Moin as a key player, and if Aamer Sohail, Pakistan's chief selector, is to be believed, Inzamam pushed hard for Moin's inclusion in the team, after he was initially left out. If it is true, then yesterday Moin repaid Inzy's faith, and then some. He may go out and drop some catches again, or miss a stumping. He will continue chirping "Well bowled". He may get dropped from the team again - but he will not, you feel, give up the fight.

Osman Samiuddin is a freelance journalist based in Karachi.