June 12, 2005

The eternal idol

Huw Richards
For a seven-year-old Glamorgan fan who couldn't place Pakistan on a map, Majid Khan was an exotic, romantic hero, and a cricketer of substance and style

Majid Khan was my favourite cricketer before I ever saw him in the flesh, discovered via print, radio and mind's eye in 1967. Not, for most people, an especially memorable cricket year: India and Pakistan sent a couple of their less distinguished touring teams to England. Most people, though, were not seven years old and discovering Test cricket for the first time.

Logically, India should have caught the imagination. A team led by a one-eyed prince, with a wicketkeeper who was apparently named after his job, and a turbaned spin bowler should have excited any seven-year-old.

Instead it was Pakistan. I couldn't have found it on a map - always assuming, only 20 years on from Partition, that either school or home could have furnished one that showed it. But the "Made in Pakistan" printed on my child-size bat wielded ineffectively on beaches that summer while listening to John Arlott and radio confreres describing Hanif Mohammad batting, apparently forever, at Lord's, furnished the illusion of affinity.

Majid, identified more often than not as the son of the man whose delivery had killed a sparrow at Lord's in the 1930s, failed in the Tests. Little matter. He had already stamped himself indelibly on this mind's eye with an extraordinary innings against Glamorgan, my team, in Swansea. One hundred and forty-seven runs in 89 minutes, with 13 sixes. Not long after, it was announced that he had signed for Glamorgan.

He joined the overwhelming wave of novelty associated with 1968, the transforming year in which international greatness - Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai et al - descended upon county cricket. He was Glamorgan's best player, but favouritism is inherently subjective, springing from something that strikes a chord, not objective assessment of quality. Most Test selectors would choose David Gower rather than Derek Randall, Nathan Astle ahead of Chris Harris, Javed Miandad instead of Inzamam-ul-Haq, and Adam Gilchrist before Farokh Engineer. All are fine, engaging cricketers - but Randall, Harris, Inzamam and Engineer have struck in me some deeper nerve of affinity.

That Glamorgan team had numerous candidates for hero worship. Alan Jones and Don Shepherd, Welshmen both, were, respectively, the highest scorer and most prolific wicket-taker never to play in Tests. But Majid offered something different. Years later I interviewed American writer Robert Parker and quizzed him about the relationship between his life and that of his main character, the quixotic, literate Boston private eye Spenser: "There is a fair amount in common, but Spenser can do things that I can' t do, and nor can anybody else, because he's a romantic hero, and that's what they do."

Majid was our romantic hero. He came from a faraway country of which we knew little, and even before the incredible innings that won him his contract in 1967, had done implausible things like make his first-class debut, score a century and taking six wickets, at 15. And what small boy could not warm to a batsman who took bonus payments for exceptional performances from a grateful captain in the form of multiple ice-cream cones?

A friend who went into football journalism once said that the saddest part was the progressive disillusionment of meeting people he had idolised as players. But the flesh-and-blood Majid seen with the critical eyes of teenage years had all the magic of the imagined hero of childhood

None of our other, more local, heroes could change his name between seasons (Majid Jahangir became Khan from 1970 on) score a double-century in the Varsity match, or most importantly, an attacking 156 on a brutal wicket in the match that gave Glamorgan the championship in 1969. Tony Lewis' memoirs confirm that Majid was to Glamorgan what Adam Gilchrist was for Australia, a batting catalyst transforming his team's sense of the possible.

Romantic heroism cannot always survive the scrutiny of reality. A friend who went into football journalism once said that the saddest part was the progressive disillusionment of meeting people he had idolised as players. But the flesh-and-blood Majid seen with the critical eyes of teenage years had all the magic of the imagined hero of childhood.

Least of the joys of his 110 against Australia in Swansea in 1975 was that it came in two hours. Still more striking was the unhurried ease of his movements, and timing so uncanny that 85mph deliveries from Max Walker and Alan Hurst would be despatched firmly to the boundary without the contact of bat and ball making any sound. What might Wilfred Rhodes, famously capable of following cricket by sound alone, have made of Majid in this form? Greg Chappell, chasing the fastest double-hundred of all time when dismissed for 144 the following day (that Clive Lloyd broke the record at Swansea a year later says all you need to know about Glamorgan's mid-1970s bowling), seemed by comparison prosaic.

Nor was Majid just a man for good days and easy wickets. Bishan Bedi reckoned him the best bad-wicket player in the world, an instinctive master of the turning ball. Dennis Lillee tried (not, it would seem, on aesthetic grounds) but failed to knock off the floppy hat that was Majid's sole concession to inelegance.

A personal memory is of Majid batting against Geoff Arnold, Mike Hendrick, and Chris Old - an England attack that might have been designed for the conditions - at Headingley in 1974. For once, he did not make it look easy. Not much was timed. But as Sadiq and Mushtaq Mohammad, Zaheer Abbas and Asif Iqbal mustered only 96 between them (Dennis Amiss, John Edrich and Keith Fletcher totalled 33 the following day), a four-hour vigil produced the highest score of the match, 75, and a comfortable first-innings lead for Pakistan.

Majid was a cricketer of substance as well as style, an imagined hero who turned out well in reality. Rob Steen was right when he decried the unthinking retention of heroes of childhood, but having thought about this one, I see less reason than ever to discard him.

Huw Richards is cricket correspondent of the International Herald Tribune. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2005

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • gallant on June 15, 2011, 23:57 GMT

    In the Pakistan dressing room, "Majid Bhai" was there by default to take on the new ball fire from Lillee, Thomson, Roberts, Holding, Croft, Garner and Willis, so that the superstars coming down the order could do comfortable batting. "Majid Bhai" would just come out and hook, cut and cover drive these pacemen as if they were a bunch of club bowlers. And if he nicked the ball, he would walk off even if the score was 47 or 48, smiling as if the kids had received enough beating. At the tender age of 64, Majid is as elegant and as full of substance as he was in his playing days. PhD student Annual Review:

  • Azim on June 15, 2011, 21:57 GMT

    English conditions, lush green out field, spectators calm and observing. Bob Willis running in on his foot marks with his long curve bowling run up and his golden curly hair limping. Camera slowly zooming in towards the batsman as Willis is approaching the bowling crease. Majid at the batting crease with the most beautiful stance, most elegant white out fit only his face above is exposed with a smile and the green cap on with the golden star on top; as he faced the ball he most effortlessly offers his beautiful patent short 'Mighty Cut' the ball traveled towards point and rolls over the rope. The English spectators broke their silence and claps in unisons very elegantly; can any sports in the world match this level of elegance? One can only say it is nothing but a great piece of Art or one can argue "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" take your pick but I think, this beauty is only belongs to the great game of cricket and certainly Majid has added a true charming glamour to it.

  • gallant on June 15, 2011, 19:45 GMT

    Majid was the best batsman of pace bowling from Pakistan, ever. In his career, Majid batted at all 11 positions in the batting order, always responding to the team's need, not worrying about his statistics, and shielding other batsmen from some of the fearsome bowlers. As an opener he gave a solid foundation to the Pakistani batting for good 7-8 years, often smashing the best fast bowlers in the early overs to give relief to the lower batting order. A totally selfless player who could have scored much more runs if he wanted to. No such class can be found in current Pakistani players anymore.

    And it is a shame that cricinfo did not include him in their all time Pakistan XI -- it just shows the knowledge of some of the current cricket journalists. What do they know about cricket?

  • atif on June 15, 2011, 10:55 GMT

    (Part 2) Majid was on the next table, he appeared very relaxed holding on to his refreshment and quietly enjoying away his evening like a true professional. Majid appeared a lot mellow and a gentle person, a person who would sink in with the evening after a hard days play! Majid incidently was playing in the forth-coming third Test at Headingley, and probably was keeping a little reserved and trying to concentrate a little on his next assignment as he was a little short of runs on tour, the best was 88 against his old County Glamorgan. When the team got up from their table after the meal, Imran called Majid and introduced me and my brother to him who met us both with delight and started to ask us about our studies. It was a great sight to see Imran and Majid together. Imran respected Majid like an elder brother and you could sense that from the way he called upon Majid and the way he spoke to him that particlar time. Majid will always remain in our hearts as a true Legend!

  • atif on June 15, 2011, 10:08 GMT

    (Part 1) I was very fortunate to have dinner with the full 1982 Pakistan touring squad in England. The dinner was at the Shabab restaurant in Harrogate, one of the most beautiful restaurant in Yorkshire. The dinner took place in August, where the Pakistan team were up at Headingley practicing for their next assignment - the third Cornhill Test Match. I cherish upon the splendid evening I had with the team as they were in great spirits and morale was sky high after pulling off a memorable victory at Lords a couple of days ago! I met the elegant Mohsin Khan, fresh from his record 200, he appeared to be glowing with his wonderful achievement as I shook his hand with delight and congratulated him on his marvelous feat. I was sitting next to Wasim Bari who was heavily engaged throughout the night with the man sitting opposite to us - the Great Great Imran Khan(Wow what a sight!) Imran was very casual and relaxed, it wasn't hard to notice that he got on well with his wicket keeper.

  • Bennett on June 13, 2011, 20:19 GMT

    An interesting story I read some time ago re Majid. When Gordon Greenidge hit 13 sixes in a county match, he was feted at a ceremony in England. The MC asked all attendees who have NOT hit 13 sixes in a FC innings, to please stand up.They did, except for Greenidge who remained seated. Then someone noticed that Majid was still sitting. Much as they tried to coax him into standing, he cheerfully refused. Only then did someone realize that, yes indeed, Majid had hit 13 sixes/innings during Pakistan's 1967 tour to England. Magnificent, majestic Majid.

  • Dummy4 on June 13, 2011, 16:48 GMT


    Alas! there is little of gentlemen cricketers today beyond money - players made little, but cricket was clean. Some old timers in this spirit of this included and more: Richie Beneau, Frank Worrel , Peter May(as captain he declared himself at 285 n/o - no fuss).

    A generation earlier in the sub- continent - were Maharaj Vizzy - Pataudi Sr., Hafeeiz Kardar. Cricket romantcism came in the dashing stride of Keith Miller/D.Compton/Fazal Mahmood (they had no adversaries if themselves)

    Once visiting Pakistan I saw Majid Jahangir( latter Khan) knock of a century before lunch against N.Zealand. He was great hook shot players against the fastest emulating Imtiaz Ahmed -perhaps one of the finest in the game. As an administrator for the likes of ICC - Majid was pushed out in his own back yard.

    With so much taken out of this game - for those somehow returned to its interest despite its irrelevance to the geography, more should come about the glory than hate and prejudice.

  • Yasin on June 13, 2011, 15:49 GMT

    Majid Khan was the most elegant, stylish, and graceful player of his era if later generation would like to get an idea of his elegance, that would be David Gower, Greg Chappell, and Mohsin Khan. However, Majid still qualifies for the top very gracefully; these are just a milder term to describe Majid's elegance, in simple term no one has matched his elegance of batting in Intl cricket. Majid was selected as a Kerry Packer World XI opener to face West Indian & Australian best fire power ever in the history of the fast bowling is the achievement every opener around the World would dream off. How Pakistan managed to produced that kind of class at the embryonic stages of its cricket is simply a mind boggling phenomenon; being from Karachi the answer I find: Club cricketing standards in Pakistan were very high & we were playing English County. The sixty five thousand dollar question is can we find another Majid? The answer is 'Yes' only if we go back to the standards of our club cricket.

  • Shuja on June 13, 2011, 12:42 GMT

    I was lucky enough to see Majid score that century before lunch against New Zealand at National Stadium, Karachi in 1976. Credit also should be given to the New Zealand captain for not employing a defensive field, and when Sadiq realized what Majid was up for, he took singles to give Majid most of the strike. Another one of Majid's class innings at Karachi was against West Indies and the fearsome Andy Roberts in 1975. The other Pakistani batsmen were too intimidated by Andy Roberts, whereas Majid appeared unflappable. And finally I was fortunate to see Majid dismiss Bill Lawry in his maiden spell in test cricket in Karachi against Bobby Simpson's Australians. BTW Majid was selected as a fast bowler with Asif Iqbal sharing the new ball at the other end!

  • Dummy4 on June 13, 2011, 12:08 GMT

    I remember watching MJ Khan batting in his floppy hat (the only sign of inelegance stated in the article) and Peter West commentating said to Dennis Compton, what on earth is Majid wearing on his head? to which Dennis Compton quietly responded, " I have been too busy watching the sheer artistry of the batting to look at what he is wearing on his head" As an Indian, I have no reservation in stating that Pakistan produced two imperiously elegant batsmen, MJ Khan and Zaheer Abbsas, oh to see the likes of those two again!!

  • No featured comments at the moment.