Rewind to Rewind toRSS FeedFeeds


A triumph of concentration

We turn the clock back 50 years, to one of Test cricket's most remarkable rearguards

Saad Shafqat

February 2, 2008

Text size: A | A

High praise from the Caribbean media after the drawn Test © The Gleaner

It was made half a century ago, yet it is still the highest Test score away from home. There have been 20 other triple-hundreds, yet this remains the only one made in the second innings. In fact, it was made after following on - not from any mere 200-run deficit, but from an almost bottomless abyss of 473.

It was January 1958 in Bridgetown, Barbados. Pakistan, the latest entrants to Test cricket, were playing their first Test against West Indies. In response to a first innings of 579, Pakistan were skittled out for a humiliating 106. Hanif Mohammad came out to open the second innings on the third afternoon. It was a six-day Test, and saving it required that he stay at the crease for another three days - in cricketing terms, an eternity.

Hanif wasn't sure if he had any gifts of technique or temperament, but he did have confidence in his ability to concentrate. He decided to play every ball with the utmost concentration, determined to face each delivery as if it was his first. He was batting on a deteriorating wicket, against menacing bowlers, in front of local umpires. Every now and then the ball would kick. Hanif kept his head still and his eyes never wavered from the ball. He had no headgear, and even his pads were thin and slender, providing scant protection. He had no arm guard either, and a rolled up hotel towel functioned as a thigh pad.

Today, Hanif is a comfortably retired man, basking in his status as the original cricket hero in a land of icons. There are other bright feathers in his cap - soon after this Test triple-hundred he made 499, the highest first-class score for many years - but the 337 at Bridgetown is a topic that never fails to brighten him.

Reclining in the garden of his spacious house in Karachi, not too far from National Stadium, as it happens, he recalls the details vividly. One of the myths around that innings is it was so technically perfect, the ball never once touched his pads. "Well, almost," Hanif offers genially. "The pitch had some rough areas and a few times the ball did misbehave, which made me miss the line. This one delivery, I even thought I was lbw. But fate was with me."

The West Indian bowling in this match centered on the swing of Eric Atkinson, the furious pace of Roy Gilchrist, and the spin of Collie Smith and Alf Valentine. "Atkinson was the only one who really troubled me," says Hanif. "He used to put a lot of cream in his hair. That may have had something to do with the fact that he managed to swing it both ways, and swing it late."

Hanif returns to the pavilion after his epic innings © Cricinfo
Pakistan ended that third day on 162 for 1, but despite the beginnings of a fightback, no one really gave them a chance. Hanif was expecting a chat from his captain, Abdul Kardar, who commanded respect as an astute strategist and a great motivator, but all he got was a note beside his bed. "You are our only hope," Kardar wrote. No words were exchanged.

Hanif batted all through the next day and returned unbeaten on 161. Kardar's note that evening said, "You can do it" - a simple enough encouragement, but one that Hanif recalls was strongly motivating. "We had put up an honorable rearguard, and there was an intense feeling of team spirit." At the end of the fifth day, he was on 270. Pakistan had progressed to 525 for 3 - an outstanding score but, under the circumstances, still a lead of only 52. With one more day to go, they remained very much in danger.

By this time, Hanif was in the middle of writing an epic. Kardar's note that evening implored him. "If you can bat until tea tomorrow, the match will be saved," he wrote. Hanif had already batted two and a half days, and he found himself reaching for reserves of energy and concentration he never thought he possessed. "It had to be done," he will tell you today, "so I did it."

He did not surrender his wicket until Pakistan were safe. "It wasn't a lapse of concentration," he is quick to point out even now. "The ball hit a tricky spot, knocking out some dirt from the pitch and catching the shoulder of my bat." At 970 minutes, it was the longest Test innings of its time. Fifty years later, it still is.

There has been no shortage of accolades for Hanif's endeavour. It left witnesses in awe of his powers of concentration, drawing generous commendation in the autobiographies of Hanif's team-mate Fazal Mahmood, and Sir Garry Sobers, who played against him. Fazal describes how Hanif eventually charmed even the partisan spectators: "The West Indies crowd was hostile to him during the first two days of his batting, but turned friendly on the third day. They then started instructing him how to tackle Gilchrist and the others. One spectator sitting on top of a tree would forewarn Hanif whether the next ball would be a bouncer or a yorker." Analysts, too, have saluted the innings. Peter Roebuck included it in his book Great Innings, awarding it the highest marks for courage and heroism. In a Wisden ranking in 2002, Steven Lynch recognised it among the greatest Test rearguards of all time.

Later generations have not seen Hanif bat, but it is not difficult to conjure up the image. He must have seemed a fortress at the wicket. Javed Miandad, whose father knew Hanif, tells the story of once receiving one of Hanif's bats as a gift; it left him awestruck, because the only marks on that bat were right in the middle - the edges and shoulders were spotless. Sunil Gavaskar, who never saw Hanif bat, nevertheless listened to his Bombay coach relate tales of Hanif's impeccable technique, and modelled his own on it. Sachin Tendulkar, who has taken on the "Little Master" sobriquet that Hanif originally inspired, proudly considers himself one of Hanif's batting heirs.

Hanif's magnificent achievement can be gauged by several yardsticks, but none more remarkable than that 50 years on, it is still celebrated as an unequalled feat. After that innings, he shot up in fame and stature immediately. But he readily acknowledges he had no idea that so long after, his effort would remain unsurpassed. In the intervening time the world has seen another 1400-odd Test matches and an extraordinary cavalcade of batting feats, but it has yet to see an innings of greater valour and defiance. One can never settle the question whether it is the greatest innings of all time, but Hanif's 337 is as good a contender for that title as any.

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? Email us with your comments and suggestions.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

RSS Feeds: Saad Shafqat

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Email Feedback Print
Saad ShafqatClose
Related Links

    The return of Bob Simpson

Rewind: When the 41-year-old former captain came out of retirement to lead Australia against India

    Ranji in Ireland, Hazare in Mumbai

Subash Jayaraman's cricket world tour takes in Dublin, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Chennai

    A year of triumph and disaster

Martin Crowe: Misbah, McCullum, and the ICC's efforts against chucking were the positive highlights in a year that ended with the tragedy of Phillip Hughes' death

    Two fortresses called Brisbane and Centurion

Numbers Game: Australia haven't lost at the Gabba since 1988, while South Africa have a 14-2 record in Centurion

Why Steven Smith's here to stay

Russell Jackson: He has experienced captaincy at every level. Most admirably, he has managed to reinvent his game to succeed at the highest level

News | Features Last 7 days

The perfect Test

After the tragedy of Phillip Hughes' death, this match showed that cricket and life will continue to go on. This time Test cricket dug in and got through to tea.

Kohli attains batting nirvana

Virat Kohli's innings on the final day transcended the conditions, the bowlers and his batting partners, and when it was all in vain, he displayed remarkable grace in defeat

What ails Rohit and Watson?

Both batsmen seemingly have buckets of talent at their disposal and the backing of their captains, but soft dismissals relentlessly follow both around the Test arena

Hazlewood completes quartet of promise

Josh Hazlewood has been on Australian cricket's radar since he was a teenager. The player that made a Test debut at the Gabba was a much-improved version of the tearaway from 2010

Australia in good hands under proactive Smith

The new stand-in captain has the makings of a long-term leader, given his ability to stay ahead of the game

News | Features Last 7 days

    BCCI's argument against DRS not 100% (164)

    Turning your back on a system that the whole cricketing world wants a discussion on, refusing to discuss it because it is not 100%, is not good enough

    Karn struggles to stay afloat (114)

    The failed gamble of handing Karn Sharma a Test debut despite him having a moderate first-class record means India have to rethink who their spinner will be

    Kohli attains batting nirvana (110)

    Virat Kohli's innings on the final day transcended the conditions, the bowlers and his batting partners, and when it was all in vain, he displayed remarkable grace in defeat

    When defeat isn't depressing (57)

    After a long time we have seen an Indian team and captain enjoy the challenge of trying to overcome stronger opposition in an overseas Test

    What ails Rohit and Watson? (53)

    Both batsmen seemingly have buckets of talent at their disposal and the backing of their captains, but soft dismissals relentlessly follow both around the Test arena