Javed Miandad July 4, 2009

Agent provocateur

He was the main event both on and off the field - sledging, jesting, fighting, winning, and getting up people's noses most of all

Javed Miandad objected to what became the cliché routinely recycled in descriptions of him: "streetfighter". What did that mean? Sure, he grew up playing tape-ball cricket in the lanes that criss-cross Karachi's Ranchore Lines. But so did everyone he knew. It made no more sense than calling Allan Border an "Oval-fighter". Such was Miandad's lot. How many runs he made, or victories he led Pakistan to, something about him remained irreducibly different, foreign, Pakistani - not that he'd have had it another way.

Most cricket autobiographies include some boilerplate about the national pride inherent in Test selection. Miandad's Cutting Edge (2003) is fiercely, almost floridly patriotic. "As far as I was concerned," he states unambiguously, "cricket was war and I was at war whenever I played." In fact he says it more than once, and describes in some detail the "terrible embarrassment and shame" he suffered in defeat, while crowd support "brought tears to my eyes and a chill down my spine".

There's none of the patrician grace or cosmopolitan veneer of his great contemporary Imran Khan; such politeness is for "Oxbridge Pakistanis", whom Miandad always affected to cordially despise. The air is uncompromisingly martial, and the intensity all consuming. Indeed, as Mushtaq Ahmed relates in his Twenty20 Vision (2006), it could be hard to bear: "He always wanted to consider the conversations about cricket throughout the evening after a hard day in the field when we were tired and wanted to relax. I was frightened to be on his table at dinner because I knew he would bombard me with questions about what I had done wrong on the pitch during the day."

What's curious is that at the crease this manifested as the opposite. No batsman looked more relaxed, more self-amused than Miandad. Even Viv Richards - there was a high-strung energy to his swagger. Miandad sauntered to the centre like he was already 180 not out; he'd chat, he'd sing, he'd jest and joke. Of his 271 at Eden Park in February 1989, John Wright described him as batting as though "sitting on a sofa in his front room". Ian Smith recalled him turning at one point to chirp: "Nice day today. Would be a lot nicer for you boys at the beach."

Richards merely made it look as though you weren't good enough to bowl to him; Miandad said it to your face. He'd pick on Dilip Doshi, for instance, charging down the wicket then dead-batting him, hissing contemptuously: "I should have hit that for six!" He persecuted the slow-moving Doshi in the field, too, calling as he hit to him: "Come on, there's two! It's only Doshi!" In a workplace, this would now be called bullying, victimisation, psychological cruelty. On the cricket field, it was 100% pure Miandad.

The piss-taking air took you in. There was nothing light-hearted about it: in fact, the worst response was to reply in kind, for Miandad relished provocation. And while his two-shouldered stance was a picture of relaxation, the release of the ball acted like a hair trigger, combining all his faculties: quick feet to position him, quick hands to adjust to late movement, quick reflexes to make something out of apparently nothing. He placed singles with a pickpocket's opportunism, squeezing no fewer than 45 into an unbeaten 59 in the first match of a World Series Cup in December 1992. Loose balls were never the same again.

There is one particularly flavoursome photograph of Miandad turning the ball off his pads. In the stock shot of the flick off the toes, batsmen usually look limber and elegant. In this particular Patrick Eagar image, a bareheaded Miandad has absolutely monstered the ball. The feet are blurred, the body is tilted forward at more than 45 degrees, like the forward surge of the hood ornament on a Jaguar. He has not tickled this to fine leg for one; he has smashed it through square leg, already sensing three, keen to make it an all-run four if he can.

Richards merely made it look as though you weren't good enough to bowl to him, Miandad said it to your face. He'd pick on Dilip Doshi, for instance, charging down the wicket then dead-batting him, hissing contemptuously: "I should have hit that for six!"

Miandad wanted the most of everything, off the field as well as on. Runs alone were insufficient. He pursued records and milestones avidly. Six pages of Cutting Edge are dedicated to kvetching about the day in Hyderabad that Imran declared when Miandad was 280 not out.

Miandad had a very modern taste for bling, setting himself to win the player-of-the series award during the Perth Challenge because he fancied the Longines watch on offer. He thought that "the single most important achievement of my professional career" was the Austral-Asia Cup final in April 1986, when the match-winning six that climaxed his 116 not out from 114 balls poured forth coin like a fruit machine: from a Mercedes to a $80,000 diamond-encrusted bracelet, not to mention a promotion at Habib Bank. Mushtaq describes how Miandad created a "Celeb System" for the distribution of prize money after Pakistan's successful 1992 tour of England. When junior players complained about the sliding scale favouring those with more caps, and Miandad with the greatest number of caps most of all, he browbeat them: "Why are you always thinking about money instead of playing cricket? You have only just started playing for Pakistan and you are becoming greedy."

Miandad, nonetheless, was a player always to have at one's side, if only because playing against him could be so unpleasant. And here he joins a very select group in the game's history, whose unbridled and unconcealed competitiveness has been integral to their cricket, as much a gift as a quality cover-drive or outswinger. The lineage can be traced back to WG Grace - it takes in more Australians than seems polite to name, but Miandad was the player who brought that cocky strut to south Asia, the likes of Arjuna Ranatunga and Harbhajan Singh being unthinkable without him. Indeed it is no coincidence that the pricks all three have kicked against have been chiefly Australian. Australians have been sledging's main exponents and apologists; to sledge an Australian back involves an insurrection of the first order.

One of Miandad's early patrons, in fact, was that pioneer Aussie-baiter Tony Greig, who brought the teenage prodigy to Sussex, and then to Sydney for the second season of Kerry Packer's World Series. Asif Iqbal recalled Greig posting Miandad at silly point to Derek Underwood when Ian Chappell was batting. "Javed kept up a barrage of talk in Urdu with the name Ian Chappell figuring prominently. And although none of it was abusive, Ian, unable to understand any of it, probably thought it was. He gradually reached the end of his tether and ended up holing out to deep midwicket." Then, of course, there was the tangle with Dennis Lillee in Perth, too infamous to need further description, although worth more elaboration than it usually receives.

These were red-blooded, bare-knuckled days. Test cricket before the ICC Code of Conduct was a little like Hollywood before the Hays Code, constantly pressing against the bounds of acceptable behaviour and risking disapproval.

Lillee in his Perth hometown was a law unto himself. The WACA had been the scene of his first great triumph, against the Rest of the World, 10 years earlier, and his most protracted pout, over the aluminium Combat eight years later. With a worshipful local crowd and the famously bouncy local pitch, he felt unassailable. In Australia's first innings against Pakistan, he sat down between deliveries to make plain his disapproval of the visitors' over-rate, and also his annoyance at Miandad's chiacking from short leg. By the time their passions boiled over, Pakistan were 78 for 2, chasing 543. In other words, Miandad's was a challenge on par with spitting at the firing squad about to shoot you. But symbolic acts make for enduring myths, and Miandad intuitively understood that this was one: "I don't think Dennis or any other Australians had expected to see a Pakistani player like me who simply refused to back down… We were after all only from Pakistan and he felt he could take liberties with us. Had I been captain of England, I wonder if the idea of retaliating with a kick on the pads would even have entered Dennis' mind."

Here, in fact, Miandad grasped something as few previous cricket leaders had: the motivational power of grievance. It could be ugly. It could be obnoxious. It could even sometimes be sneaky, and Miandad had a Machiavellian flair for off-field intrigue too. But it was every bit as effective as Imran's captaincy by charisma. Both men won 14 Tests as leader, but Imran lost eight and Miandad six. Imran, furthermore, usually had Miandad's services, but Miandad not always Imran's. It also left a deeper mark, and a model to follow. No wonder Miandad disliked being defined; he was, in every sense, himself a definer.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

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