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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Skids on July 6, 2009, 15:59 GMT

    Great article! I agree with wanderer1 that he did A LOT for south Asian teams and helping them learn the ffun art of sledging! As an Indian, I respect gritty players like Miandad, Saeed Anwar and my favorite bowler - Akhtar. Honest to say, I cracked up when he started jumping up and down in front of Kiran More! That's why looking at today's generation of agressive players like Afridi, Gambhir, always reminds me of what of Miandad, who I would say is "The Pioneer of South Asian Sledging". I'll see if I can find the autobiography somewhere. It's sure to be a good read!

  • Farhan166 on July 6, 2009, 14:11 GMT

    Yes - Miandad was truly great. He was full of energy and commitment. I remember on his first tour of Australia in 1976 he set up Pakistan's first ever victory over Australia on the Australian soil in Sydney. In a match winning partnership with Asif Iqbal the two upset the Australian fielding by some outrageous running between the wickets. Its a pity that we don't see such recordings of some of the best fighting innings in Test cricket.

  • soho77 on July 6, 2009, 3:20 GMT

    Miandad brought to Pakistan cricket that no other Pakistani cricketer ever did. This article clearly points out that Miandad had great batting skills and a great attitude. Both these qualities helped take Pakistan cricket reach the top level. There are few cricketers like Miandad but it is them that make watching cricketing more exciting. Nice to see this article on a Pakistani legend, very well written.

  • krik8crazy on July 5, 2009, 19:52 GMT

    Javed is probably the greatest scrapper ever. He was passionate but also very street smart. I hated him in his playing days when he used to win more often than not against India, but even then I had a grudging admiration for his courage and fighting abilities. Perhaps his greatest achievement is his batting in the 1988 test series in the West Indies. Back then the WI was a dominant and fearsome opponent. The way Pakistan went toe to toe with the WI in that test series is remarkable. Javed was tactically very astute and could read the game very well. In the 1992 world cup he batted extremely well and guided young Inzamam to greatness on way to a title win. He is a player you would hate to play against but would love to include in your team if you had a choice.

  • SyedArbabAhmed on July 5, 2009, 9:25 GMT

    Miandad was one of the most RELIABLE & PATRIOTIC player the world has ever seen.

  • ashacks on July 5, 2009, 9:12 GMT

    There are good cricketers but no one like Javed Miandad. His unique personality (on the field or out of the field) always highlighted him. The article is good but shows racism he only derive personal observation and feelings. The fact is Miandad always enjoyed his game, never felt any frustration in all situations. By nature he always fought against misbehave activities and never allow opponent to dominate against him. (like lilli's misbehavior during miandad's effortless batting, behind the wicket Kiran's unnecessary appeals to bother him while he was batting and many other). SIMPLY HE WAS ONE OF THE BEST BATSMAN IN THE WORLD.

  • Jaggadaaku on July 5, 2009, 7:17 GMT

    It is no doubt that Miandad was skillful and great batsman, however, he wasn't a great palyer. He had capped 124 tests and 233 ODIs, but have he ever, even once, he offer respect his own team players or opposite team players? I mean if someone thinks the cricket is a war and he is in the war as a soldier, and everybody praises him. It is insanity. Cricket is a good game, but some bed-bugs like Miandad will suck blood by playing at the pitch or becoming selector of the certain teams. I am sure he would be the main cause, two great spinners Saqlain Mustaq, and Mustaq Ahmed would not get a chance to come-back to Pakistan Cricket team, and now they both have to play County Cricket for rest of his life. Moreover, he always played for money and tell junior players not to think about money, is cruilty. If you wanna be a priest, you have to change yourself first and then go for it.

  • Bagapath on July 5, 2009, 6:10 GMT

    superbly written..... way to go gideon...

  • Zaheerahmed on July 5, 2009, 4:28 GMT

    To fully comprehend this well articulated article you will have to understand the socio-political scenario prevailing in Pakistan in early 70s when Miandad was growing up. Pakistan had lost half of itself and the country was recovering from this jolt. The charged up atmosphere and the fear of losing all was instrumental in growing a generation which was confident, cockier than the previous generation of Pakistanis and better equipped to reply to any act of aggression. Miandad has all of this and much more due to this awareness and his humble background. Without any doubt he was the greatest batsman to come from Pakistan. I remember reading Viv Richards a few years back where he said if my life would be dependent upon the stay on the wicket then I would let Javed play it for me. A great tribute from the greatest.

  • AdityaMookerjee on July 5, 2009, 4:26 GMT

    Javed Miandad was to Pakistan cricket what Allan border was to Australian cricket, on the field. I always thought that getting Miandad out when he was batting, was extremely difficult, but an Indian leg spinner showed that it was not always so. If only Mr Sivaramakrishnan had played some more in his prime for India. The current Indian team, reminds me a lot of the Pakistan team of the 80's. While, the current Pakistan team reminds me of the Indian team of the 80's. Perhaps, Mr Miandad's presence on the cricket pitch was a part and parcel of his play. Perhaps, he motivated himself, and his brand of batting, with his presence on the cricket pitch. But, he was always entertaining to watch, even when he was playing India. When I watched the Benson &Hedges World Series Cup final match which India won against Pakistan, I was more entertained by the Pakistan players, than I was by the Indian players. The Pakistan team then was as alien to me as was South Africa, during those days.

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