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Cricketers reflect on their lives and times

Asif Iqbal

'Modern cricketers should be grateful to Kerry Packer'

The former Pakistan captain on how he turned from bowler to batsman, why he masterminded the Sharjah tournaments, his leadership regrets, and more

Interview by Ijaz Chaudhry

November 26, 2010

Comments: 17 | Text size: A | A

Asif Iqbal poses for a photo, June 14, 1974
"I was often called the man for a crisis. Pressure situations brought the best out of me" © PA Photos
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Players/Officials: Asif Iqbal | Intikhab Alam | Javed Miandad
Teams: Kent | Pakistan

I migrated from India to Pakistan in 1961. It was a family decision. My older brother had already shifted to Pakistan. I had been making a name for myself in Indian cricket, but I was confident that I would be able to further my cricketing ambitions in Pakistan as well. I encountered no difficulty in settling down in Karachi.

My uncle was the former Indian offspinner Ghulam Ahmed. He was not the only cricketer in the family. Many of my other uncles also played first-class cricket.

My big hundred in the Oval Test of 1967 was crucial for my career. When Pakistan were eight wickets down for 70-odd on the fourth day, there was talk of a 40-over match to entertain the crowd. That motivated me.

Javed Miandad is my favourite cricketer. He is the most gifted batsman I have seen, He had amazing self-belief and could take on anyone.

I was wrong to put West Indies in to bat in the 1979 World Cup semi-final on an excellent batting track. That decision probably cost us a spot in the final.

From 1964 to 1967 I was primarily a bowler who could also bat a bit. I opened the attack and batted mostly at No. 8. The roles were reversed after the 1967 tour of England.

My innings of 120 in the 1976-77 Sydney Test was my finest batting performance, as it played a major role in Pakistan's first Test win in Australia.

Joel Garner was the most difficult bowler I faced. It was extremely difficult to pick his length because of his great height.

Before the 1967 England tour I developed a back problem. I knew I could no longer play just as a bowler, so I was determined to do well with the bat. In the first Test, at Lord's, my 76 helped Pakistan avoid the follow-on and draw the Test.

My greatest disappointment was not being able to deliver as Pakistan captain.

When I was named the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1968, I didn't know such a thing existed.

Playing for Kent from 1968 to 1982 was a great experience. I played with a number of stars, including Colin Cowdrey, Alan Knott, Derek Underwood, Mike Denness and Bernard Julien among others.

 
 
"Javed Miandad is my favourite cricketer. He is the most gifted batsman I have seen. He had amazing self-belief and could take on anyone"
 

Pakistan suffered so many narrow losses in the early 70s because we were not used to winning: Leeds 1971, Melbourne and Sydney in 1972-73, and the World Cup 1975 tie against West Indies. The players got excited and failed to concentrate on the job at hand.

Mushtaq Mohammad was the best Pakistan captain I played under. He was not only a shrewd tactician but also moulded a talented bunch of players into a single unit. He inculcated a winning mentality in them.

During my county career, in the winter months I worked for Thomas Cook. I arranged supporters' tours for sports events.

My stand of 190 with Intikhab Alam at The Oval was a world record for the ninth wicket. That brought me instant fame and cemented my place in the Pakistan team. It also got me a mention in Wisden. I was promoted to the middle order and received offers from quite a few English counties.

Pakistan's performance improved with every England tour I made with them. This was because a number of Pakistanis had joined the county circuit in the late 60s and early 70s. The experience honed their skills and made them professional. So in the 1975 World Cup, Pakistan were one of the favourites.

I was twice overlooked for the captaincy when Intikhab Alam was removed - in 1972-73 and in 1976-77 - despite being his deputy both times. At the time it didn't bother me since my only passion was playing. But in hindsight I was hurt because I always thought I was being groomed for the big job. Still, I had the honour of captaining my country in the first two World Cups.

I led Kent to the joint county championship in my first season as captain, in 1977. But the next season I was removed from captaincy because of my contract with Kerry Packer. I captained them again in '81 and '82 but didn't have any success because by then I had retired from Tests and wasn't as enthusiastic. The wound of being unfairly removed after 1977 had not fully healed too.

My best bowling performance was 5 for 48 in Wellington in 1964-65. I took 18 wickets in three Tests in that series.

My only Test series as captain was against India in 1979-80. We were beaten by a better side. The umpiring was not up to the standard in a couple of Tests but overall India played better and deserved to win.


Mike Denness and Asif Iqbal are carried on the shoulders of their team-mates after Kent's victory, Kent v Worcestershire, Benson & Hedges Cup final, Lord's July 21, 1973
"Playing for Kent from 1968 to 1982 was a great experience" © PA Photos
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I was the coordinator for the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS) in Sharjah. I knew what it was like to play for no money, and later for substantial amounts. I felt those who had played before my time deserved better lives. I requested Abdul Rahman Bukhatir to start a series that would monetarily benefit retired cricketers. During the initial years only subcontinental cricketers were nominated, but later cricketers from other countries also benefited from the CBFS.

Present-day cricketers and administrators should be grateful to Kerry Packer for not only making cricket a better paid game but also for the innovations he introduced. Even playing in county cricket didn't give you as much. Playing in the Packer Series made us better cricketers, as we played with and against great cricketers. I feel proud to have led the Rest of the World to victory in the Super Tests and one-dayers against Australia and West Indies.

I was the 100-metre sprint champion at school and college, which helped me become one of the fastest runners between the wickets.

Before I joined the English county circuit, I was an amateur. Experience on the circuit made me professional: my behaviour, thinking, eating and sleeping habits all changed. And because of that I played more useful innings for Pakistan in the latter part of my career.

The 1978-79 India-Pakistan Test series was significant for Pakistan cricket. India-Pakistan cricketing ties had been revived after 18 years. It was a period that saw two wars between the two countries. For the first time, matches were televised live all over Pakistan. And there were those two nailbiting wins for us in the last two Tests. All this made cricket the national passion.

I was often called a man for a crisis. Pressure situations brought the best out of me. When you are playing in a team sport, your role is to help the team win - or not lose. Most of my big scores came when trying to save or win matches for Pakistan.

 
 
"The IPL is supplementing this new phenomenon of Twenty20: money before cricket. There is more talk about rupees and dollars than runs and wickets"
 

CBFS ended due to a number of reasons. India and Pakistan started playing each other more in other parts of the world. And the increasingly crowded cricket calendar made it harder to have three or four teams, including India and Pakistan, playing in Sharjah. The interests of the administrators, especially Bukhatir, moved to new ventures like private television Yes, there were also allegations of match-fixing during Sharjah games, and the ECB set up an investigation team, but they didn't find any evidence.

I served as an ICC match referee for many years and also as an ICC ambassador to promote cricket in associate countries. In those days the appointment was from tour to tour. Nowadays it is a full time job.

My long career with Kent made me fall in love with the county, and I decided to settle down here. I am an honorary life member of Kent, as well as of the MCC.

Being an optimist is my best attribute.

Eden Gardens and the SCG are my favourite grounds. They have awesome atmosphere and huge crowds.

Twenty20 cricket is still evolving. Though it does not have much to do with cricket in pure technical terms, it is the demand of the industry. And cricket is an industry. It has already become the most popular format with the new generation and has even lured the ladies to grounds. It has all the makings of being the future. But I, personally, don't want to see that day.

These days I work as a sports coordinator with ARY Digital, a popular Pakistani TV channel, in their London office.

The IPL is supplementing this new phenomenon of Twenty20: money before cricket. There is more talk of rupees and dollars than runs and wickets.

Ijaz Chaudhry writes on cricket and other sports. For more about him and samples of his published work, visit www.sportscorrespondent.info

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Posted by harshthakor on (November 28, 2010, 9:12 GMT)

The best no 6 batsman in the world in the later 1970's and the best after Sir Gary Sobers upto 1980.A champion batting with tailenders and one of the best batsman in a crisis.His 146 in 1967 at the Oval is rated amongst the greatest innings ever.In 1976-77 played brilliant knocks against great pace attcks in Austraila and West Indies.Played a major role through his 120 in the 3rd test at Sydney in Pakistan drawing their first ever test rubber in Australia.

Posted by nafzak on (November 27, 2010, 20:28 GMT)

I have very fond memories of meeting Asif Iqbal with a touring Pakistani team (PIA - I think) at Leonora, Guyana in the 70's. Hanif Mohammad @ Asif Masood also toured with that team. Guyana did beat them that day, but that was secondary to meeting the touring Pakistanis, especially the great Hanif Mohammad.

Posted by CricketFirstLove on (November 27, 2010, 19:43 GMT)

He was extreme talent. Want to read more on him.

Posted by Roger_Allott on (November 27, 2010, 16:13 GMT)

I recently created a spreadsheet to compare all-rounders in both tests and ODIs. What made it different to similar exercises conducted by others was that I incorporated a parameter to measure the extent to which the player's team used him as a bowler, which I feel is important in determining whether he can really be considered to be an all-rounder at all. For ODIs, Asif Iqbal came top, followed by Viv Richards (he bowled a surprisingly significant number of overs!), Greg Chappell and then Jacques Kallis. (Of course, some might argue that Asif should be excluded for having played so few ODIs.) In tests, BTW, Sobers came top (as should be expected), followed by Kallis, Jack Gregory and Wally Hammond. I would love to write an article for espncricinfo about my methodology and conclusions so as to open up the eternal debate in a slightly new direction.

Posted by ShAh00 on (November 27, 2010, 13:19 GMT)

Nice Interview...... I like that.... But, one thing missing.... not a Single Word about IMRAN KHAN........ interesting..... Anyways, I must say that, through CBFS and SHARJAH Cricket Tournaments, You have done the similar kind of job for SUBCONTINENT Cricket, atleast, like KARY PACKER did Mainly AUSTRALIAN and Rest of the World Cricket. Great JOB Mr. ASIF IQBAL..... Truly Deserve an applause, A good Sportsman, A fine Cricketer, and a Thorough Gentleman:)))

Posted by mraam on (November 27, 2010, 12:29 GMT)

nice to hear from asif,he is a great man in his times.but the only thing that is not highlighted is about his bowling. we want to hear more about him.

Posted by PlayfromDallas on (November 27, 2010, 5:30 GMT)

Asif Bhai, regrettably poor relation ship of you & Sarfraz cost us the1979 India series. This was the era when Sarfraz was considered a better bowler than Imran! At least Rashid Khan or Tariq Wahab should be on the tour in the absence of Sarfraz; Ehtisham as a third seamer was ok only if Imran was fit. Tasleem Arif should have been given chance much earlier at the place of Bari instead of replacement of Zaheer in Calcutta. You must have not taken Talat Mirza to Indian tour he was barely a club cricketer! Your respond to Shujauddin was awesome during PTV interview India tour 1979. New Zealand 1978 when you threw the bat because of Warren Lees was seledging was quite cool. During Australian tour of 1978 while you were batting your clapping for Keven Right's superb keeping was great sportsmen ship; he was an awesome keeper from Australia. When you were captain things may not turned out as we wanted but one thing is sure that you were a great cricketing asset for Pakistan cricket.

Posted by Cricinfo-Editorial on (November 27, 2010, 3:26 GMT)

Asif Iqbal's uncle's name has been corrected: Ghulam Ahmed, not Mohammad

Posted by Damageinc on (November 27, 2010, 2:50 GMT)

Asif Iqbal was one of the best middle order batsman that Pakistan has ever produced.Also,love him for praising Javed Miandad and i agree with him Javed was truly the best batsman that i have seen.

Posted by Nampally on (November 27, 2010, 0:41 GMT)

I was one of the team mates of Asif playing for Osmania University in the All India inter varsity Tourney which won the south zone that year. He was a terrific all rounder and a fantastic batsmen & even at the age of 14 his talent was evident. He would have done just as well even if he decided to stay in India. I was so pleased to see him do so well for Kent and Pakistan - captained both.He was the first non-white captain of Kent & succeeded M.C.Cowdrey (MCC) as captain. An attacking batsmen and a good opening bowler who was also a brilliant fielder. Good Luck Asif (or shall I say Mashood) and I am pleased to read your views.

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