Zaheer Abbas November 29, 2010

The art of Z

Alastair Hignell
Watching Zaheer Abbas bat from the other end was a study in the art of elegant batsmanship. And a lesson in running yourself out

Bespectacled, studious and mild-mannered, he seemed more like a check-in clerk at Pakistan International Airways than the star player for their cricket team. Skinny, frail and allergic to strenuous exercise, he was a reluctant fielder and could not see the point of taking more than two paces to deliver his apologetic offspin. He hated the cold - but not as much as his compatriot Sadiq Mohammad, who went out to field one icy April afternoon wearing his pyjamas under his tracksuit under his whites - and he disliked the daily grind of the county cricket circuit. But, boy, could he bat.

When Zaheer was at the crease, the whole thing looked ridiculously simple. Upright and elegant, he was equally at ease off front foot or back, but such were his reflexes that he quite often switched from one to the other mid-shot. Stylish and graceful, he never seemed to hurry a stroke or offer a false one. At the top of a back-lift with more twirls than a cheerleader's baton he seemed to pause for a fraction of a second before bringing the bat crashing down at the last moment to send the ball scorching away to the boundary.

Despite the spectacles he had the eyesight of an eagle. He also had the wrists of a squash player. It may have looked effortless, fluent and rhythmic, and all the other adjectives that were showered on Z's batting, but when Zaheer hit a ball, it stayed hit. And such was his feel for a gap that it rarely went straight to a fielder. Zaheer could play defensively but could not see much point in doing so. Even when he seemed to be going along quietly by his standards, it took only a glance at the scoreboard to see that the runs were still flowing freely.

He loved to bat. When he got to the crease Z entered a world of his own, where all that mattered was the bat in his hands and the possibilities it offered. He never set out to dominate the opposition. All he wanted to do was bat for as long as possible and score runs. If in the process records were broken, that was as it should be. If bowlers' hearts were broken as well, that was collateral damage.

He was dubbed the Asian Bradman and, like the Don, Z dealt in big scores. Four of his 12 Test centuries were doubles and the first was a nine-hour 274 against England at Edgbaston in 1971 in only his second Test. He made two against India in Lahore: the first, in 1978-79, was in a three-match series in which he scored a then record 583; the second, in 1982-83, made him the first batsman from the subcontinent to hit a hundred hundreds.

He also hit a second double-century against England, 240 at The Oval on Pakistan's 1974 tour. By then he had been capped by Gloucestershire, most of whose batting records looked unassailable in the hands of WG Grace and Wally Hammond. But while neither of those managed a double-century and a hundred in the same match, Zaheer did, four times. In all eight innings he was unbeaten. And County Championship matches lasted only three days. And there was a 100-over limit on each first innings. And he did not open the batting.

He loved to bat. When he got to the crease Z entered a world of his own, where all that mattered was the bat in his hands and the possibilities it offered

In 1976, apart from the 230 not out and 104 not out against Kent and the 216 not out and 156 not out against Surrey, he hit seven other Championship centuries and topped the first-class averages with 2554 runs at 75. In 1981, the year of his 215 not out and 150 not out against Somerset, he did not bat in May because of rain, scored 1000 runs in June and 2306 all season. In 206 matches for Gloucestershire he scored more than 16,000 runs at just under 50.

As a team-mate for the best part of 10 years, I watched him score most of those runs and I was lucky enough to witness many of them from the other end. I like to think that by the end of the decade we were on a perfect wavelength. I knew better than to ask him for advice about how the wicket was playing or what particular bowlers were doing. "If I tell you," he said, "you'll only start worrying, and you've got enough problems as it is." I also learnt to count to six, as Z regarded it as entirely natural that he should farm the strike and only right and proper that, if anyone should be running to the danger end, it would not be him. I learnt that for all his single-minded concentration Zaheer had a thing about records. After his double-century in Canterbury, he suddenly realised that he would miss out on a second-innings century if I scored too many of the runs required for victory, and marching down the wicket ordered me to block.

And I also learnt that he really was as shy and as unassuming as he looked when he asked me to help him write letters to potential benefactors in his testimonial year. Knowing that he was as reluctant to turn out in benefit matches as he was to make personal appearances, I asked him how he proposed to secure some of their largesse. "Just say I am the best batsman in the world. That should be good enough". It was for us.

Alastair Hignell, former BBC rugby commentator, played cricket for Gloucestershire (1974-83) and rugby union for England (1975-79).This article was first published in the November issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Azim on December 1, 2010, 23:46 GMT

    Any player who was selected for the Kerry Packer World Series has to be the greatest player of that era and Zaheer Abbas happened to be one of them who played one down for the World XI. It is difficult to compare two batsman however if anyone really want to compare then criteria must be absolutely strict i.e. Num 3 batsman should be compared with Num 3 batsman. Here are the most recognized and specialist num 3 batsmen of that era: Richard, Greg Chappell, Zaheer, Kim Hughes, Martin Crow, David Gower, Mohinder Amernath. Among them Richard is on the top however if you look at runs e.g. ODI centuries Zaheer tops Richard with 8 ODI centuries that was highest in ODI by any player till Zaheer played International Cricket nearest to him was Richard with 5 ODI centuries. Gavasker was not num 3 & he has only one ODI hundred; it is not a fair comparison with Zaheer. Gavasker with one ODI hundred was not a ODI player he was a specialist Test opener; should be compared only with Test openers.

  • Dummy4 on December 1, 2010, 15:06 GMT

    The Romantic poet Keats said: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever!" The saying is so much applicable to Zaheer!! Zaheer in his elements had been such a joy!!!

  • Ritwik on December 1, 2010, 11:38 GMT

    The analogy is simple - If you can't respect players from other nations, don't expect others to respect players from your nation.

  • Bilal on December 1, 2010, 11:11 GMT

    @The_Dynamite_Kid it tells me that stats can be used to prove anything ... the fact remains that zaheer was a brilliant player and the idea to compare him or anyone to Vishwanath or Vengsarkar or for that matter to gavaskar on stats is absurd .. one watches zaheer play for the sheer elegance and thats what sets him apart and a man with century of hundreds is not tying anyone's boot laces

  • Ritwik on December 1, 2010, 9:39 GMT

    @ Bilal_Choudry - Of course Mr Z. will average that much against the laughable Indian bowling attack. Almost all batsmen in history has cashed in heavily against the sub-par Indian bowling attacks over the years. When someone like Afridi can average close to 50 in Test cricket against Indis, what does that tell you?

  • Bilal on December 1, 2010, 6:55 GMT


    Mate since you like stats here is some for you Mr. Z ave an unimpressive 87 against the great bowling line up of india ... and for that matter the great Lillee ave 100 plus with the ball in Pakistan .. so what does this tell you ?

  • Harsh on December 1, 2010, 3:33 GMT

    Those who say that Zaheer is not great because he averaged only 18 against the West Indies and scored most of his runs against India forget his 2 great double-hundreds in England in 1971 and 1974,scoring 274 and 240 respectively.How many great batsman have scored 2 double hundreds in England?They also forget his brilliant 101 and 85 at Brisbane against the likes of Lillee in 1976-77 ,his superb 91 against the West Indies in Packer Cricket in 1978 and his masterly 93 against the West Indies in the 1979 world Cup semi-final.He literally tore Holding,Roberts,Croft and Garner to shreds,like a tiger tearing flesh.Michael Holding rated him a truly great batsman.In one -day Internationals,at his best he would have even given Viv Richards a run for his money.Remember Zaheer'superb batting in the one day games in Australia in 1981-82 and in the 1983 World Cup.

  • Harsh on December 1, 2010, 3:18 GMT

    If you consider his first-class record where he has score 108 hundreds and average over 51 runs,Zaheer Abbas is one of the all-time greats.His one day International average of 47.62 is remarkable and he would make the 2nd one day all-time 11.Had he done justice to his true talent and overcome his later inhibtions against real pace,Zaheer would have been the best Pakistani batsman of all.At his peak he was the closest to Gavaskar,Richards and Greg Chappell.It was Packer Cricket that affected his tackling of genuine quick bowling and in previous years he superbly tackled Dennis Lille.In 1976-77 he averaged over 57 in Australia scoring a century +an 80 and a 90.

    His batting reminded you of the batsman of the golden age and no batsman had superior timing.He bissected the most impregnable of fields.

  • Ritwik on December 1, 2010, 1:28 GMT

    @ U.A.1985 - I guess you didn't see the comments made by one 'pakspin'. My comment was to serve as a dose of reality to his hilarious statements of Abbas being so much better than Indian batsmen.

  • Mohammad on November 30, 2010, 21:37 GMT

    Zaheer Abbas was my favorite cricketer growing up. I used to skip school classes to go see him bat in first class matches and, of course, in test matches. He was the most stylish batsman that I have seen. He had a lot of time to play his shots and would play them very late. His cover drives and square cuts were absolute poetry. He did not adapt to test cricket in the beginning. It seemed that he was not playing with the same freedom in test matches as he would in first class. His average hovered around mid thirties despite those two double hundreds against England. From 1976 onwards he scored at an average of over 50 and that matched his first class average. I so enjoyed seeing him bat. It was like listening to a piece of classical music. Thank you, Zaheer Abbas!

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