'I can take credit for the discovery of Afridi'
We had a matting wicket at Muslim Gymkhana, unlike most clubs where pitches were made of cement. The variable bounce of the matting helped me become a better batsman, especially against fast bowling. The office of the Karachi Cricket Association was situated in the premises of the gymkhana. So Javed Miandad and I regularly got noticed.
After the 1978 tour of England, I couldn't get a regular place in the Pakistan side. Thereafter, I was almost always called when required during some sort of an emergency.
I was conducting trials in Karachi's Bakhtiari Youth Centre in 1995, as part of a PCB talent-hunt scheme, when a caller told me to pick a particular player. I didn't pay any heed. That night, I received a telephone call. "Don't come to the stadium tomorrow," someone said. The next day, as I was coming out of the stadium, two young guys appeared. One of them was holding a gun. He shot at me but the bullet missed. They fled on a motorcycle.
On the 1976-77 tour to Australia and the West Indies, many youngsters, like Miandad and Taslim Arif, were not very fluent in English. I often acted as an interpreter. Then girls began to follow them, and I had to write their letters to the girls.
Iqbal Qasim was my best mate in the Pakistan team, and we often shared a room. The bond was formed in our early days with National Bank when we both were struggling to get into the first XI of the bank. I mostly did the drinks and he was the team scorer. We spent a lot of time together on the sidelines.
I was asked to open for the first time in my career in the first Test against the touring Australians in 1979-80. It was a low-scoring Test on a Karachi turner where most of the batsmen from either side failed; I was one of them. In the second Test, I made 21 in an opening stand of 87 in Pakistan's only innings. I was shelved for two years before another emergency made them select me.
I regard my 72 out of a total of 198 in the first innings of the Jamaica Test in 1976-77 as my best batting performance. It was a fast wicket for the decisive Test of the series. The Windies pace attack was all fired up and our main batsmen were sort of terrified, a fact also mentioned by Imran Khan in his book.
I was a versatile fielder and got stationed everywhere: covers, fine leg, slips. When Imran became the captain, I even fielded at short leg. In the first innings of the third Test against England in 1982, as a sub, I held three catches, all in different positions - short leg, gully and the outfield. It was a Test record for a substitute. The media titled me the "Super Sub".
My worst injury came in a domestic game for UBL against Muslim Commercial Bank. Offspinner Tauseef Ahmed was bowling with me at forward short leg. The batsman, Sajid Ali, swept forcefully from outside the off stump. It hit my eye. I had to go through three operations and the injury even affected my eyesight.
My Test debut in Sydney was memorable. In the previous Test, Dennis Lillee's ten wickets had demolished Pakistan. In Sydney I came to bat with Pakistan at 77 for 3 with Lillee in full cry. As I walked in, the crowd chanted, "Lillee, Lillee, kill kill." He greeted me with a bouncer. For the first three overs, I had little clue and got beaten most of the time. Gradually I settled and made 57. I had a vital partnership with Asif Iqbal. We won a Test in Australia for the first time ever. Many rated it Pakistan's finest Test win in two decades.
I am the only Test cricketer out of seven brothers who played first-class cricket. At least three of them came close to the Test side. Tahir was the unluckiest. He kept wickets splendidly in his only match for Pakistan B (against Sri Lanka B), making six dismissals. He also batted well but the big chance eluded him. Umar, an allrounder, also couldn't go beyond Pakistan B and Pakistan Under-19. Mahmood, a batsman, featured in two representative games against West Indies in 1980-81 but didn't perform well facing the most menacing attack of the time. Still, we have the honour of being one of the only two families in the world, apart from the Fosters of Worcestershire, to have seven siblings play first-class cricket.
A few days after the 1979 World Cup, upon my return to Pakistan, I was pulled out of my car by some youngsters in a busy shopping centre of Karachi. They asked me to give reasons for my "slow batting" in the semi-final. When I explained everything, the boys were satisfied and apologised for their behaviour.
If I had been given a continuous run, my Test career might have been better.
Before my first full-fledged tour with Pakistan in 1976-77, the captain, Mushtaq Mohammad, jokingly told me, "Even if you don't get selected, you will be our 12th man in all the Tests." I was regarded as a good fielder, especially in the outfield.
In early 1979, I had been performing well for World Series Cricket's World XI. Then we, the Packer players, were called for Pakistan's tour of New Zealand. The dates of the first Test coincided with the WSC final. Asif Iqbal, Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas and Imran were spared from this Test to appear in the WSC final. Before leaving for Australia, these senior players advised us to play for a draw in the first Test. "We will be back for the next two Tests and then Pakistan will go all out to win," they said. Despite their absence, we won the first Test. I had two good innings. Wisden wrote: "The best of the batting came from Haroon, who drove delightfully." But I was dropped for the next Test after the four players rejoined the Pakistan side. I felt really disappointed. Ironically, Pakistan drew the remaining two Tests.
Youngsters shouldn't start with T20. It's too batsman-oriented, it hampers technique as well as the development of temperament. Still, it is good entertainment and a money-spinner. It is here to stay.
I lost motivation by 1984-85 and decided to quit first-class cricket. Wanting to be away from the game, I asked United Bank to move me from the sports department and into general banking. I did some professional courses and worked in various branches of the bank from 1983 to 1988. I was on the verge of becoming a branch manager when the bank asked me to coach their U-19 side. So I returned to the sports department. My side reached the final of the national U-19 competition. Working with the boys reignited my enthusiasm for the game. Then, in 1989, I was asked to coach the national U-19 side against the touring Indian U-19s. That batch had Waqar Younis, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Basit Ali and Moin Khan.
I can take credit for the discovery of "Boom Boom" Afridi. He lived near me and I was impressed with his bowling. Later, I saw him in action at the U-19 trials in Lahore in 1995-96. A good leggie from Rawalpindi was on the radar, but on my recommendation, Afridi was also selected. The next season I was with the Pakistan U-19 side in the West Indies. One morning, at 2am, I received a call from Pakistan's chief selector, Saleem Altaf. The Pakistan team, playing a four-nation one-day tournament in Kenya, were badly hit by injuries and immediately needed an allrounder. Though Abdul Razzaq was also with me, I sent Afridi. Two days later, he had created history" [with the fastest ODI hundred].
My most memorable tours were my first two, to Australia and the West Indies. It was the best Pakistani side I ever played with and we did well against the two best sides of the time. I learnt a lot playing with batsmen of the calibre of Majid, Asif and Zaheer.
As the manager of the Pakistan team between 2003 and 2005, I worked with Bob Woolmer and Javed Miandad as coaches. They had different styles. Woolmer introduced new technological innovations. He was the first person to use computer software to record actions and point out the strengths and weaknesses of players of both teams. Miandad was a hard taskmaster. He made the players toil in practice sessions.
Wicketkeeper Ashraf Ali was my room-mate on the Australian tour of 1978-79. I was in the washroom once when I heard Ashraf shouting at a waiter, "Not this soup but bath soup." He had called room service to bring soap but had pronounced it as "soup"!
I was sacked from the manager's post in 2004-05 after the Australian tour that Pakistan lost 0-3. Woolmer was the coach. Apart from the poor performance, there were disciplinary problems as well. Shoaib Akhtar and Danish Kaneria were fined by the match referee for improper behaviour on the field, which didn't come within my purview. However, the board had to make some changes in the management to placate critics. I was made the scapegoat.
Ijaz Chaudhry writes on cricket and other sports. For more about him and samples of his published work, visit www.sportscorrespondent.info