March 6, 2001

Abdul Hafeez Kardar: The Skipper

Aghar Akbar

Pakistan has had nearly two dozen Test captains, the first of them was Abdul Hafeez Kardar. Only one out of the remaining qualifies to share the sobriquet of `the Skipper' with Kardar, the redoubtable Imran Khan.

This is not the only similarity between Kardar and Imran. Both were all-rounders, but more than that, both were gifted leaders who achieved a very high degree of success. Kardar, not unlike Imran later, commanded awe and respect of his charges to the extent that each gave everything and then some, to the cause of the team.

The newly-born nation craved for recognition, and it was Kardar's personality which guided them to a string of successes, winning at least one Test match against all the established nations, among them away Test victories against India, England and the West Indies. The victory in 1954 at the Oval, a remarkable event which put the babes of cricket on the world map straightaway, had as much to do with Kardar's leadership as to Fazal Mahmood's superlative figures of 12 for 99. That is not to mention Kardar's top score of 36 in a total of 133 in the first innings. This also was the first, and to date the only, instance of any country beating England in its own backyard on the first trip.

With an aristocratic mien which brooked no nonsense, Kardar was not only an excellent strategist, he was a valuable all-rounder who before leading Pakistan, already had the distinction of representing United India on the 1946 tour of England, was an Oxford Blue and Warwickshire player.

Kardar is more famous for captaining Pakistan in the first decade, uninterrupted for the first 23 Tests, but he was an aggressive, quality left-handed batsman and an accurate slow left-arm bowler. His contributions both with bat and ball were steady without being spectacular. The important thing was that he always chipped in with a valuable contribution with the willow or the leather whenever the chips were down.

In the `70s, Kardar for a spell, went into politics and also served as president of the Pakistan Cricket Board. In this latter capacity, he was one of the foremost critics of the ICC policy of ignoring the smaller cricketing nations, ultimately getting them their due share.

For the first time in his tenure, he also succeeded in getting Pakistan's long term cricketing calendar approved from the ICC. For one who had ruled Pakistan cricket with an iron hand, curiously his fall as president came after the first players' revolt in 1976-77 over a pay dispute. Thus he faded out of cricket, and not much later from politics, but never one to rest idle, he followed intellectual pursuits and social welfare; at the very fag end also for a while he served as Pakistan's ambassador to Switzerland.