March 6, 2001

Fazal Mahmood: Match-winner extraordinaire

With the exception of Hanif Mohammad, for Pakistan the tall and handsome Fazal Mahmood was the most outstanding cricketer of the `50s. If Hanif was the sheet anchor who on most occasions helped avoid the embarrassment of defeat, Fazal was the artillery, the destructive force which, landed them many a famous victory.

The most renowned of those came at the Oval in 1954, which is now a much-cherished part of our cricketing folklore. `England Fazalled out' was how one English newspaper titled Pakistan's triumph the next morning. High tribute from the otherwise hopelessly condescending former masters of the sub-continent in those early post-Raj years.

Fazal, however, deserved his place in the sun. He was an extraordinary match-winner, and was acknowledged as the best swing bowler of his era with perhaps only England's Alec Bedser said to be a shade better.

The Oval in 1954, may have seen Fazal at his devastating-best, but it neither was his first such performance nor his last. Fazal had great control over his swing and he had an absolutely lethal leg-cutter. He carried a reputation of being enormously deadly on matting, but then three out of his four 12-wicket hauls have come abroad on turf pitches, which amply shows that, regardless of surface, he was an exceptional swing bowler.

So good was Fazal that he had already been selected for India for the 1947-48 tour of Australia but he rejected the offer, opting for Pakistan. And till he called it a day, after the rather unsuccessful `62 tour of England, he remained an integral part of the team, taking the reigns of captaincy from Kardar, and remaining at the helm for 10 Tests, winning two, losing two. Another remarkable thing was that as a bowler he had little support at the other end, yet his record of 139 wickets in only 34 Tests remained intact till the mid-seventies.