August 1, 2002

Fazal Mahmood - Master of Nagging Length

Shoaib Ahmed

Fazal Mahmood was to Pakistan's bowling what Hanif Mohammad was to their batting.

Debonair and handsome; Fazal was a bowler who could bowl superbly on every surface, be it turf or the famous jute matting. On matting wickets, his leg-cutters got maximum purchase and each delivery was a potential bomb.

Fazal Mahmood
Fazal Mahmood
Photo © PCB
He was the best pacer produced by Pakistan until the arrival of the great Imran Khan, averaging more than four wickets a Test. This green-eyed strongman was often unplayable on Pakistan's matting wickets and almost as formidable on turf. Many referred to him as the Alec Bedser of Pakistan for the distinct similarity in their methods. Both were masters of nagging, persistent length and concentrated on swing and a mixture of leg-cutters and breakbacks.

Determined and disciplined, the vibrant presence of this Lahorean was further heightened by his ability as a hard-hitting lower batsman and also as a sprightly fielder. He has a century to his name in first-class cricket though 60 was his highest in Tests.

Physical fitness is something he took quite seriously, not surprising considering his background of being in the Police Force, where he went on to become a Deputy Inspector General in later years.

He was the first Pakistan bowler to take 10 wickets against England, India and Australia and the West Indies, and his bearing on the fortunes of Pakistan cricket are reflected in his 12 for 99 at The Oval in 1954, which enabled Pakistan to beat England in its debut series - no mean effort, considering it took India 20 years and New Zealand nearly 50 to defeat the oldest rival.

Fazal and two bowlers who gave him such great support, Khan Mohammad and Mahmood Hussain, all made their debut for Pakistan in the first Test series the country played against India in 1952-53.

Fazal began his first-class career at the age of 17 and when his country earned Test status - he remained a vital link in the team for nearly a decade, the later part as a captain for three series.

Fazal played for Northern India in the Ranji Trophy and would have toured Australia with the Indian team in 1947-48 but stood down, realising that the birth of a new nation, Pakistan, was imminent. In 1949-50 he was the leading bowler on Pakistan's visit to Ceylon, and, when Ceylon returned the visit in 1950, he took 20 wickets in two representative matches. In 1951-52 he captured 6 for 50 in 26 overs for Pakistan against MCC at Karachi, helping his country to victory.

Once official Tests began, he toured India in 1952-53 and 1960-61, England in 1954 and 1962, and the West Indies in 1957-58 and at home played against India in 1954-55, West Indies in 1958-59 and England in 1961-62.

In the first official tour of India he was dominant with 20 wickets (avg 25.51) in the Tests, besides making 173 runs (avg 28.83). In the second match, at Lucknow, he had match-winning figures of 5 for 52 and 7 for 42.

On the first tour of England he took 77 wickets (avg 17.53) from 16 first-class matches, the four Tests bringing him 20 wickets (avg 20.40), half of Pakistan's total haul of wickets. He took 5 for 52 and 7 for 42 in his second Test match to bring Pakistan their first victory in Test cricket.

Particularly effective on matting, he proved to be equally devastating in England in 1954. He captured four wickets in the first rain-ruined Test, took another four at Old Trafford. In the famous Pakistan victory at The Oval, Fazal took 12 for 99 (6 for 53 and 6 for 46). In a low-scoring match, in which a mere 570 runs were made for the loss of all 40 wickets on either side, Fazal took 12 cheap wickets to have England reeling on both occasions. The highest individual score in the Test match was 53 - made by England's Denis Compton in the first innings and then by Peter May in the second. The highest from the Pakistani side was Wazir Mohammad's unbeaten 42 in a 58-run match winning ninth wicket stand with off-spinner Zulfiqar Ahmed who contributed 34.

In the first official series at home against India, he captured 15 wickets (avg 22.06) in four Tests. At Karachi against Australia in 1956-57 he was never mastered, taking 6 for 34 in 27 overs and 7 for 80 in 48 overs (13 for 114 in 75 overs), and Pakistan defeated Australia in their first ever encounter.

In a losing cause in the Caribbean he captured 20 wickets (avg 38.20) in the Tests - in the third match at Kingston sending down 85.2 overs and taking 2 for 247 - and hit a determined 60, his Test-highest, in the second match at Port-of-Spain.

From 1958-59 until 1960-61 he led Pakistan in ten Tests against West Indies, Australia and India as A.H. Kardar's successor - winning two and losing two; he was dropped from captaincy when all five Tests with India (in 1960-61) were drawn.

Earlier he had led Pakistan to success against the West Indies at home, taking 21 wickets (avg 15.85) from his three Tests. Twelve wickets for Fazal in the second Test brought another victory, and in spite of losing at home for the first time, in Lahore, Pakistan took the series. Fazal followed his fine bowling in that Test with 6-34 and 6-66 at Dacca, the West Indians collapsing in the first innings from 4-65 to all-out 76 as their last six bastmen failed to score. In his final series as captain his bowling had lost penetration and he was severely criticized as leader. He played once against England in 1961-62.

The following season, 1959-60, saw defeat at home to Australia, and then in 1960-61 there were five draws with the Indians in another tedious series. Fazal's captaincy was severely criticised. He was accused of favouritisim and factions formed which were to have an adverse effect on Pakistan cricket for several years. His own bowling was a shadow of its former glory, and he was replaced as captain and dropped from the side.

Not chosen for the tour of England in 1962, he was flown to England as a replacement when the new-ball bowlers broke down. He was dreadfully over bowled and took five expensive wickets in the last two Tests. He had been sent for in a desperate attempt to revive the glories of eight years previously, but by now he was a spent force.

He left cricket with record 139 wickets to his credit. Until 1977, he was the only bowler to have a twelve-wicket haul against his name. Imran Khan overtook his tally of 139 wickets in 34 Tests in 1981.

Fazal's striking good looks made him a very popular figure for the gossip columns, and was invariably seen as the centre of attraction at social functions. Fazal married the daughter of Mian Mohammad Saeed, Pakistan's first ever captain. His brother-in-law Yawar Saeed played for Somerset in English county cricket.

With a Master's degree in Economics, Fazal joined the Pakistan Services as an Inspector of Police in September 1947. In his fifth year of service he was promoted to Deputy Superintendent, and in 1976 was promoted to Deputy Inspector General of Police. Fazal has also served as a national selector and in the early 80s, he held coaching camps at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore. He is the author of 'Talash-e-Haq', an Urdu publication discussing religious affairs. He also appeared in Lancashire League cricket between 1956-58. Fazal served as Radio and TV commentator in the late 70s and early 80s.

It is no exaggeration if one states that without Fazal's telling contribution as a front-line bowler, Pakistan would have struggled to gain Test status as early as 1951. His great services to the game of cricket in Pakistan have ensured his name among the most respected cricketers of his generation.