The Man They Call SLIM - by Ralph Dellor (in the Pakistani Cricketer) "The Man They Call Slim" would be a good title for a Western. The story of a gun-slinger with keen, dark eyes; the thin moustache slightly turning down around the corners of the mouth; a steady nerve and unswerving purpose who seldom fail to achieve his aim. The plot might sound familiar from a hundred or more celluloid fables, but in this story our hero comes from the East, not West and instead of a Colt .45, he brandishes a cricket bat. As far as his opponents are concerned, the effect can be just as deadly. The man called Slim has only had that name for three years. It was bestowed upon Saleem Malik by his colleagues when he joined Essex for the 1991 season. County cricketers always have nick- names, and so it was only natural that the new boy should have one as well. Slim. It did not take long for Saleem Malik to prove that he would be remembered in Essex just as warmly as his most popular predecessors i.e. Lee Irvine (RSA), Bruce Francis, Border, Waugh (Aus), Keith Boyce, and Norbert Phillip (WI). County attacks all over the country would remember with slightly less warmth if no less admiration for his immaculate batting skills. There are some batsmen who leave an attack battered and bruised. G. Gooch, R. Smith and I. Botham readily come to one's mind in this category. Bowlers appear intimidated by the awesome power simmering twenty two yards away. Saleem Malik does not have the same effect. While others crash the ball through the covers, he caresses it; instead of pulverizing it past mid-wicket, he persuades it through the gap. Saleem Malik relies on timing rather than power. What impresses onlookers, and frustrates bowlers, is the finesse of his strokes. Watch most batsmen go onto the front foot just outside the off-stump and you instinctively look for the ball travelling somewhere in the region of mid-off. Like so many of the other great batsmen from the East before him, Saleem Malik employs his wrists to send that off stump half-volley anywhere in an arc from straight back past the bowler to third man's left hand. It is a style and a method, which have brought him to his current standing in the ranks of world batsmen--very near the top. Saleem Malik was born in Lahore on 16th April, 1963, was educated at the Government College in his birthplace and went on to play Lahore and the Habib Bank. He was included in the Pakistan team to go to Australia in 1981-1982 and gained useful experience even if he only played in three first-class matches. In the same season, he captained the Pakistan Under-19 team on their tour of Australia before returning home to make his test debut against Sri Lanka in Karachi. He did not distinguish himself batting at number 3 in the first innings, but in the second, going in second wicket down, he announced himself on the world stage with an innings of 100 not out. At the age of 18 years and 328 years he became the youngest player to record a century on his Test debut. Despite that precocious start, he was not rushed headlong into the fray. He came to England in 1982 without making the Test side, and then appeared to go backwards until being called into the party touring Australia in 1983-84. It was then that he established himself in the middle order and made the strides towards the position at the top of the game which he now occupies. The figures speak for themselves. Following this summer's series in England and the one-off Test in New Zealand, he has played in 72 Tests, scoring 3,757 runs at an average of 44.20. His tenth Test century came at Edgbaston in July, and was his highest to date. During his innings of 165, Pakistan's then vice-captain established a record partnership of 322 for the fourth wicket with his captain, Javed Miandad. Just prior to the Pakistan tour of the Caribbean, from which he was unceremoniously dropped, he had played in 170 One-day Ints. with 4,335 runs at an average of 31.18. In these matches, he has five centuries and yet has a top score of 102. Apart from that performance at Edgbaston, there have been nume- rous other examples of Saleem Malik's qualities as a batsman and as a person on England's last tour. At Old Trafford, it was noted that he was the one who intervened in a calming manner when several others who should have known better lost control in the shameful incident which sullied Pakistan's cricketing rep- utation still further. At Headingley, where other world-class batsmen failed to come to terms with batting conditions, it was Saleem Malik who stood firm with innings of 82 and 84. That he was not out on both occasions shows how he is able to adapt his technique to whatever circumstances face him. Whether the ball is seaming, turning of flying, Saleem Malik can cope. When he scored just under 2,000 runs at an average of 73.03 for Essex in a Championship winning season in 1991, the county came to rely on him to score runs when it mattered. He was not always successful when he went to the wicket with a stack of runs on the board. If he went in during a crisis, he rarely failed. He became a good team man, fielded superbly, bowling his leg-breaks when required and never once stepping out of the line. A host of Pakistani friends ensured that he never had to drive anywhere, nor would he have spent too many nights at the team hotel. Hospitality was lavished upon him during his stay, and yet not once did he arrive late at the ground or at the appoin- ted hour of practice. This even extended to returning from a mid-season trip home when Essex had a gap in the fixtures. Only one aspect of his play disappointed Essex, and it is an aspect that Graham Gooch has tried to exploit in matches against Pakistan. His running between wickets was appalling. Wicketkeeper Mike Garnham claims that there is no doubt that he once said to him: "Sometimes I say 'yes' when i mean 'no' just to put the fielders off." As much of his calling was done in Urdu, it had little effect on either side than it might have done! That was a small price to pay for his ability to play match- winning innings. He remarked to Essex Secretary Peter Edwards before a match against Leicestershire at Ilford that he ought to get a century as this was now his home ground. Malik scored 215 out of 355 in the first innings and another 74 in the second. In the run-in to the County Championship Essex played Derbyshire at Chelmsford in a four day match on a dry, dusty pitch. Saleem Malik took one look at it and said that he could score a hundred, but it would not necessarily be fast enough to secure four batting points. In the first innings, he batted for some six and a half hours, scored 165, and did not need to bat a second time as his team won by an innings. It was a case of conjuring up runs to order. That's magic. That's Malik.