'Against pace, on his day, he was the equal of any and the same reflexes made him probably
the best slip Pakistan has had'
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This is my Inzamam moment. At Mohali in 2005
, Pakistan's top order had imploded tragic-comically
against an imposing deficit. Ten for 3 in the fifth and heavy defeat
read the scoreboard when Inzamam walked out. If his mood has ever been
dark at the crease, it was here.
Lakshmipathy Balaji bowled the innings' sixth over; Inzamam struck three
boundaries off the first three balls, none of them deserving their fate.
The last I will remember till I remember nothing else: from the back, the
contours of his love handles visible, he gently hunched forward. As the
left heel landed, bat met ball, a forward push, no more, but mid-off never
had a chance. Inzamam's 86 that day was unusually hurried, and though men below him saved the Test, without Inzamam they had nothing.
Others will remember other shots, other days: a World Cup semi-final six,
the last-ball poke past point in Ahmedabad, the triple, a Karachi hundred
against India, the Multan escape. But they all speak only one truth, that
when Pakistan absolutely needed him, he pulled through. Not always,
because he was needed most days and he wasn't one for the nine-to-five
life. But much more often than not, he did, and that is precious.
The environment, the personality, didn't exist for him to become a glam
lone ranger like Lara. Javed Miandad, Salim Malik, Mohammad Yousuf and
Younis Khan all helped ease the burden, not always equally. Neither was Inzamam
as driven, as ruthless as Tendulkar, Kallis or Ponting. A louder media
might have helped, but that hunger would've done so more. Against pace, on
his day, he was the equal of any, and the same reflexes made him probably
the best slip Pakistan has had.
A touch distasteful, maybe, to recall what he wasn't - because what he was
was special enough - but in a time of such batting excess, it is important
to situate him. The first time his average reached 50 was in his 92nd
Test. Only from his 100th, marked with a century and win
, did he sustain
it. Tragedy is, it fell below the milestone in his final Test.
Miandad he is the greatest Pakistani batsman and undoubtedly one of the
best, most compelling of modern batsmen
Aamer Sohail, never one to call a spade by any other name, got to the core
of the batsman Inzamam: a great player, a rare blend of force and delicacy,
yes, but could he have done even more? Ten hundreds in 378 ODIs says
maybe, as do ordinary records against South Africa and Australia, the best
bowling attacks of his time.
Two of his finest came against the best: an unbeaten fifty against
Australia to chase Pakistan's highest Test target
, and a 92 the equal of any century at Port Elizabeth
. Seventeen match-winning hundreds out of 25,
among the best rates ever, also settles many debates. Batting so far down
the ODI order hurt his conversion-rate, but in a stiff chase, the heat on,
Inzamam was the sharpest tack, capable of innings chiselled from ice.
This is all to nitpick, of course, especially as Pakistan has fewer batting
heroes than it should. Much more convenient to say that, alongside Javed
Miandad, he is the greatest Pakistani batsman and undoubtedly one of the
best, most compelling of modern batsmen.
Captaincy brought out the human in Inzamam, despite his reluctance for the
post. He was a caricature before: aloo, overweight, loves a nap,
(and his food even more), comedy runner, loses runs when he loses pounds, hits
fans. He probably didn't mind it, because nobody minds goodwill, sympathy
and endearment the world over.
His dry, sharp wit, already known to team-mates, emerged when he had to
address press conferences. He was also honest: asked to assess an
under-utilised bowler's performance once, he replied, "If he had performed
I could've told you."
The Bangalore win, on the last afternoon, to level the series, was the
making of Inzamam as leader. The allsorts attack he used then would today
be good, honest Twenty20 material. Yet somehow he tricked Mohammad Sami,
Arshad Khan, Shahid Afridi and Danish Kaneria into believing they could
dismiss the most frightening batsmen in the world. And they did. On the
field Inzamam was never more alert, more harassed, more proactive and
under greater strain.
A reassuring presence
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That sparked a 15-month period in which Pakistan prospered under Inzamam
and Bob Woolmer. Suddenly Pakistan calmed down, came together. With the
bat Inzamam touched his peak; five hundreds in 11 Tests at over 80, as
Pakistan beat England, India and Sri Lanka.
But subsequently decay set in. Inzamam's calm became inertia, he drifted
from Woolmer; religion, glue one year, became distraction the next.
That most human of all maxims, that power corrupts, afflicted him. As
Pakistan stumbled out of the World Cup in an ugly daze, Inzamam was
famously accused of being a dictator, haughty and a maulvi
In truth, he did things this last year which he shouldn't be remembered
by, notably a cranky, emotional, accusatory press conference. His last
dismissal was strange, but in a career that long, a blemish or two (an
uneasy, indirect entanglement in match-fixing was another) is human.
With Inzamam departs the last of 1992, when Pakistan cricket was a
different world. Not that it was stable before, but that world has since
come undone. Inzamam didn't keep it all together; he couldn't for no one
person could, but he was there through all of it, the highs, the lows, the
thick, the thin: a reassurance. In that alone, there is greatness.
Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo