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Intikhab Alam, 57 not out

For close to six decades, in various roles, he has been around for some of Pakistan cricket's most iconic moments

Tim Wigmore
Tim Wigmore
Intikhab Alam makes a speech, Sydney, January 2, 2010

"To be successful on an international level you need continuity - of coaches, and the management"  •  Getty Images

No one has given more of themselves to help Pakistan achieve the No. 1 ranking in Test cricket than Intikhab Alam. He is a common thread through the last 57 of Pakistan's 64 years as a Test nation - as a player, captain, selector, a leader of the National Cricket Academy, and as a coach or manager for four stints, including today.
The Test victory at The Oval, his home ground for 13 happy years as a player for Surrey, was fit to rank with any of those Intikhab has known on the cricket pitch. "That was one of the best I've seen, the way we won that Test match. These players have shown a lot of character, and togetherness, and self-belief."
In the background, as with all of Pakistan's most memorable triumphs, lay Intikhab. On the field, he led Pakistan to their first ever Test series victory overseas. Off it, Intikhab was the only constant in Pakistan's two triumphs in ICC events: the 1992 World Cup and the 2009 World T20. His involvement with the national side, stretching back to his debut as a 17-year-old in 1959, has seen off four military rulers, eight civilian governments, and over 20 heads of the Pakistan Cricket Board, according to White on Green: Celebrating the Drama of Pakistan Cricket, the new book from Richard Heller and Peter Oborne.
"I think it's passion and love for the game. Whenever I have accepted any responsibility, I accept it as a great challenge. And I enjoy it, or else I wouldn't be doing it," Intikhab explains when we meet during Pakistan's ODI series in Ireland. A little more rotund than in his playing days, he is proudly wearing his Pakistan blazer and tie: symbols of his unstinting devotion to his country's cricket.
"I think it's a great honour for anybody, for any era, to play for Pakistan. I don't see anything better than that," he says. Administration is "a great responsibility" but the next best thing. "When you have an administration role, then you have to make a lot of sacrifices. You have to discipline yourself, at the same time you've got to discipline the boys also. So it's been a great experience for me in the various capacities that I have been in through these jobs."
"Kardar called me and said, 'Are you playing tomorrow for the School XI?' I said, 'No sir, I've not been selected.' He said, 'Oh. Then you will play for us tomorrow, for Pakistan"
And what of all that political instability? "I don't think it makes much difference, actually, because whoever comes in, naturally they're all cricket lovers, so it doesn't really matter, really. All the governments have been very supportive of sports."


The story of Intikhab and Pakistan begins in the days after partition, when he was five. The Alam family had lived a comfortable and happy life in Shimla, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Intikhab's father was an electrical engineer.
In the panic and violence that followed Partition, Intikhab's father feared for the safety of his wife and five children. They believed they were the last Muslim family left in the city.
Intikhab and the family fled their home to hide in the house of one of his father's colleagues. A few nights later, the colleague told Intikhab's father that a mob was approaching. The Alams fled immediately to a power station.
For many years, Intikhab's father had played cricket for the Maharaja of Patiala, making copious British friends. He called one of them, a Brigadier in the British Army, with the message: "I am in trouble."
A few hours later, an army truck arrived. It took the family to Ludhiana, where they stayed with relatives. Another truck was then organised to take the family to Kalka, where they could catch a train to Lahore. They waited overnight in a tent while mobs fought around them. "You could see the bullets going through your tent," Intikhab remembers.
The train departed in the early hours of the morning. "The first train was a passenger train, which was coming to Pakistan. They used to stop in the jungle, and massacre everybody. It was a wrong signal that said that the first train was a goods train, and the second was the passenger train, so this is how we got through. Very lucky. After that no train came from India. That was the last train."


The family were refugees in Lahore for a month and a half. Then Intikhab's uncle, a superintendent of police in Karachi, arranged for the Alams to move there.
In Karachi, Intikhab and his two brothers inherited their father's love for cricket. "When I was very young I used to go and see my father play - he was a fast bowler. And so it was sort of a family tradition."
Intikhab, the middle child of the five siblings, attended Church Mission School, where he says he benefited from very good sports facilities. "I used to bowl quick in those days, when I was very young, and I used to bowl legbreak as well. So my elder brother told me, 'Well, if you want to play, there are hardly any legspinners, so why don't you just concentrate on bowling legspinners?' I took his advice. This is how I became a captain of my school XI. We won the inter-school tournament."
Intikhab's brother Aftab, his elder by four years, broke into the Karachi Public Works Department team. Aftab and the side netted with many members of the Pakistan Test side. One evening in 1958, Pakistan's captain, Abdul Kardar, attended the nets.
As was often the case, Intikhab was acting as an auxiliary net bowler. He had played a few first-class matches for the Karachi C side, but had recently suffered the disappointment of not being picked for the Combined School XI to play Pakistan.
While Intikhab was bowling in the nets, Kardar started to watch him. When Intikhab dismissed Wazir Mohammad, who had recently made 189 in a Test in the Caribbean, Kardar was impressed.
In the panic and violence that followed partition, Intikhab's father feared for the safety of his wife and five children. They believed they were the last Muslim family left in Shimla
"After the nets were over, Kardar called me and he asked my name and he said, 'Are you playing tomorrow for the School XI?'," Intikhab recalls. "I said, 'No sir, I've not been selected.' He said, 'Oh. Then you will play for us tomorrow, for Pakistan.' I couldn't believe it. I was over the moon.
"The next morning I arrived at the Karachi stadium and the school selector was there. He said: 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I'm not playing for you. I've come to play for the Pakistan team.' They were flabbergasted. They couldn't believe it."
Intikhab got four wickets. Soon after, he was selected for the Commander-in-Chief's XI against the West Indians in Rawalpindi. A creditable display ensured he was selected for the Pakistan Eaglets tour of England in the summer of 1959. There was just one snag. "If you were selected, you had to pay 5000 rupees for the tour expenses - a lot of money. And I couldn't ask my father to give me Rs5000."
Intikhab could find no way to raise the money. Eventually, he decided to go to Kardar himself. "I said, 'I've been selected, but I don't have the money.' He said, 'Don't worry.' He got me Rs5000 from the Ministry of Education to go on the tour. That was a very successful tour for me."
When he returned home, Intikhab was picked in the President's XI to play the Australians. He got eight wickets in the match and was then picked to make his debut against Australia in Karachi, a few weeks before turning 18. Intikhab and the team had no coaches, only a solitary team liaison officer. They were paid Rs15 a day. "The money was not the criteria. The only thing was to play for your country."
Intikhab's debut did not begin well. He was run out for a duck in the first innings. But with his first ball, Intikhab clean-bowled the Australian opener Colin McDonald. Over the next 18 years, he would add another 124 Test wickets in his 47 Tests.
For 17 Tests between 1969 and 1975, Intikhab served as captain. "My philosophy was that I needed to be very truthful to my players and explain what I wanted from them. That was very important, and they all responded exceptionally well. We were very sincere to each other, and I think that was the one reason we that we came together."
Intikhab was also the central character in a seminal landmark in Pakistan cricket: the side's first ever Test series win abroad. In February 1973, Intikhab took 11 for 130 in Dunedin, the only positive result of the series. It is the performance of which he is proudest.
The following year, he led Pakistan in the Test series in England. Though all three Tests were drawn, Pakistan left having emulated Don Bradman's 1948 Invincibles by not losing a single tour match. "That was a great tour," he recalls. Intikhab believes that Pakistan were helped by having a large contingent of players in county cricket; he himself served Surrey with distinction.
In 1977, Intikhab played his final Test match and retired from international cricket soon afterwards. "I wasn't enjoying it. I think I wasn't treated well enough," he says, though he declines to name anyone responsible. Still, playing cricket was the most fun he's ever had. The only shame is that he was born rather too early to experience T20 cricket. "I would have loved it."


Intikhab thought that his life in cricket might be over, and he might instead devote himself to his family's knitwear business in Pakistan.
A few months after his retirement from Surrey, he received a message from the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, requesting that the two meet. "Like football, his idea was to have a cricket manager, rather than a coach, and give all the power to the cricket manager to look after everything. So I had a long meeting with him and they offered me a job."
"He had his own vision. He was very straightforward, very disciplined. He used to set an example for everyone. If he said something then he was the first to do it"
On Imran Khan
In 1982, Intikhab became Pakistan's manager, a role that he held for the next decade, albeit not on every tour. "It clicked," he says. Most important was his relationship with the captain, Imran Khan. Intikhab did not attempt to impinge upon Imran's power. "There was never any unpleasant moment. That was very very good.
"He had his own vision. He was very straightforward, very disciplined. He used to set an example for everyone. If he said something then he was the first to do it. And the players respected that."
One memory of Intikhab and Imran together stands out - from the 1992 World Cup. "I remember before the final, he went out and he bought himself a t-shirt, and then he got a tiger on this - a printed tiger. And when I saw him going for the toss, I looked at him. I didn't say anything to him, I don't want to upset him, because I knew exactly what he was going to do. So when he went there, Ian Chappell, who was interviewing, asked, 'Why are you wearing this t-shirt?' And he said, 'I want them to play like a tiger.' So that paid off."


Intikhab left when Imran retired, but he never really went away. He remained Pakistan cricket's great uncle on speed dial, always willing to answer any call to fill a vacant post. In between his various roles for the PCB, Intikhab even had time to make history in India. He coached Punjab - "it was just like coming home" - for two seasons, becoming the first Pakistani to coach an Indian domestic team.
Last year, at the age of 73, Intikhab was enlisted to return to Pakistan again, as manager once more. He is "a survivor so adept," writes Osman Samiuddin in The Unquiet Ones: A History of Pakistan Cricket, that "not only would he survive a nuclear holocaust, he would also emerge as the bomb maker's administrative director."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this company man highlights stability as a reason why this Test team has succeeded where others have not in reaching No. 1. "I think to be successful on an international level you need continuity - of coaches, and the management. If you keep on changing it doesn't help. It takes time for any new coach coming in. You have to give him time to try to understand the players, they to understand the involvement, try to understand the language problem, try to understand the different culture. So you need time, you need to be very, very patient with people. And I think the success for this team is the continuity of management."
Throughout his 57-year involvement with the Pakistan national team, Intikhab believes that it has retained one fundamental characteristic: the tendency to identify talent outside of the system, just like Intikhab himself all those years ago.
"I think there was a lot of talent - raw talent - available over the years. They came from nowhere, really. There was no such structure available. The street-smart cricketer, you know. At times, some of them, we just saw them and we got them in. So there was no real drill… It was all self-made cricketers we were, with all the natural, raw talent.
"It is different in other countries. They think, 'Oh, he's not yet ready. We'll wait, give him another couple of years.' But we didn't believe in that, actually - just throw him in the deep water and see if he can swim."
Yet, Intikhab is concerned that Pakistan cricket is now becoming too structured, and losing a little of its distinctiveness and flair. "Coaching is everywhere now - Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, Level 4. I have some reservations." He says that there is "too much emphasis on coaching" now. "If somebody is good at hitting the ball, if you want to change him, that doesn't help either."
Now, Intikhab suggests, more of Pakistan's best talent is coming from outside Lahore and Karachi, the sport's traditional centres: not just because cricket has expanded its reach, but also because of the paucity of formal coaching in remote outposts. "It's sort of a natural phenomena that you keep on getting these blokes from nowhere. Still in remote areas, there's no concept of coaching - they come from very, very humble backgrounds."


At the end of this year, Intikhab will turn 75 midway through the Boxing Day Test against Australia. But declaring his career can wait. Intikhab will stay for "as long as I enjoy it, as long the board wants me." There is nothing he would rather do; there is nothing he would rather have devoted his life to. "I don't regret a minute."
All that remains is to ask how Misbah-ul-Haq ranks compared to Pakistan's other captains. "There have been some very good experienced former captains, but when we talk about statistics then he's probably the best," Intikhab says. He laughs when asked to compare Misbah to Imran. "They are two different personalities. One is laid-back. Imran was very aggressive, and that's the difference between the two." That Intikhab was able to work with both is testament to his enduring diplomatic skills.

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts