Cricketer of the Year, 1988

Salim Malik

In recent Test matches, Headingley has been a proving ground for the techniques of English and visiting batsmen. There the swinging and seaming ball sifts out the orthodox wheat. In 1986, when India defeated England at Headingley, the exposition of classical technique was given by Dilip Vengsarkar; last year, when Pakistan defeated England in the Test which settled the series, it was given by MUHAMMAD SALIM MALIK.

Brought up as they have been on pitches of unswerving rectitude, by no means all Pakistani batsmen have been models of orthodoxy. Zaheer Abbas gladly redirected the straight ball through cover-point, while Javed Miandad has been prone to whip it to leg with his dominant right hand. In the batting of Salim Malik, their heir-apparent as Pakistan's master batsman, there may be found a dedication to playing straight.

Salim gives thanks to his first coach for instilling in him this orthodoxy. Born in Lahore on April 16, 1963 the son of a Punjabi engaged in exporting linen-wear to Europe, he was taken when twelve by his elder brother to the Victorious Club in Iqbal Park. There he bowled leg-spin until the club coach, Rabb Nawaz, decided he could bat better than he could bowl. The coach then told him that the cut and the hook were the two riskiest strokes in cricket, and advised him to concentrate on hitting the ball in the V between mid-on and mid-off. It has been Salim's guiding principle ever since.

Developing at the precocious rate which seems almost to be the norm in that part of the cricket world, he was selected at sixteen for a Pakistan Under-19 tour of India and Sri Lanka. He made his first-class début for Lahore against Customs, and in his second match he scored a century against Muslim Commercial Bank. More significant, Salim thinks, was his performance for Pakistan Under-19s when they were hosts to the Australian Under-19s; with the matches being televised, he received wide exposure as Pakistan's leading run-scorer. As one for the future, he was taken on Pakistan's full tour to Australia in 1981-82. "I was very confused, there were so many senior players," he explains in improving English, his third language after Punjabi and Urdu. But on returning to Pakistan, those senior players revolted against the captaincy of Miandad and were dropped from the Test side. Salim was chosen as one of the replacements, made his Test début against Sri Lanka at Karachi, and hit a hundred, at 18 years and 328 days the youngest Pakistani to have done so on début.

Subsequently he did not score runs in a quantity befitting his technique or talent; yet Salim was still putting together a promising portfolio of Test centuries, with an average in the early forties, when a ball from Courtney Walsh reared from Faisalabad's re-laid pitch and hit him above the left wrist. It was the October 1986 Test match in which West Indies were dismissed for their lowest ever total of 53. Pakistan, having been 37 for five, were being rallied by Salim and Imran Khan when the fracture happened. In Pakistan's second innings, when runs were still vital, Salim batted left-handed at No. 11 for one ball and then right-handed in the stand of 32. He missed the rest of the series and, still bothered by stiffness in his left wrist, never got going in the following Test series in India.

However, on that tour of India, which preceded Pakistan's visit to England, he did play a one-day innings that was a wonder of its kind. In front of a capacity crowd in Calcutta, India were coasting to victory when Salim came in, for Pakistan had to score 78 in less than eight over. He found it one of those magical days when the bowler pitched exactly where Salim wanted, and he proceeded to hit an unbeaten 72 from 35 balls, the best innings of its length in one-day internationals.

When he came to English pitches, he found he had to modify not his technique but his attitude. "I have a short temper but I learnt to be patient in England, to be more defensive and wait for the bad ball." He got out for 99 at Headingley in the last over of the day, he says, because he was nervous after not making a century for eighteen Tests. (He had hit five centuries in his first 21.) It eventually came two Tests later at The Oval, during a stand of 234 with Miandad.

A brilliant out-fielder with a pinpoint throw, Salim had to convert to first slip in England for want of anyone else. He did not like having to do the job with cold hands, but did well enough until the last morning of the series, when an edge from Gatting slipped out. As a slow in-swing bowler he has performed occasionally for Habib Bank, his present team, under the captaincy of Miandad, and he has not forgotten completely his leg-breaks.

An unmarried Muslim, Salim lives in Lahore and prays whenever cricket allows. During the World Cup, one of his prayers was answered by Imran, who let him bat at No. 3, the position he had wanted for a long time. But whenever he bats for Pakistan, Salim Malik has the class to score many runs for many years to come in model style.

© John Wisden & Co