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"Majid Khan is not a good CEO for Pak cricket"

V Gangadhar

Hanif Mohammad "Majid Khan was, no doubt, a great Test player for Pakistan. But he is not suitable for his present job of chief executive officer of the Pakistan Cricket Board," snapped Hanif Mohammad, the legendary Pakistani opening batsman.

Seated in a wicker chair at the Cricket Club of India, overlooking the famed Brabourne stadium where, in the course of the 1960-1961 tour of Pakistan, Hanif had scored a big century, he squarely blamed the PCB and its chairman for the recurring maladies of Pakistan cricket. "The CEO should be sympathetic, flexible, co-operative and should understand the players's problems," he said. "Unfortunately, the PCB seldom bothers about the welfare and other issues concerning players."

By way of instance, Hanif cited the pressure being applied on leading Pakistani cricketers such as captain Wasim Akram, his pace bowling partner Waqar Younis and legspinner Mushtaq Ahmed to break off their lucrative contracts with English counties to take part in the Independence Cup cricket tournament in India next month. "How can the players go back on their word, that too to play in a tournament which had been announced after they had signed their contracts?" Hanif demanded. "Anyway, May is not a suitable period for playing cricket in the sub-continent. The PCB should consider all these factors."

Hanif Mohammad The 73-year old star, looking dapper in a suit and tie, accused the PCB officials including the CEO of being arrogant and aloof. "A great player need not be a good official," he pointed out. "This is a different ball game," he added.

But surely the players were as much at fault? No, feels Hanif. When I pointed out that Pakistani cricketers had been flinging charges against some of their team-mates and walking out in the middle of tours, Hanif shrugged. "You see, there is too much cricket these days, perhaps nine to ten months a year. The players are cooped up together for long periods and sometimes, there could be misunderstandings. When you are with the same fellows for long periods, doing the same things, clashes of temperament are inevitable. This problem should be sorted out by the Board."

As for charges of rigging, accepting bets and even drug taking, Hanif said these should be inquired into by the government. "Let the government order an independent inquiry and probe the actions of the players and the Board officials," he argued, adding that former captain Salim Malik, for instance, had been accused of all kinds of things, but a judicial inquiry had cleared him completely. "We have to be fair to everyone and not brand anyone guilty without a thorough probe."

Hanif Mohammad The conversation veered around to the domestic cricket structure in Pakistan. I asked him about former skipper Imran Khan's charge that Pakistan did not have any worthwhile domestic cricket structure. Hanif, predictably perhaps, did not agree. "The PCB did not have a good record on this," he admitted. "But when I was with Pakistan International Airlines we had an ambitious coaching scheme, roping in nearly 12,000 youngsters from all over country. They were paid a stipend and coached five times a week. Out of these, we chose 18 boys to play for PIA, and six of them ultimately played for Pakistan." Hanif explained that PIA's remarkable success in the domestic tournaments led to jealously among the PCB officials and the heads of cricket associations, and led in turn to the inexplicable decision to ban the PIA from domestic tournaments on the grounds that it was only a 'government department' and not a 'genuine cricket association'.

The small-built opener, who once battled for more than 16 hours in scoring 337 not out in a Test in the West Indies in 1957-58, was full of reminiscences. His playing career lasted from 1952 to 1969 and his last Test was against New Zealand. Three out of his four brothers played Test cricket for Pakistan (Raees Mohammad was the exception). None of the four brothers took to fast bowling, however. "We were rather small built," explained Hanif. "Mushtaq, now coaching the Pak national team, was a fine allrounder while Sadiq could bowl a bit. I, Wazir and Sadiq were essentially batsmen."

Hanif was full of memories about his two visits to India as a player, and sorry that the Brabourne Stadium was no longer used for international cricket. He also travelled to India during the 1987 and 1996 World Cup tournaments. "I feel more at home in Bombay," he admitted. "It is almost like home and I have many friends here."

Hanif Mohammad One of them was former Indian pace bowler Ramakant Desai, now chairman of the Indian selectors. Desai in his playing days had bothered Hanif with his bouncers during the 1960-61 tour. "I did have problems with Desai," admitted Hanif. "During that tour, I was not fit most of the time. My toenails had to be removed, I was short of match practice. Desai had a slightly suspect slinging action, his bouncers were pitched more often on his side of the pitch. The ball often skidded and I found it difficult to adjust my technique."

Hanif was distressed to learn that Desai had been hospitalised after a heart attack."I learnt about it late," he said. "So I could not visit him. But I will definitely get in touch with him and wish him well."

We moved on to a discussion of technique, and I wondered how the batsmen of his generation faced some of the fastest bowlers of all time without helmets and other articles of protection. "The bat was supposed to master the ball," Hanif smiled. "But if protection provides more confidence to the players, it is okay. Particularly after the serious injuries inflicted on Nari Contractor, Iqbal Qasim and Ewan Chatfield while facing pace bowling, I wouldn't blame players who sought to protect themselves."

Hanif also justified his own defensive role in the Pak batting line-up. "Our team was full of stroke players like Alimuddin, Maqsood Ahmed and Imtiaz. The skipper felt that I should hang around and keep one end going. So I had to cut down my strokes a bit."

Hanif rated Abdul Hafeez Kardar as the best captain he had played under. Kardar, like India's Lala Amarnath, was a bit autocratic but was a shrewd leader who knew how to get the best from his men. "Mushtaq was also a very good skipper," added Hanif. "It was a shock when he was not considered for the team which toured India in 1979-80 with disastrous results," he recollected. "Mind you, under Mushtaq Pakistan had convincingly beaten India at home in 1978-79."

Hanif feels that a captain's success depends on the quality of the team he was leading. "Unless, a captain has a good team, he cannot do much. Strategy and planning are no substitute to talent."

Hanif Mohammad I asked him about his mammoth triple century in the West Indies. Didn't get tired playing hour after hour? "I was oblivious to everything else," he said. "I did not feel tired. But once the match was over, oh, I had my fill of aches and pains." In the same series, a young West Indian named Garfield St Auburn Sobers scored 365 not out and set a world record. Hanif shook his head in admiration at the memory. "Sobers was a genius, the greatest the game has known. In that game, we were two bowlers short. Mehmood Hussain and Nasimul Ghani retired hurt and the burden fell on Fazal, Khan Mohammad and Kardar. They had to bowl, bowl and bowl on an easy wicket."

Who was the best bowler he had faced? Hanif shook his head. "It is diffficult to single out one name. Gilchrist, Trueman, Statham and Tyson were all great. I played Kapil Dev in a friendly game during the 1970s and found him quite a handful. Very good line and length, and the ability to swing the ball both ways."

Hanif has high regard for Sachin Tendulkar's talent. "His best days are yet to come," he said. "He should learn to make big scores like Brian Lara. I think he has some problems adjusting his technique from one-dayers to Test matches. But this is a minor problem and we shall hear a lot more about this young man."

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda