Remembering the legendary Fazal Mahmood
At a time when Pakistani cricket was in its initial stages and the country had just obtained independence from the British, Pakistani cricket lacked stars. Fazal Mahmood rose to the occasion and will be remembered forever as the athlete who helped his nation attain Test cricket status. He studied at Islamia College, where his father also taught Economics. Interestingly though, it was Fazal’s father who had a hand in mentoring his son for his future bowling success. According to reports, his father used to wake him up strictly at four-thirty in the morning and put Fazal on a stringent routine of walking and running five miles each!
Very soon (at age 17 precisely) Fazal attracted attention when he debuted in a first class match for Northern India. In a Ranjhi trophy match, he took three crucial wickets and scored 38 not out. Fazal continued dominating the first class cricket scene and was almost selected for the Indian team but the selectors thought he was too young.
After the sub-continent was spit into two countries, Fazal being a Muslim, opted for Pakistan and played first class cricket there for Punjab. After performing exceptionally, he was chosen for the very first home tour of Pakistan against the West Indies, where he failed to take a wicket. At the end of 1948 to early 1949, Pakistan toured Ceylon in which Fazal remained the highest wicket taker, collecting an impressive 20 scalps from just four games.
Next came Pakistan’s first ever tour against India where they played a total of four tests. Fazal shone in the series as well, being instrumental in Pakistan’s second test match win at Lucknow. Fazal skittled the Indian batsmen by taking five wickets in the first innings and following it up with a seven wicket haul in the second innings. The result; India perishing against Pakistan by an innings and 43 runs. yet it was the 1954 Oval Test match when Pakistan faced a strong English side that Fazal will be most remembered for. Chasing a low total posted by the Pakistani cricket team, the English looked set to record a win at 109-2. Fazal tore through the English batting lineup by taking another six wicket haul, dismissing the entire English side for 143. “This was to be Fazal Mahmood’s match. His action was not prepossessing; but he was strong, immensely fit, built like the policeman he was and, in many ways, was the ideal fast-medium bowler. His length was consistently accurate, he took punishment well, his stamina and determination were such that he never flagged and, given the opportunity of a breakthrough, he would persist untiringly,” John Arlott wrote when reminiscing of this momentous game. The victory was a sweet and momentous one due to the fact that whilst other nations had much experience than Pakistan in cricket, Pakistan had recorded their first ever victory whilst they were finding their feet.
The Australian team visited Pakistan for a lone test match during which Fazal bamboozled the entire Australian batting stars to record a 13 wicket haul (7 in the first innings and 6 in the second one). Here’s what Imtiaz Ahmed had to say about Fazal’s terrorizing bowling in that Test. “He would bowl the middle and off-stump line, then used the seam smartly to make the ball go down close to leg stump, which made it uncomfortable for the batsman. For one whole over from Fazal in the first innings, even the great (Keith) Miller had no clue,” said former Pakistani Test cricketer Imtiaz Ahmed in an interview to Wisden Asia Cricket.
Fazal captained the Pakistani cricket team in the later stages of his illustrious career. However, as brilliant a bowler he was, his captaining didn’t quite yield the results expected of him. Of the four tests he captained, two were won by Pakistan whereas two were lost by them. After a tour of India in which Pakistan drew five tests against the Indians, Fazal’s captaincy came to an end when the mantle was snatched from him by the Pakistani selectors. The Pakistani bowling maestro retired from the game he glorified in 1962.
Fazal Mahmood secured a Masters degree in Economics from Islamia College and joined Pakistan Services as a Police Inspector, ultimately reaching the post of Deputy Inspector General in 1976. Fazal passed away as a result of a fatal heart attack in Lahore on 30th May 2005.
No doubt Fazal Mahmood will always be remembered and cherished as one of the greatest bowlers to grace the game of cricket. He quit the international stage with 139 wickets from 34 Tests, at an outstanding average of 24.70 and an economy rate of just over two. Fazal has the unique honor of being the first bowler to take four 12 wicket hauls against veteran cricketing nations such as West Indies, Australia, India and England.