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He was the best player against Wasim and Waqar in their prime-in the nets

Harsha Bhogle

Posted: Oct 19, 2007 at 1358 hrs IST
      

: Inzamam-ul Haq reminded me of a banyan tree; huge, immovable, cool, soothing, roots everywhere you see; roots that can slow you down or roots that can provide strength. There was a timelessness about him that made urgency seem an irrelevant fetish. And yet he also reminded me of a sitar player who plucks each string carefully, each motion designed to produce a specific piece of music, every note in place and unhurried; occasionally glancing at the tabalchi, giving him a moment and moving on.

He was not the prancing guitarist, no extraordinary flurry of activity to produce a short, breathtaking burst of music. He was unlikely to say “aah, baby” everytime a word eluded him. The world needs those too, only they were born elsewhere; where the wind had several appointments to keep in a day. In Inzamam’s house, the wind came to stay, produced a couple of delicate zephyrs, curled its way round and lingered over its goodbye.

In Inzamam’s world, the child could come charging in saying “abbu, abbu, dekhiye to kya ho raha hai” and he would listen carefully and say “acchha, zara chai khatam karke dekh lete hain. Arre bhai woh biskut kahan gaya.” That kind of world!

And it is hard to imagine that Inzamam came into world cricket as a destroyer. He played an extraordinary New Zealand side, for whom the whole had a ridiculous exponential relation to the sum of the parts, twice in a few days in the 1992 World Cup and broke as many hearts as is possible in a country of such few. Suddenly the world was watching him and listening to Imran Khan, the finest picker of talent in the game.

We were in Australia before the World Cup when Imran’s opinion on a relatively unknown Inzamam became known. Then, like always, he found creative ways of getting run out and people had begun to wonder if Imran had played a mind game by throwing in this lumbering young giant. He was to justify his captain’s faith; like Wasim and Waqar did. It’s not a bad trio that and who knows Imran as Prime Minister might discover a similar defence, finance and home minister!

But this lumbering giant had another quality. He had eyes that spotted things before a predator, a trickster or a politician could. He was a great judge of length and pace and so seemed to have the time against bowlers when others seemed to be as much in haste as a just departed train. And word began filtering through that the best player against Waqar and Wasim in their prime was Inzamam in the nets.

His laidback style seemed to push the headlines away. And so while the world talked of Tendulkar and Mark Waugh, of an emerging Lara and in course of time of an emerging Ponting, there wasn’t the same flurry of adjectives with Inzamam. Two years after that World Cup I saw him decimate New Zealand again at Sharjah and he was as brutal as his style would allow him to. It wasn’t just a flat deck and a reluctant attack, it was a batsman who wore the cloak of majesty.

As captain he had to be seen to be here, there and everywhere on the field, darting between press conferences, interviews, practice sessions, selection committee meetings and barbs from volatile team-mates. These were not slings and arrows, for Inzamam, they seemed to be mines and missiles and clearly he did not enjoy them. He was, initially, a reluctant leader of men for it seemed then that he had to escape his world and embrace another. When the little child ran in and said “abbu, abbu, dekhiye to kya ho raha hai” he had to bound out of his chair and say “chalo dekhte hain abhi”.

To be captain of Pakistan is to be permanently on the war-front, to be a Genghis Khan or a Mahmud of Ghazni. Inzamam was more Bahadur Shah Zafar, to whom the ghazal was more important than the cannon. His dynasty had seen Babar and Aurangzeb, only the occasional Shah Jahan, but the last Mughal emperor was more likely to go into battle saying “wah bhai Zauq, ek aur sher sunaen” or “miyan Ghalib, is jang ke baare me aapki kalam kya kehti hai?”

But unlike Bahadur Shah Zafar who wasn’t much of a warrior and ended up being imprisoned, Inzamam could bat. He was one of the highlights of his era. He made many thousands but the last three eluded him. It is like that in life sometimes but it does not belittle him in the least.

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