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We take a detailed look at Abdul Qadir's legacy and how he played a major role in popularising cricket across the world.

By Kamran Bashir (7th September, 2019)

What makes cricket special? Many things no doubt, but variety and contrast surely must occupy a central place. Anytime when variety is circumscribed, the game stands diminished. Without Abdul Qadir in the 1980s, cricket would indeed have been lessened.

Making his Test debut in late 1977, within a Pakistan team weakened by the ‘Packer exodus’, Qadir immediately stirred the imagination, for he was a rare breed. In the second Test, he took 6-44 against England. John Woodcock writing in the Times noted that a “…leg break bowler in England is considered a luxury these days.” For “this is the age of swing and seam and medium pace, of bouncers and sound and fury, of the miser rather than the millionaire.”

Qadir's subtle skills would shine brightly in this era. Perhaps nowhere was this as appreciated as in England. The surfeit of English swing and seam bowlers, bowling ‘line and length’ may have been effective in English conditions but did not stimulate the sense of ambition. Qadir appeared a particularly exotic commodity in this context. The image of the Eastern conjurer was one Imran Khan would in fact promote. He apparently asked Qadir to grow a French beard for the 1982 tour of England to add to the appearance of mystique.

It had some effect. In a piece in the Times during the tour of 1982, a writer commented that Qadir seemed to have for a leg spinner “the right face…one of calculation and conspiracy.” He continued that “the eyes narrow ominously and the fringe of dark beard hints at brigandage and plunder…You could imagine that face emerging from the mystic gloom of a Karachi bazaar to whisper dread tidings of deceit in high places and intrigue in the back streets.” The article was meant as admiration for Qadir, though the Orientalism in the passages is unmistakable. Clearly, however, the image of Qadir that Imran sought to cultivate in England had some purchase on some English minds during the tour.

Qadir was not only significant because of his distinctive skills, creativity and the aura of mystery he brought in the dark age for leg spin bowling, but also because he clearly represented the democratisation of the game in Pakistan.

Qadir was born in 1955, when cricket was mainly a game for the relatively privileged. In the initial years, many of the cricketers who represented Pakistan were educated and affluent, who had learnt their cricket in the college system based on British educational institutions. Many of these players were deferential in spirit. So in 1971 when Pakistan arrived in England, Imran Khan noted in his autobiography, the pervasion of an “inferiority complex” amongst Pakistani players.

Qadir came from a modest background, raised in a tiny house, where by all accounts money was in short supply. The emergence of players from poorer backgrounds, such as Qadir, not steeped in British traditions, allowed for a more assertive disposition to emerge. Qadir was himself known for his aggressiveness and attacking minded spirit and fitted neatly within the ethos with which Pakistan played in the 1980s. Qadir stood, along with many others, as symbols of the ‘new’ Pakistan on the cricket field. Confident, prickly, patriotic and not willing to take backward steps.

Qadir would, of course, also influence a generation of Pakistani leg spinners, none more so than Mushtaq Ahmed. Qadir’s action was ripe for mimicry. It was effervescent, full of bounce, verve and energy. Before he ran in, he would spin the ball from hand to hand, move the arms with real intent, lick his fingers, and then raise the left hand. He approached the stumps from a slightly curved angle. He had a quick and loose looking arm action and at point of delivery he would stick the tongue out. The whirl of the arms and the bounce clearly left an impression on Mushtaq. So too did the different types of googly that Qadir could unfurl. Mushtaq's googly to dismiss Hick in the 1992 World Cup final could almost be considered an act of tribute to the grand master.

It was of course not all rosy. Qadir was far more threatening at home than overseas. Twelve of the fifteen 5 wicket hauls being earned in Pakistan. Against India he made little impression. There were times he could be difficult and was indeed twice sent back home from overseas tours. Imran Khan described him as ‘emotional’ and if attacked by batsmen successfully he could lose focus. Well before Inzamam headed into the crowd to deal with an abusive spectator, Qadir had his own altercation with a heckler in a tense match in the West Indies in 1988.

But this pales in comparison to his contribution. There were many memorable spells, not least when he took 6-16 in 1986 as the world’s strongest team - the West Indies - were reduced to smithereens, dismissed for 53. Qadir showed that an attacking spin bowler had a place in limited overs cricket. He inspired aspiring leg-spinners. More than all this, Qadir brought a sense of enchantment to cricket in the 1980s. He aimed not only to beat the batsmen but to bewilder them as well.

As he told Rahul Bhattacharya (as quoted in Pundits in Pakistan), “I could bowl the same bowl in ten different ways…I’ve see people bowling one style, and that’s it. But not me. I wanted to do miracles, you see.”