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Unluckiest of the unlucky: talent that never got its due

‘Lucky’ and ‘unlucky’ were two words one heard and read often during the recently-concluded Pakistan-Australia Test match at Brisbane. This brought to mind a few ‘unlucky’ players who did everything they could but still found themselves sidelined more often than not.

It is customary to work out the dream team, pick up the best captain, locate the best all-rounder and so on. The who-might-have-been-what factor does not get too much attention. But it doesn’t hurt to be unconventional once in a while.

So let’s pick up some contenders for the top three ‘most unfortunate’ cricketers among the 224 who have donned the green cap in the 64 years since Pakistan got the Test status. Out of contention are many who had the potential to make it big but shot themselves in the foot like Younis Ahmed, Qasim Omar and Basit Ali did. Or, like Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif did.
It is customary to work out the dream team, pick the best captain, locate the best all-rounder and so on. But what about the talent that never got its due?

Also to be left out are those who are in the wilderness for one reason or the other, but still have time on their side, as in the case of Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shahzad.

One shall also put aside names who got too few opportunities to fully showcase their talent. For instance, Jalaluddin played just six Tests in a three-year international career. Then there was this fellow Wajahtullah Wasti who scored two centuries in six outings, looked good, but was then dumped for no fault of his own. Anil Dalpat got nine Tests which was a pity. Hasan Raza was too good a talent to get just seven matches. Bazid Khan got just one.

The unluckiest in this category would probably be Asim Kamal, who scored eight scores of 50-or-more in his 12-Test career. In a side that was notorious for being a pack of cards, his ability to stay on the crease should have been considered an asset, but that was not to be.

Faisal Iqbal and Yasir Hameed had a good time out on the field, but could never do justice to their own talent which gave their detractors a chance to keep them on tenterhooks. But the basic fault lies with them for not making the most of their chances 26 and 25 Tests, respectively. And, indeed, the case of Danish Kaneria is on an entirely different plank for obvious reasons. Having set the context thus, let’s move to the main business of identifying the three unluckiest of the unlucky lot in Pakistan cricket.

Sikander Bakht Test Cap No. 74 was the least unlucky of the top three in this rather unenviable category. Tall and slim frail, actually Sikander was deceptively lively, if not quick, on most pitches. He was the perfect foil for the Imran-Sarfaraz duo, especially because Sarfaraz was an erratic soul and his availability was not always guaranteed. Sikander was a true workhorse who could bowl longish spells to keep one end going.

Having started under Mushtaq Mohammad in 1976, Sikander’s highest point came on the 1979-80 tour to India. He had to bear the burden of being the lone functional fast bowler in the camp owing to captain Asif Iqbal’s decision not to have Sarfaraz on the tour, and an injury in the early part of the tour to Imran Khan. He bowled his heart out on placid Indian tracks for a series haul of 24 wickets. Everyone else among the bowlers stood overshadowed by his performance.

But to everyone’s horror, the highest wicket-taker on the tour was dropped for the first match of the very next series. This must have been some morale-booster for the fellow who was all of 25 years at the time. By the looks of it, his peak turned out to be his downfall. From thereon, he was never given the confidence or selection consistency which brought his career to a premature end just six years after it had begun in Karachi.

If Sikander was unlucky, even unluckier was Shoaib Mohammad Test Cap No. 97. The parochial conflict in Pakistan cricket is no secret and Shoaib was a classic example of how bad it can get. Everyone who had a grudge with those on the other side of the divide tried to take it out on the young lad who, in any case, was under tremendous pressure of keeping up with the legacy of his illustrious father and uncles.
Wasim Raja

Shoaib was constantly picked and dropped on one pretext or the other. Sometimes it was because he was considered too slow; sometimes for being reckless; sometimes for concentrating too hard; sometime for not doing so. These were the official reasons cited for his repeated expulsions.

In the 45 Tests that Shoaib played, he scored at an average of 44.34, which is a decent effort for an opener. In contrast, Ramiz Raja, who was the preferred choice, played 57 Tests; at an average of 31.83, which is less than ordinary by any standard. Shoaib, despite always being on trial, scored seven centuries; Ramiz, despite his permanent place, scored two.

Rather ironically, our suggestion for the unluckiest of them all happens to be Ramiz’s brother, the master blaster, Wasim Hasan Raja Test cap No. 67.

In his elements, he was a sight to behold, taking on the might of the West Indians with the languid grace that few could afford. His major successes came against the West Indies while playing in their backyard on the 1976-77 tour. In those pre-helmet days, it took a lot of heart and grit facing the mighty pacers, but that was the stuff Raja needed to get the adrenalin going. At an average of 57.42, he scored 517 runs with five scores of 50 runs or more in as many Tests. And it was his leg-spin that won the day for Pakistan in the Port of Spain when Andy Roberts and Derrick Murray were well into another of their come-from-behind acts. Raja’s three wickets in four overs finally settled the matter.

Another of his purple patches came on the two tours to India. In 1979-80 under Asif Iqbal, he scored at 56.25 in six Tests, and in three Tests in 1983 under Zaheer Abbas, the average went up to 60 per innings. However, it was his outing at Jullundur that showcased his batting ability like little else. His century was a story of two halves. The first one was a head-down effort to stabilise the innings. But when the eighth wicket fell, Raja cut loose as only he could. The last two wickets added 73 runs of which only four were scored by Mohammad Nazir and Azeem Hafiz. To cap it off, he took four wickets while conceding 50 runs when India batted.

Raja surely needed a challenge to thrive. A challenge he couldn’t overcome was that of interpersonal skills that are often given more weight than cricketing skills in our midst. It was this failure that makes Raja the most wasted talent in Pakistan cricket.

As goes the legend, Raja was a dissident in the camp. Mild-mannered and cultured to the core because of his educated background, he had the guts to stand up for what he believed. Pakistan cricket has never been comfortable with such characters and never allowed him to settle down in the line-up. It is some indication of his strength as a player that he still ended up playing 57 Tests, but he was always on trial.

Raja, with the kind of talent and potential he had, should have been counted among the legends of Pakistan cricket, but the new generation hardly knows his name. What a pity.

courtesy : dawn news

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