Fazal Mahmood

If cricket were played as much in those days as now, Fazal would have taken a thousand wickets – Sir Alec Bedser

He made his first-class debut at 17, and played for Punjab and Northern India in the Ranji Trophy before the partition of India and Pakistan. He was picked to play for India on its maiden tour of Australia in 1947-48, and even attended a conditioning camp in Pune before the team’s departure. But those were tumultuous times, and Fazal realized the danger to his life, as he was a Muslim. “I was informed about the slaughter when I reached the airport,” he recalled recently. “I could not go to Delhi and Lahore. A kindly passenger gave me his ticket, and I managed to travel to Karachi. The incident changed my life. I decided to stay in Pakistan.” Born in 1927, Fazal migrated with his family to Lahore from Kahkashan in Central Asia. Fazal took a master’s degree in economics at Islamia College. His professor father, who was president of the college cricket club, encouraged his son to pursue the sport. He would place a coin in line with the off-stump, and tell the boy to bowl on the coin if he wanted to pocket it. Fazal’s stamina was quite astonishing. From 1940 to 1947, he went to bed no later than 10 at night, rose each morning at 4.30 and, whatever the weather, walked five miles and ran five miles.

Opting out of the combined Indian Test cricket squad to tour Australia in 1947, days ahead of country’s independence, he did not take long to assert his genius when the opportunity came. His remarkable feat to defeat MCC “A” in 1951 at Karachi, led to Pakistan joining the Test playing countries. On the pitch in the 1950s, he was the Imran Khan of his day, with his striking green eyes, a thick crop of wavy hair (he went on to promote hair cream), cravat and cigarette. By the time Pakistan toured India in October 1952, Mahmood was already the linchpin of the side. Though Pakistan lost the series, Fazal took 20 wickets at an average of 25.51, and scored 173 runs at 28.83. It was his destructive spells of five for 52 and seven for 42 that brought Pakistan’s first Test win, at Lucknow. In the first official Test series on Pakistan soil, Fazal bagged 15 wickets at 22.06 in four Tests against India in 1955. He was at his best at Karachi in 1956-57, taking six for 34 in 27 overs and seven for 80 (including three wickets in four balls) in 48 overs as Australia tumbled to defeat by nine wickets in their first encounter with Pakistan. On the high-scoring tour of the West Indies in 1957-58, he took eight wickets in Pakistan’s first win at Port-of-Spain and finished with 20 wickets at 38.20. In the third Test at Kingston, in which Garfield Sobers made 365 not out, then a world record, he sent down 85.2 overs, and took two for 247.

The most auspicious moment in the history of Pakistan cricket belonged to him. At the Oval on August 17, 1954, Fazal Mahmood, a handsome, affable Lahori took the world by storm with a stunning match haul of 12 for 99 runs to create one of the most amazing upsets in the annals of the game. Thanks to his innings, the minions of Asia conquered the formidable sporting giants of the world on their home turf, firmly establishing Pakistan on the international cricket map. “England Fazalled”, cried the English press. A star was born. Sir Len Hutton’s athletic army had been undone by the most baffling display of medium-fast swing bowling and Fazal was being hailed as the blue-eyed scion of Pakistan cricket. And despite the fact that the leg-cutter wizard was to vanquish many territories during his illustrious career spanning about 10 years between 1952 and 1962, the world invariably referred to Fazal as “The Oval Hero”. No country had won a Test in their first rubber in England. Back home, Fazal became a household name and earned the accolade of being one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year in 1955, the first ever Pakistani to be so recognized.

Not chosen for the tour of England in 1962, he was flown out as a replacement, but was over-bowled and took five expensive wickets in the last two Tests. In all, he took 139 wickets at 24.70 in 34 Tests, with 13 five-wicket hauls. In a first-class career spanning 20 years, he took 460 wickets at 19.11. He retired after the 1962 England tour with a first-class bowling average of under 19. Hanif Mohammad, Pakistan’s first star with the bat, recalled: “He was a great human being, always willing to help anyone who sought his advice. All our wins since we started playing Test cricket were indebted to him.”

Fazal was a thinking, right-arm bowler, who used his great height and long arms tellingly, and was a master of nagging, persistent length. He was the scourge of batsmen on a matting wicket, but could be equally dangerous on grass, with his varied swing and a judicious mix of leg-cutters and break-backs. Denis Compton found him “unplayable on his day”, while the Australian Neil Harvey believed he could make the ball “talk”.

In 1947, he became an inspector of police, rising, in 1976, to deputy inspector general. On May 30, at the age of 78, Fazal suffered a fatal heart attack in Lahore. While his death will be mourned by friends and family members, his full life will surely be celebrated by cricket lovers across the world. His friend and former team-mate Hanif Mohammad described Fazal as a “great human being” and “the doyen of Pakistan bowlers in the country’s formative years”.

Fazal Mahmood is still the only Bowler in the history of Test cricket to take 12 or more wickets in a Test match against 4 different countries. Those are India, England, Australia, and West Indies. He completed his 100 Test wickets in just 22 Tests. He was a charismatic character. Sir Don Bradman once mentioned only two names “Fazal and Hanif.” For Bradman was not given to naming names, so strict was his routine. But Fazal along with Hanif, were on this thoughts when he looked at Pakistan cricket. One of the quickest bowlers of his time and perhaps the first genuine Fast Bowlers from Pakistan.

Fazal, simply unplayable in his day. My most difficult and memorable innings was at the Oval against him where 1 scored 53 in 1954. Denis Compton
If cricket was played as much in those days as now, Fazal would have taken a thousand wickets. Sir Alec Bedser
Fazal Mahmood, a great friend and a great bowler. A very intelligent and difficult bowler to play. Syed Mushtaq Ali
Fazal always bowled accurately with great variety. A great bowler of his time. His inclusion in the Indian team to Australia in 1947 would have made the difference. Madhav Mantri
Fazal could make the ball talk on a matting wicket. Neil Harvey
On matting Fazal was often unplayable; on grass he could be equally devastating. To the casual observer he might have appeared harmless and just another bowler putting his arm over. But what a guile and consummate skill went into every ball. Alex Bannister

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has obtained a room at the Oval in memory of former fast bowler Fazal Mahmood, who inspired Pakistan to a first win over England at the same venue 52 years ago. The PCB has also prepared a special portrait of Mahmood which would adorn the room and planning to have portraits and other memorabilia of Pakistan cricket in the room. Indeed it is a small effort but very significant one to pay tribute to Mahmood, who would remain Pakistan cricket icon forever.

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