tauseef_ahmed
Illustration: Vasim Maner

He played in the shadow of two illustrious teammates. Not surprisingly, his name has largely been forgotten even in his own country’s cricketing history.
In some quarters, he is remembered as the tail-ender who took the crucial single off the penultimate delivery before Javed Miandad hit that famous six off Chetan Sharma in the final at Sharjah in 1986.

Rewind six years.

A young off-spinner with the experience of just one first-class match impresses captain Javed Miandad, Imran Khan and manager Mushtaq Mohammad at the nets before the 1980 series opener against the Australians at Karachi.

In what is a sensational Test debut, Tauseef Ahmed picks up 7 wickets in the match (4-64 and 3-62; five of which were of the top-middle order). Australia are bowled out for 225 in the first innings. Pakistan reply with 292. The visitors collapse for 140 in the second innings and Pakistan go on to win by 7 wickets. The second and third Tests are drawn.

It was Pakistan’s first series win at home against Australia. They had lost the only other time Australia toured (for a full series) previously, in 1959.

So, on debut, Tauseef set a tone for the rest of his career – invariably producing a big performance in what would turn out to be the series-deciding Test of a series.

In so doing, he became the first Pakistani bowler to produce a series-defining performance ( SD ) in his debut series. A feat repeated just once since – by Mohammad Zahid against New Zealand in 1996-97.

This uncanny ability to produce his best in the matches which ultimately shaped the result of a series makes Tauseef Ahmed, despite a meagre tally of just 93 Test wickets from 34 Tests, the fourth-highest impact bowler in Pakistan’s Test cricket history (minimum of 30 Tests).

Conventionally, it would be scandalous and outlandish to suggest that a bowler who did not even aggregate 100 wickets in his career made any sort of impact in his country’s Test cricket history but, in Tauseef’s case, it is the timing of these wickets which put him ahead of some all-time great bowling legends from Pakistan. It is an absolutely stunning achievement given the rich and illustrious history of the Test bowlers Pakistan has produced over the years. Only Imran Khan, Saeed Ajmal and Wasim Akram had a higher impact with the ball for Pakistan in Test cricket than Tauseef (min. 30 Tests).

This means that Tauseef is a higher impact bowler than Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq, Mushtaq Ahmed and two of his famous teammates – Abdul Qadir and Iqbal Qasim.

What makes Tauseef’s place even more special is his massive contribution in perhaps the most significant phase in Pakistan’s Test cricket history.


PAKISTAN’S BEST PERIOD IN TEST HISTORY

Pakistan had a poor Test record between 1968 and 1978. They won just 5 out of 40 Tests in this period. Only New Zealand had a worse win-loss ratio. Although Pakistan lost just 10 Tests, an overwhelming majority (25) ended in draws.

Their transformation began with a series win against India at home in 1978 and it was led by Javed Miandad and Imran Khan. It was during this rise of Pakistan as a major Test power that Tauseef made his Test debut. Pakistan went on to become the undisputed second-best Test team in the world (after West Indies) for the next decade and a half (1978-1993).

Tauseef’s career (1980-1993) coincided with this phase. Pakistan played 29 series of which they won 14, lost 7 and drew 8. In terms of win-loss ratio too, they were a distant but comfortable second (after West Indies) having won 32 of the 100 Tests they played in this period.

Tauseef was the ninth-highest impact bowler in the world during his career (min. 30 Tests). He was also the second-highest impact spinner (after Iqbal Qasim) in this time-frame.

More significantly, he was the biggest series-winner with the ball for Pakistan and all his 4 SDs came in this period.


A SENSATIONAL SERIES-WINNER

Tauseef produced three more series-defining performances (SDs), altogether four SDs in just 34 Tests.

Amongst all bowlers who have produced at least three SDs in their career, Tauseef has the third-best frequency of producing an SD with the ball in Test cricket history after Bobby Peel (4 SDs in 20 Tests) and Mohammad Asif (3 SDs in 23 Tests).

Pakistan vs England, First Test, Karachi, 1984: England, choosing to bat, were given a solid start by openers before Tauseef went past the Mike Gatting’s defence with the score at 41. Soon, Sarfraz Nawaz and Abdul Qadir ran through their line-up as the visitors collapsed for 182. Tauseef did not pick any more wickets in the innings but kept one end tight with figures of 1-33 in 24 overs. After Pakistan replied with 277 (Tauseef contributed 17 not out), England again fared poorly in the second innings and were bundled out for 159. Tauseef accounted for the wickets of Gower (highest scorer of the innings with 57) and Ian Botham and finished with 3-37 in 21 overs. Chasing just 65, Pakistan were given a scare by spinner Nick Cook but scraped through by three wickets, thanks to their 21-year-old debutant wicketkeeper Anil Dalpat. With 8-133 in the match, Abdul Qadir was the Man-of-the-Match but Tauseef’s performance was high impact enough to earn him an SD , since the second and third Test ended in draws. So, in only his third series in almost five years since his debut, Tauseef had produced another SD performance. This was Pakistan’s first series win at home against England. They had lost one and drawn the previous three series.

Pakistan vs India, Fifth Test, Bangalore, 1987: The series was level at 0-0 with the first four Tests ending in draws. In the low scoring decider, Pakistan, opting to bat first, were routed for 116 as Maninder Singh picked up 7 wickets. Tauseef Ahmed (5-54; all top-middle order wickets) and Iqbal Qasim (5-48) led the Pakistani fightback and bowled India out for 145. Pakistan fared better in the second innings and notched up 249. India were set a target of 221. Sunil Gavaskar produced one of the finest innings of his Test career – 96 – in his last Test but India fell 17 runs short. Tauseef accounted for four more wickets conceding 85 runs in the second innings. Pakistan won the series 1-0. It was a historic triumph – their first and till date only Test series win in India (in 8 series).

Pakistan vs Australia, First Test, Karachi, 1988: Pakistan amassed 469 in the first innings, courtesy Javed Miandad’s 211. Iqbal Qasim played the lead role with the ball and returned with a five-for as Australia were shot out for 165. Tauseef was highly economical conceding just 28 runs in 26 overs and picked up a wicket too. Following on, the visitors fared even worse, falling for 116. Qasim and Qadir again led with the ball, but Tauseef also chipped in with two wickets and was exceptionally restrictive once again – conceding just 16 runs in 21.4 overs. The second and third Test ended in draws. Pakistan won the series 1-0.

Tauseef’s consistency and ability to shut down one end brought him these series-defining performances in the matches that ended up mattering the most for Pakistan at the time.


HIGHER IMPACT THAN QADIR AND QASIM

Despite the sensational start to his Test career, Tauseef did not find a place in Pakistan’s starting XI for two years. Qadir and Qasim were the first choice spinners.

Not surprising, then, that during the 8 years (February 1980 till October 1988) their careers overlapped – a period in which Pakistan played 72 Tests – Qadir represented Pakistan in 51 Tests, Qasim in 30 and Tauseef in just 27.

But it is interesting because not only did Tauseef have a better bowling average than Qadir and Qasim in this stretch, he was also substantially (15%) higher impact than Qadir – who was widely considered to be the best spinner in the world at the time.

In his 34-Test career, Tauseef took 93 wickets at just under 32 runs apiece. In comparison, Qadir took 236 wickets in 67 Tests at just under 33 apiece while Qasim took 171 in 50 Tests at 28 apiece. Again, no match from a conventional standpoint.

Even through the Impact prism, both Qadir and Qasim were more prolific wicket takers. While Qadir produced the most number of high impact performances (11 in 67 Tests) and had the best frequency of doing so amongst the three, Qasim was the most restrictive and also the most consistent.

But Tauseef’s frequency of producing an SD was the sole reason he had a higher impact than Qadir and Qasim, both of whom also registered 3 series-defining ( SD ) performances each in just 67 and 50 Tests respectively.

The impact Tauseef had during this stretch – arguably the greatest in his country’s Test cricket history (the only other period where Pakistan has a long stretch of success is between 2010 and 2017; in terms of frequency of series wins, both these periods are almost at par with each other but Pakistan’s win-loss ratio in terms of Test matches is far better between 1978 and 1993) – is his true legacy to Pakistani and world cricket. His performances shaped Pakistan’s Test history more than some other famous names – something for which he doesn’t get any credit.

Never before has a bowler with just 93 wickets played such a significant role in what was one of the greatest Test sides his country has ever produced.

 

 

Nikhil Narain