IQBAL QASIM
Illustration- Vasim Maner

The most eminent Pakistani spinner of all time is Abdul Qadir. Intikhab Alam came before him; Saqlain Mushtaq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Danish Kaneria and Saeed Ajmal after, all of whom have a relatively high profile. Sadly, not enough people talk about the bowler who came with Qadir, played as substantially as he did, and had almost entirely the same impact as him during most of that period.

In fact, if we take the entire career of Iqbal Qasim (50 Tests between 1976 and 1988), and compare it with Abdul Qadir’s (67 Tests between 1977 and 1990), Qasim actually comes out higher impact. And that too by a substantial margin. The reason for that is Qadir’s falling away after Qasim’s departure as the Pakistani fast bowlers (especially Akram and Waqar) led the way, even in matches at home.

Iqbal Qasim is the fourth-highest impact bowler in Pakistan’s cricket history – a history which has seen some of the finest bowlers to have played the game. Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Danish Kaneria are the only three higher impact than him.

Qasim wasn’t his country’s biggest wicket-taker (both in terms of aggregates and frequency) or the biggest match-winner (in terms of number of matches) and yet, he affected his country’s cricket history (as a bowler) more than the likes of Qadir, Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed amongst others. And unlike off-spinner Tauseef Ahmed, who also did very well in that period (though in fewer matches), Qasim’s was not largely a support role.

Iqbal Qasim is the fourth-highest impact bowler in Pakistan’s cricket history. Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Danish Kaneria are the only three higher impact than him.

This may seem strange for a bowler who was seen primarily as a line-and-length bowler, accurate and consistent, a pace-changer rather than a turner – a restrictive bowler more than anything else.

Thing is, Qasim was incredible at that. In fact, he was the world’s most restrictive bowler during the time his career ran. And it’s not that he didn’t take wickets either. He took more wickets than any other spinner in the world with the exception of Qadir in that period (min. 40 Tests). All this combined to make him the highest impact spinner in the world, after Qadir. And overall, the seventh-highest impact bowler in the world after Malcolm Marshall, Imran Khan, Hadlee, Dennis Lillee, Holding, Garner and Qadir.

One criticism of Qasim could be that though he was enormously effective in the subcontinent but did not have that kind of an impact outside. But then, that is true for every single subcontinental spinner in Test history, except Muralitharan. Some to a lesser extent, but by and large everyone else (Kumble and Harbhajan are prime examples). Most pertinently, Qasim’s overseas record was far superior to Abdul Qadir’s (even averages tell that story- Qasim averaged 34 in 21 matches; Qadir an outlandish 48 in 27 matches) and yet Qadir was always seen as a superior bowler overall.

Conventional figures give a cue to many of these things too if they are examined more closely but clearly no one was motivated to do that with Qasim’s, given that he was not a flamboyant player with a larger-than-life presence.

In the middle however, Qasim had more impact than most of these hyped players.

The main reason why Qasim was so high impact had to do with his propensity of delivering on big occasions. Three times, he played the leading role in the sole deciding Test of the series, twice against Australia, once against India. Three series-defining performances (SDs) in 50 Tests – that’s amongst the best Matches/ SD ratio for a spinner in Test history.

The main reason why Qasim was so high impact had to do with his propensity of delivering on big occasions. Three times, he played the leading role in the sole deciding Test of the series.

All 3 of these performances contributed significantly to his country’s cricket history.

THE FIRST SD : PAKISTAN V AUSTRALIA, KARACHI 1980

Qasim and debutant Tauseef Ahmed (another interesting story) messed up the Australian batting (comprising Greg Chappell, Kim Hughes and Allan Border) for just 225, despite a Hughes special (85 on a treacherous track). Pakistan went on to get 292, led by Majid Khan’s 89. Iqbal Qasim took charge thereafter, on a track suited for his kind of bowling his 7-49 finished the Aussies for 140 and pretty much the match, as Pakistan got the 74 needed fairly comfortably. As the next two Tests were drawn, this win gave Pakistan a series win over Australia after 24 years.

THE SECOND SD : INDIA V PAKISTAN, BANGALORE 1987

The final Test in a 5-match series. Abdul Qadir had taken just 4 wickets at 60 apiece in the series till then, and was rested for this match, to much speculation. Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed produced their best at a crucial time on a spinning pitch, but not before Pakistan’s nerve and skill had been tested to the fullest. First, Pakistan collapsed for 116 in 50 overs. Then, India from 126-4 collapsed to 145 all out (the ‘Qasim and Tauseef Show’ in full earnest; both got 5 wickets). Pakistan fought hard as a unit in their reply and set India 221. Gavaskar produced what many call his finest Test innings (also his last, as he retired with this as his stirring swan song) ‘ 96 on a treacherous track and it was Qasim who dismissed him (after getting a set Azharuddin, then Shastri and Kapil Dev too) to help dismiss the Indians for 204. Iqbal Qasim was the highest impact player in the match that helped Pakistan win their first-ever Test series in India (till date their only series triumph in India).

Iqbal Qasim was the world’s most restrictive bowler during the time his career ran.

THE THIRD SD : PAKISTAN V AUSTRALIA, KARACHI 1988

The opening Test in a revenge series for some (as Australia had knocked Pakistan out of the 1987 World Cup recently) began tensely as Pakistan were 21-2 till Shoaib Mohammed and Javed Miandad stabilised things, and then later, Miandad won the first round for Pakistan with a ten-and-a-half hour double century that placed Pakistan at 469. Iqbal Qasim won the second and third rounds for Pakistan as he took the lead in destroying Australia for 165 and 116 (despite Marsh, Boon, Jones, Border and S Waugh in their line-up), picking up the most wickets (9) despite the presence of Qadir and Tauseef in their ranks.

The second Test ended in a draw.

In the third and final Test of the above series, Australia came back strongly, setting Pakistan 269 to win, or as it turned out, 84 overs to survive. Pakistan were 131-7 when Qasim walked out, series in jeopardy, 16 overs remaining. He batted for an hour and twenty minutes, faced 47 balls, made 10 runs, stayed not out, and helped Pakistan draw the match (Pakistan finishing at 153-8) and win the series.

Now, consider this. This series was Iqbal Qasim’s last of his career, as he was inexplicably dropped post this. So, his last Test series was an SD with the ball. His last moments in Test cricket were spent saving Pakistan the match with the bat and winning them the series. There are few more perverse forced endings to a Test career.

 

 

Jaideep Varma

NOTE: Impact Index has undergone an upgradation in November 2015, and though 95% of its findings remain the same, there have been some minor shifts. This piece was updated post that, and is up-to-date as of August 2016.