Hanif Mohammad. Javed Miandad. Imran Khan. Zaheer Abbas. Wasim Akram. Inzamam-ul-Haq. Younis Khan.
Across the past 71 years, Pakistan the country has had its fair share of cricketers it can proudly claim to be among the greatest to have ever played the sport.
But if it wasn’t for Abdul Hafeez Kardar leading the way and starting the cricketing revolution in the country, there’s a good chance that several of these greats might have ceased to exist in the history books.
One of only three cricketers to have represented both India and Pakistan at the Test level, the late great Kardar was born on this day 98 years ago.
The first Test captain in Pakistan’s history, such was the influence Kardar had in cricket in the country that he, to this very date, is regarded as the Father of Pakistan Cricket.
How Kardar instantly put Pakistan on the world cricket map
A left-handed batter who bowled more-than-handy left-arm orthodox spin, Kardar, born in Lahore (Punjab), began his international career representing India under the name ‘Abdul Hafeez’. Kardar, who made his international debut at the age of 21, played three Tests in the tour of England in 1946 under the captaincy of Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi (famously known as the Nawab of Pataudi). Those three games would turn out to be his final appearances for India as post-partition, he would go on to represent Pakistan.
Kardar, after switching nationalities, had to wait six years to play Test cricket again but in less than no time, he immortalized himself as a through and through legend.
Named the country’s first ever Test captain, it took all of two games for Kardar to get Pakistan their historic first ever win in the format. In their first ever Test, against India in Delhi in 1952, the team suffered an innings defeat but Kardar’s men instantly hit back with an innings defeat of their own, beating their arch-rivals by an innings and 43 runs in game two. The lynchpin of the historic win was pacer Fazal Mahmood, who bulldozed India with a 12-wicket haul.
Pakistan would eventually go on to lose that series, and they would go winless in Test cricket for 18 more months, but little did the world know that the barren period was merely going to be the calm before the mighty storm.
At The Oval on August 17th, 1954, 18 months after their first ever victory in Tests, Kardar’s Pakistan registered what to this very date is considered one of the greatest victories in the country’s history.
1-0 down in the final game of the four-match series against a mighty English side that consisted of the likes of Len Hutton, Peter May, Denis Compton and Frank Tyson among others, few — if any — gave Kardar’s men a chance of leveling the series.
They’d been thrashed by an innings & 129 runs in Nottingham and incessant rain was pretty much the only reason they were able to escape with draws in both the Lord’s and Manchester encounters. This series, hence, had 2-0 England written all over it.
However, in what at that time proved to be one of the biggest upsets ever, Kardar’s men registered a stunning 24-run victory to draw the series.
168 was the target set for Hutton’s England in the fourth innings, after the hosts had conceded a 3-run lead in the first innings, but the star-studded batting line-up were undone by a final-day six-wicket haul from Fazal Mahmood.
And just like that, Abdul Kardar’s men created history by conquering England in just their fourth attempt. It was an outrageous achievement, for it took the West Indians 22 years, the South Africans 28, the Indians 39 and the New Zealanders 55 to achieve the same.
With the historic win, Kardar had put Pakistan in the world cricket map but his achievements as skipper didn’t just end with a victory away in England. Over the next four years, Pakistan would go on to beat New Zealand twice and Australia once, in a one-off Test in Karachi.
They also won away once in West Indies, in Port of Spain, against a side that comprised Rohan Kanhai, Sir Garry Sobers, Sir Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott, Lance Gibbs and Roy Gilchrist. The victory in Port of Spain, as it turned out, ended up being Kardar’s swansong.
Kardar signed off with 23 Tests under his belt for Pakistan, all as captain. Under his leadership, Pakistan made history by registering wins over every single Test playing nation barring South Africa, whom they never met.
A legacy not defined by numbers
When Kardar hung up his boots, he departed with 927 runs at an average of 23.76 (no hundreds) and 21 wickets @ 45.42 (no four or five-wicket hauls) at the Test level. What he managed to achieve on the field as an all-rounder was not wholly impressive.
But to this very date, more than 64 years post his retirement, Kardar is regarded as one of the most significant figures in Pakistan cricket history (if not the most) for putting Pakistan cricket on the global map.
Those who were lucky enough to witness him describe him as a strict disciplinarian with a robust presence. They rave about the panache with which he led a young side and also the fearlessness and self-belief he exuded and instilled on the rest of the side, to make every single individual believe that they were capable of going the extra mile and achieving the impossible; that the ‘newcomer’ tag should not stop them from striving to be the best.
Kardar quit international cricket in 1958 but his story with Pakistan cricket did not end there as he served as the President of Pakistan's Board of Control from 1972 to 1977.
It was, in fact, Kardar who appointed Mushtaq Mohammad as captain of the national team for the first time, back in 1976. Under Mushtaq, Pakistan would go on to win eight Tests in total, win a Test in Australia for the first time and beat India in a series for the first time.
Kardar, who passed away in 1996 at the age of 71, was inducted into the PCB Hall of Fame last year.