Hall of Fame: Saeed Anwar — the wristy left-hander

One Pakistani who, at his pomp, knocked off almost everyone else from the pedestal — Saeed Anwar.

Emmad Hameed August 08, 2014

There’s something special in a left-hander’s stroke-play, and if given a choice between a Brian Lara cover drive and a Sachin Tendulkar equivalent, the connoisseurs of the game are likely to prefer the Lara one.

Lefties seem aesthetically superior and perhaps for this very reason Sourav Ganguly’s off-side play was declared the next best thing to god donning batting gloves.

Among the modern masters, southpaws like David Gower, Kumar Sangakkara, Stephen Fleming and Michael Hussey, enchanted fans from around the world with their silken drives and artistry, and the quartet, along with Lara and Ganguly made batting a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle.

But there is one Pakistani who, at his pomp, knocked off almost everyone else from the pedestal — Saeed Anwar.

Anwar first hit the headlines when he struck a century in a first-class match against the touring Australian side in 1988 at Peshawar, and soon he was representing the men in green in an ODI tournament down under.

The tour was a true baptism of fire for Anwar against a fearsome West Indian attack on the very first day of 1989 at the fastest track of them all, the WACA in Perth.

The late Malcolm Marshall sent the 22-year-old packing cheaply and 18 months later, Anwar endured a wretched Test debut against the same team — bagging a pair in the 1990 Faisalabad Test.

But the gutsy Karachi-born opener was destined for greater things and registered stunning comebacks in both formats of the game.

Before making his first Test ton, the southpaw had already made a mark in ODIs by scoring three consecutive centuries at Sharjah in 1993.

After proving his worth in ODI cricket, Anwar re-entered the Test fray in the 1993-94 season. The first team to taste the ferocity of his shots was New Zealand. The venue was Wellington’s Basin Reserve, and Anwar finally ‘arrived’ in Test cricket with a scintillating 169 that included 27 fours as Pakistan cantered home with an innings victory that helped seal a series win.

The floodgates opened in the longer format after the Wellington ton and merely three innings later, a second hundred arrived in Kandy against Sri Lanka, followed by a 176-run masterclass at the Oval in 1996.

Each of the hundreds continued Anwar’s trademark range of shots and made the pundits sit back and notice the silken touch of the batting wizard.

His finest hour in ODIs came during the 1997 Independence Cup when he scored a century in Chennai against archrivals India.

In the sweltering heat, Anwar churned out an innings for the record books; his 194 off 146 surpassing Vivian Richards 189 as the highest individual score in ODIs.

Anwar laced 22 fours and five monstrous sixes before perishing while trying to clear the boundary once more; within touching distance of a first ever double century.

The packed stadium was stunned into silence as Anwar creamed one boundary after another against an Indian attack that included Venkatesh Prasad and Anil Kumble, with the win taking the men in green to the final of the tournament.

This was the start of his domination of the Indian bowling line-up. Two years later, he chose the cauldron of Indian cricket – Eden Gardens, Kolkata – to post his highest Test score, 188*.

The 1999 Kolkata Test is remembered more for those two stunning Shoaib Akhtar deliveries to Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, but it was Anwar who set up the win; delivering in front of a nearly empty stadium after a mass exodus of the home crowd on the final day of the Test.

However, while Anwar often tormented the best in the business, he was not cut out to be captain. In seven Tests as captain, Anwar tasted success only once; and only five of his 11 ODIs at the helm went in Pakistan’s favour.

After being removed as captain, the grit and mental toughness of the left-hander resurfaced as he scored Test centuries in the backyards of the two most potent bowling attacks of his era.

The 118 at Durban’s Kingsmead in 1998 helped Pakistan record their maiden Test win against the South Africans, while the one in Brisbane against Australia a year later proved that he could stand up tall against the most venomous of bowling attacks despite his short frame.

Even though his form waned towards the end, in the 2003 World Cup, he succeeded in showing glimpses of his old self despite his slowing reflexes and the last hurrah came against India at the Centurion when he scored a century.

That innings, though, was later overshadowed by a Sachin special and Anwar bowed out of the international stage along with Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis as an aging Pakistan team crashed out in the group stages.

Before the World Cup, Anwar had also scored a century in his last Test innings against Bangladesh in Multan to ensure a fittingly memorable end to a distinguished career in the longest format of the game.

A modern great and a Pakistan legend, Anwar’s exploits are forever etched in the folklore of cricket; his left-handed batting exploits would especially be upheld for an eternity.

For the complete Hall of Fame series, log on to: Hall of Fame

Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2014.

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