When we speak of the term Little Master in cricket, one inadvertently thinks about the great Sachin Tendulkar. But years before the Indian little master arrived on the scene, there was a Pakistani little master – someone who even Sachin thought of as his mentor.
Hanif Mohammad, the original Little Master of cricket was the most famous of the Mohammad brothers (Wazir, Hanif, Mushtaq and Sadiq), who represented Pakistan in Test cricket.
Born on Dec 21, 1934, in Junagadh, Hanif played 55 Test matches for Pakistan between 1952 and 1969, averaging a fine 43.98 comprising twelve hundreds. His contribution for Pakistan cricket is immense as Pakistan was granted Test status after the team rode on Hanif’s 64 runs to win a four-day first-class contest against Marylebone Cricket Club, which laid the foundation for Pakistan getting test status.
Short and small-built, Hanif was an accomplished right-hand batsman in the classical mould. He didn’t believe in taking unnecessary risk. It was rare to see Hanif hit the ball in the air. A master of cut and hook, he was good at the difficult reverse-sweep, too. Bowlers loathed his concentration, determination and temperament.
Batting collapses and Pakistan are a match made in heaven. And these collapses date back to 1952 when Pakistan began playing cricket. Hanif, a man with nerves of steel often weathered these collapses with his immaculate technique when Pakistan’s batting line-ups crumbled beside him.
His most famous rearguard innings came in 1958 when he scored 337 in 970 minutes against West Indies in Barbados, which is still Test cricket’s longest ever innings. He began batting towards the end of the third day of a six-day match with Pakistan in a hopeless position, following on with a first-innings deficit of 473. Playing ball by ball, never contemplating the end, and hardly daring to look at the scoreboard, he displayed a scarcely believable level of discipline to bat not only to the end of that tricky evening session but across three more gruelling days in the Caribbean sun before being caught behind the stumps towards the end of day 6.
On returning back, he scored 499 for Karachi against Bahawalpur at Karachi in 1958-59 before being run out attempting his 500th run in the last over of the day. Hanif’s 499 remained the highest individual score in first-class cricket for over 45 years till Brian Lara made 501 not out for Warwickshire versus Durham in 1994.
Hanif was at his peak between 1958 and 1962 when he piled up 1,857 Test runs at an average of 64.03. At Dacca, in January 1962 he made two centuries against England in the same match.
This blistering form meant that captaincy soon beckoned for Hanif but there was some feeling that he was hard done by when Javed Burki was appointed captain for Pakistan’s tour of England in 1962. Hanif, plagued by his bad knee, managed only 177 runs in the Tests, and Pakistan were trounced.
An operation helped alleviate the knee problem, and in 1964 Hanif was at last given the captaincy of Pakistan. His cautious tactics evoked some discontent but the cares of captaincy did not affect his batting. In only his second match in charge, in December 1964, he scored 104 and 93 against Australia at Melbourne.
Hanif’s last Test century, and perhaps his greatest, was his 187 not out against England at Lord’s in 1967. He seemed to be trying to prove a point. Many felt he was approaching the end of his career, his reflexes had slowed down and he wasn’t happy against hostile fast bowling. The England team, too, probably got carried and John Snow tested him with a barrage of bouncers. But the Pakistani hooked him imperiously, not once or twice but repeatedly, laying to rest the myth that quick bowlers could intimidate him.
Hanif worked for the Pakistan International Airlines after retirement. His eldest son, Shoaib, played 45 times for Pakistan between 1983 and 1995 and scored seven Test centuries. Hanif breathed his last on 11th August 2016, after fighting a long battle with lung cancer.
No matter how many little masters come and go, the title of the original little master will always rest with Hanif Mohammad. Rest in peace, legend!