Cricket World Cup History: Saeed Anwar, a classy role model for aspiring openers to emulate
The quiet left-hander was once labelled a one-day batsman as a result of his scintillating hitting, particularly in Sharjah. But he developed into a classy opener across all formats.
Devoid of bluster and arrogance, Saeed Anwar went about his task efficiently. There was even a hint of touch artistry in his refined strokes. He is one of the few Pakistani batsmen - along with Inzamam-ul-Haq - to have held his place in the team over a long period.
Like many southpaws he was sometimes vulnerable outside the off-stump. Regardless, he was an asset to the team, in strife and in triumph. He held the record for the highest score in a one-day international with his blazing 194 against India at Chennai in 1996-97 till Sachin Tendulkar scored a double century in 2010.
Anwar had a run of fine scores throughout the 1996 World Cup. There were two easy outings at the start. Anwar hit an unbeaten 40 in 50 balls with 4 boundaries off the feeble UAE bowling, putting on an unbroken 105 for the second wicket with Ijaz Ahmed, and bringing up victory in a match curtailed to 33 overs a side.
The Dutch attack too posed no problem for Anwar as he took an unbeaten 83 off them. This time he added 94 with Ijaz, crashing 9 fours and 3 sixes in his 92-ball essay.
Pakistan stumbled at the first hurdle, going down to an in-form South African team. Anwar raised 52 in an opening stand with Aamir Sohail, but also registered his lowest score of 25 in the tournament.
Anwar was in prime form against England. He now put on 81 with Sohail, and another 58 with old partner Ijaz. By the time Anwar was caught behind for 71, he had put Pakistan well on the road to victory. He had faced just 72 balls and hit 8 boundaries.
With fellow opener Sohail in a belligerent mood, Anwar was the more subdued as they hit 70 off the New Zealand attack. Then with Ijaz, his long-standing ally of the tournament, Anwar added 69. He was finally run out for 62 off 67 deliveries with a six and 6 fours.
In the emotionally charged quarter-final, Anwar and Sohail were blazing away in pursuit of a strong Indian total of 287. Anwar fell for 48 in an opening stand of 84 in only 10 overs. He had faced just 32 balls, hitting 2 sixes and 5 fours.
Sohail, deputising for injured skipper Wasim Akram, lost his composure, entering into an argument with Venkatesh Prasad and getting bowled next ball. The Indians had put a foot in the door and steadily took the match away from Pakistan.
The tournament was, however, a personal triumph for Anwar. He rarely put a foot wrong.
The weather and moving ball in 1999 did not allow him such luxuries at the beginning of the event. Several openers had a difficult time in these conditions, and Anwar was no exception. In the five round-robin matches he had a top-score of 28, and not a single half-century opening partnership.
The role of wickets and weather in cricket was made fully evident by the contrast in Anwar’s performances in the two tournaments.
A crisp 36 off 44 balls with 6 fours in the super-six confrontation with India was a sign that Anwar was regaining form.
He took a fancy to the Zimbabwe bowling in the next match. A Pakistani opening stand of substance took root for the first time in the tournament. By the 19th over Anwar and Wajahatullah Wasti had put on 95 before the latter fell.
Anwar raised his fifty in 74 deliveries. Then he combined with Inzamam-ul-Haq to add 67 for the third wicket. Soon after, Anwar brought up his maiden century in the World Cup, having hit as many as 15 hundreds hitherto in One-day Internationals.
He was dismissed for 103, scored off 144 deliveries with 11 boundaries. The knock earned him his first man-of-the-match award in the event.
His appetite whetted, Anwar proved that a batsman of class capitalises when in good form. He flayed the Kiwi attack in the semi-final. Wasti joined the party again, and on this occasion the duo more than doubled their partnership of the previous match.
Perhaps they had decided to make up for their troubles earlier in the tournament. In the process they eclipsed Pakistan’s time-tested World Cup record opening partnership of 159 between Majid Khan and Sadiq Mohammad against Sri Lanka in 1975.
Soon they surpassed their country’s best for any wicket in the World Cup, that stood to the credit of Rameez Raja and Salim Malik - a 167-run association for the second wicket against England in 1987. Not content with these landmarks, they went on to beat the all-time World Cup record opening partnership of 186 between Gary Kirsten and Andrew Hudson against Holland in 1996. They were finally separated at 194.
Anwar carried on in the company of Ijaz to wring in a comprehensive nine-wicket triumph. He scored his second successive century, emulating Mark Waugh who achieved the feat in the 1996 World Cup, and Rahul Dravid who did so earlier in this tournament. Anwar returned unbeaten with 113 off 148 balls with 9 fours.
The stupendous effort seemed to have drained him. He confessed: “I was tiring easily. I got out of bed and could not walk. I thought I would die.” It was a scenario reminiscent of the one that had Ronaldo suffering a convulsion before the football World Cup final in 1998.
Anwar seemed to be shaping well enough in the final, having hit three well-timed boundaries. Inexplicably, he called for more grips to put on his bat handle. That break seemed to affect his concentration.
As Wasti was dismissed by Glenn McGrath, Anwar immediately played a delivery from Damien Fleming on to his stumps. The Pakistan innings never really took off from there, resulting in the most one-sided World Cup final ever.
Pakistan’s 2003 World Cup campaign went awry. Anwar, now sporting a flowing beard, did not play in the opening fixture and had moderate scores in the next three matches.
An India-Pakistan face-off is invariably explosive. On this occasion there was added pressure as Pakistan needed to win in order to qualify for the super-sixes. Anwar always relished the Indian bowling, but Pakistan had never beaten the arch-rivals in three encounters in the World Cup. There was to be no reversal in fortunes this time either.
Anwar played himself into form and gradually went into overdrive. It was a vintage innings as he inflicted serious damage to the newfound reputation of the Indian pace attack. Most of his partners could not capitalise after a start, but Anwar used all his experience to place his side in a position of strength.
He brought up his 20th One-day century and also notched up 2000 runs against India. He left after scoring 101 off 126 deliveries with 7 boundaries. By then Pakistan were 195 for five off 40.1 overs and poised for a big total. They eventually put up 273 for seven.
It seemed a match-winning score, but they did not reckon with a man named Tendulkar. Anwar’s magnificent hundred was in vain, and his team’s World Cup aspirations all but shattered.
Pakistan had to beat Zimbabwe by a massive margin in order to advance. Rain washed away even that slender possibility as the already truncated match was abandoned after 14 overs. Anwar returned in dismay, unbeaten on 40, having hit 3 fours and a six in 45 balls. The team left for home in disarray.
Anwar has to his credit a fine record in the World Cup, having scored nearly a thousand runs at an average well over 50, and a strike-rate of almost 80. A player who could turn a match with his strokeplay, he was a rare opening batsman proficient in both forms of the game.
There was high quality stamped on his strokes: the cracking square cuts, glides off the legs, exquisite cover drives. All this was done with a minimum of fuss or fury.
Saeed Anwar was the ideal role model for aspiring opening batsmen to emulate.
Saeed Anwar’s World Cup batting and fielding record:
Matches 21, Highest Score 113*, Runs 915, Average 53.82, Strike-rate 79.08, Hundreds 3, Fifties 3, Catches 3
Also read – World cup winners captains list