Cricket World Cup history: Zaheer Abbas and his dazzling batsmanship
The bespectacled Zaheer Abbas combined grace with brilliant strokeplay. His cover driving off the front foot, and the back, was a joy to behold. Outstanding against all types of bowling, except the fastest, Zaheer was particularly at home on English wickets.
His two big double centuries in the 1971 and 1974 Test series and free scoring on the county circuit stand testimony to this. In the World Cup, all of which were played in England during his time, he essayed several exciting knocks.
Zaheer was slow off the mark in 1975 as he failed against Australia, Jeff Thomson having him caught early. An innings of 31, including a second-wicket stand of 62 with Majid Khan in that sensational match against the West Indies, was followed by a Zaheer gem.
In the game versus Sri Lanka he hit a blistering 97 off just 89 balls with 10 fours and a six. He featured in a third-wicket stand of 88 with Mushtaq Mohammad. He also put on 50 for the fifth wicket with 18-year-old Javed Miandad.
On the brink of a brilliant century, Zaheer was bowled by Tony Opatha towards the end of the innings. But it was enough to secure Zaheer the man-of-the-match award. Sadly, though, Pakistan’s campaign in the inaugural tournament was already over by then.
Many critics felt that Zaheer was a fair-weather batsman, superb when the wicket was flat and the bowling not too hostile, but suspect when the pace got hot. In 1979 he could not fully capitalize against some friendly Canadian bowling, being run out for 36.
He did not get a big score against the depleted Australian attack, and failed at Headingley where Mike Hendrick and Ian Botham moved the ball around.
In the semi-final Zaheer was up against one of the greatest pace attacks in history. After the West Indies had piled up a near-300 total, Michael Holding had Sadiq Mohammad caught behind for 2.
Zaheer joined Majid, and rarely could the terrifying quartet of Roberts, Holding, Croft and Garner have had such a frustrating time. When tea was taken after 25 overs, the score read 97 for one.
Zaheer and Majid continued their tremendous act and after 40 overs they had taken the score to 176, a brilliant partnership of 166.
The superlative speedsters were looking surprisingly ordinary, or more appropriately, were made to look ordinary in the face of the dazzling strokeplay of the Pakistani pair. Zaheer was in particularly awesome form, quickly on the threshold of a century.
Another 118 were required off the final 20 overs; not a difficult task considering the murderous mood the two batsmen were in.
Colin Croft braced himself for one more burst, and had Zaheer caught behind for 93. It was one of his finest knocks in one-day cricket, played against huge odds. He had faced 122 balls and hit 8 fours and a six.
After his departure the innings disintegrated as Croft dismissed Majid for 81 and then trapped Miandad plumb in front for a duck.
The West Indies won but Zaheer’s innings sparkled on a day of several fine performances. He showed that he could get runs even against the finest pace attack. "The art of strokeplay is a way of communication between strokeplayers and cricket lovers," Zaheer once said in his inimitable way.
In 1983, Zaheer was again in great form against the hapless Sri Lankans as he hit 82 off 81 balls with 10 boundaries, helping his side to the then World Cup record total of 338 for five in 60 overs. He put on 68 for the second wicket with Mohsin Khan and 73 for the third wicket with Miandad.
The encounter with New Zealand was a disaster despite Abdul Qadir’s fine all-round display. Pakistan at one point were reduced to zero for three wickets, one of which was Zaheer’s.
Dropping down to No. 5 from his usual one-down position, Zaheer played a lone hand against England. But his splendid unbeaten 83 was not enough to present the English with a challenging target.
He stroked 7 fours and a six off 104 balls. It is not often that a player from the losing side is named man-of-the-match, but Zaheer’s sparkling knock ensured that he was.
The next two games were not happy ones for him, but the crucial match against New Zealand witnessed the real Zaheer Abbas once again. The Pakistani batting was not firing on all cylinders until Zaheer strode in at No. 4.
He first put on 60 for the third wicket with Miandad, and then 147 in an unbroken fourth-wicket stand with skipper Imran Khan. This time Zaheer reached his maiden World Cup century.
He had been dismissed in the 90s in the previous two World Cups, but here he registered his seventh one-day hundred, a record at the time. His unbeaten 103 off 121 deliveries, with 6 fours, enabled Pakistan to secure a berth in the semi-finals as they won a thrilling match by 11 runs.
Pakistan were very much the underdogs in the semi-final against the West Indies. Zaheer scored a useful 30, but the champions packed far too much firepower and cantered to an eight-wicket win.
In his 14 World Cup matches Zaheer hit a century, two 90s and two 80s.
Zaheer was a batsman worth going miles to see. When in good nick, his magnificent strokes stood apart like glittering diamonds in a bed of sand. And if the wicket was a feather-bed, he was well nigh impossible to contain.
Zaheer Abbas’ World Cup record:
Matches 14, Highest Score 103*, Runs 597, Average 49.75, Strike-rate 78.34, Hundred 1, Fifties 4, Catches 7
Also read - Lowest team total in world cupPublished 13 Jun 2019, 19:51 IST