Intikhab Alam

'To become a good wristspinner, you need patience and practice'

Former Pakistan leggie Intikhab Alam, who coached the national team to victory in the 1992 World Cup, looks back at the highs and lows of his career

Interview by Ijaz Chaudhry  |  

"Winning the 1992 World Cup as the coach/manager of the Pakistan team is the most cherished moment of my life" © Getty Images

I had a world-record 190-run ninth-wicket partnership with Asif Iqbal at the Oval Test of 1967. We were 65 for 8 when I joined Asif. I had a stye in the left eye which could hardly open. The eye gradually improved and we batted on and on. I played as the junior partner, trying to give strike to Asif as much as I could. His was a magnificent knock.

Dennis Lillee carried an awesome reputation in the '70s. During the first innings of the Adelaide Test in 1972-73, tailender Saleem Altaf joined me at the crease. He asked, "What should I do to face Lillee?" I replied, "He is just a fast bowler like so many others." Lillee then bounced me and the ball hit the gloves and went to fine leg. It was only one run but Saleem ran like Usain Bolt and forced me to make it two so he could avoid facing Lillee.

My finest bowling performance came against New Zealand in the Dunedin Test of 1972-73. My first-innings figures of 7 for 52 are still the best for a Pakistani spinner in an away Test. And that victory helped Pakistan win their first Test series abroad.

We had a turf wicket in the backyard of our Karachi home. Both my older brothers were good cricketers and one of them, Aftab Alam, was also a first-class cricketer.

I was twice selected for the Rest of the World: for the series against England in 1970, and Australia in 1971-72, when I was also the vice-captain. It was a wonderful experience playing with a galaxy of international stars.

During the 1971-72 World XI tour in Australia, war broke out between Pakistan and India. We had three players from either country in the Rest of the World side: apart from me, there was Zaheer Abbas, Asif Masood, Farokh Engineer, Bishan Bedi and Sunil Gavaskar. There were calls in Pakistan that we should not play in the same team as the Indians. But we all got along well with each other throughout, despite the tension back home.

I was lucky to attend the Church Mission School in Karachi, which has always been a great cricketing nursery. Mushtaq Mohammad was my contemporary and later Javed Miandad and Haroon Rasheed studied there. CMS had a big cricket ground. Apart from cricket, I also captained the school's athletics and basketball teams.

The Ruby Shield, Karachi's inter-school tournament, used to be a well-organised and very competitive event. It went a long way in improving my skills.

The scoreboard in the Dunedin Test shows it as an innings win, but it had become very tense towards the end. Rain started with their last pair batting in the second innings. The umpires were considering stopping play. Fortunately I managed to bowl the well-settled Vic Pollard. Immediately it started raining cats and dogs, as we sprinted back to the pavilion. The downpour continued for two days.

I coached the Punjab team in the Ranji Trophy in 2004-05 and 2005-06 - the first time any Pakistani coached an Indian side. I was involved in everything, watching the inter-district matches, selection of the side, and, of course, coaching. In my first season Punjab reached the final of the Ranji Trophy after ten years. It was a home away from home for me: Punjabi language, food and culture. In fact, I was born in that part of Punjab.

During the 1974 tour to England I led Pakistan to victories in the ODIs. I had loads of experience of playing competitive limited-overs cricket for Surrey, so it came as a shock when I was dropped from the Pakistan side for the first World Cup. When Pakistan played Surrey in a practice match before the World Cup, I scored 95 for Surrey and several Pakistani spectators raised slogans protesting my exclusion.

Being an optimist has always been my best attribute. I never gave up and never got depressed.

As Pakistan's captain, I have had some big disappointments. We lost the Leeds Test [1971] by 25 runs. We would have been the first Pakistani side to win a Test series in England. In '72-73, we lost the Melbourne Test by 92 runs and the Sydney Test by 52 runs. We could have been the first country after England and South Africa to win a Test series in Australia. It was inept batting each time while chasing a modest target. In the second innings in Melbourne, three of our batsmen got run out. These defeats still haunt me, sometimes even wake me up from sleep.

The 1974 tour of England was the most memorable. Pakistan became the first side to remain undefeated on a tour of England since Don Bradman's Invincibles of 1948. Eight members of that team had been playing on the county circuit for many years. That experience helped us become a good side.

I took 104 first-class wickets when Surrey won the county championship in 1971, after 13 years.

The cover drive was my favourite stroke.

I convinced Imran [Khan] to move up from Nos. 5 and 6 to No. 3 for the World Cup semi-final, since he had the temperament to stay long and build a strong platform. He scored 44 in the semi-final and 72 in the final.

"Kardar asked me: 'Are you playing for the schools' team tomorrow?' I replied: 'I have not been selected'. Kardar said: 'You are playing for the Pakistan team.' I took four wickets against the schools"

Beating England in the final of the 1992 World Cup was even sweeter for me because their manager, Micky Stewart, was my former captain at Surrey.

In 1959 I took eight wickets for the President's XI against the touring Australians in a three-day game and we nearly defeated them. That paved the way for my first Test cap.

The flipper was the most lethal ball in my armoury.

In 1957, I went for cricket trials in Karachi and was selected for Karachi C. Karachi was so rich in cricketing talent that my team, the third string, reached the final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy that season.

After the 1981 season with Surrey, I quit cricket and moved to Lahore to start a knitwear factory. Nur Khan, who was heading the PCB, called me and talked about an idea that was unique in cricket at that time: a full-time cricket manager, along the lines of professional soccer.

We struggled in the early matches of the World Cup, winning just one of the first five. But Imran kept the morale high. "Never give up. It is a big sin," he said.

In 1970, I could have created history in the match against Middlesex at The Oval. I had dismissed their first eight batsmen and was expecting a complete run-through, but Robin Jackman dropped an easy catch. Then he bowled their last two batsmen in the space of a few deliveries. I also scored a century later in the match, so it would have been a first - a century and ten wickets in an innings in the same first-class match.

I consider my innings of 138 against England in the Hyderabad Test in 1972-73 my best batting performance.

Asif Masood was my best mate in the national team. He was friendly, sincere and an upright person. But I enjoyed good relations with almost all my team-mates.

The batsman who played me best was Ian Chappell. He had that confidence and tremendous footwork to come out of the crease not only to loft but also to drive and defend. I felt honoured when he once remarked that the most difficult over he ever faced was against me during one of the Tests between Australia and the Rest of the World.

The Oval is my favourite ground. I spent so much time with Surrey, and the ground holds many special memories.

There were a lot of controversies surrounding Pakistan's performance during the Test series in Australia in 2009-10. The loss in the second Test was incomprehensible. I was asked to speak to the PCB's inquiry committee and present my "coach report". For once, they took strict action against the offending players. At least seven members of the side were handed bans, put on probation or fined. Unfortunately the bans were lifted and fines reduced in no time. Pakistan continue to suffer even today because of the leniency shown to those players.

Surrey's last match in the 1971 Championship was against Hampshire. Hants were thinking about a declaration. We needed one wicket to get two bonus points to come equal with Warwickshire and claim the Championship. I decided to bowl googlies to their left-handed captain, Richard Gilliat. He was caught off my fourth ball and Surrey won the title.

My family's exodus from India after the partition of 1947 was no less than a great escape. My father, an electrical engineer, was posted in Simla at the time. The anti-Muslim sentiments were high. Ours was the last Muslim family left in the city. The family first hid in the house of one of my father's subordinates and then sought shelter in a generator house. A military truck sent by an English brigadier, who was my father's friend, took us to Patiala. There we spent five days in an open field. Finally we were able to board a train to Pakistan. All those trains were attacked and no one was spared. Luckily our train was mistaken for a goods train and crossed the border safely.

Bowling was always my main trade, and I considered myself a bowling allrounder.

Nur Khan, the board president, Arif Abbasi, the board secretary, and I, as team manager, were deliberating who should captain Pakistan for the 1982 tour of England. I recommended Imran. Nur Khan said there were many players in the team who were senior to Imran. I persisted, and I was asked to talk to Imran. He was also concerned about the senior members but eventually agreed.

Andy Roberts was the toughest bowler I faced. He was quick as well as deceptive and bowled two different types of bouncers.

On their return from the West Indies tour of 1957-58, the Pakistan team was scheduled to play a Karachi combined schools team. I went for the schools' trials but was disappointed not to see my name in the team. My brother Aftab, a member of the very strong Public Works Department first-class team, asked me to bowl in their nets as they needed bowlers. I bowled to Test cricketers Waqar Hasan, Wazir Mohammad and AH Kardar, the Pakistan captain. Kardar asked me: "Are you playing for the schools' team tomorrow?" I replied: "I have not been selected". Kardar said: "You are playing for the Pakistan team." I took four wickets against the schools.

"Bowling was always my main trade and I considered myself a bowling allrounder" © Getty Images

With about 20 minutes left in the second day's play in my debut Test, after the fast bowlers had bowled a few overs, our skipper, Fazal Mahmood, called on me. My first delivery was an orthodox legbreak, pushed fast and pitched on leg stump. Colin McDonald, who was fond of the cut shot, went on the back foot. The ball, which had some shine, hurried on and took his middle and off. The packed stadium stood up and clapped for a long time. Till date, I am the only Pakistani to take a wicket with his first ball in Tests.

To become a good wristspinner, patience and practice are the foremost requirements. It's a very difficult art to master and you need to have variations in length and flight.

In my younger days, I was fascinated by Keith Miller. Later, Sir Garry Sobers became my all-time favourite. He was an exceptional all-round cricketer who could do everything. I had the privilege to be his vice-captain on the World XI tour of Australia and we got along very well. I last met him in 2011 when I managed the Pakistan team on its tour of the Caribbean.

I was the first Pakistani to do the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in Test cricket.

We won our last league match of the World Cup, against New Zealand in Christchurch but our progress depended on the result of the Australia-West Indies match that started just before ours finished. We all watched the match in the hotel. A West Indian victory would have meant going back home, and our tension increased when they were set a target of 217. However, West Indies started losing wickets cheaply and frequently and then we began to relax. Pakistan made it to the semi-final.

I was very lucky with my fitness. I was rarely off the field due to injury or illness. In the heat and humidity of Hyderabad, against England, I bowled 65 overs and batted for about four and half hours for 138.

Winning the 1992 World Cup as the coach/manager of the Pakistan team is the most cherished moment of my life.

Ijaz Chaudhry writes on cricket and other sports. For more about him and samples of his published work, visit