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  1. #1
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    "I never needed a coach to tell me how to bat" : Zaheer Abbas






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  2. #2
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    In an interview with Saj for Wisden, Zaheer Abbas, known to many as the Asian Bradman, reflected upon the highs and lows of his career, the Pakistani dressing room environment, toughest opponents, his memorable innings of 274 in England, his experience of captaining Pakistan, the intense rivalry with India, why he never needed a batting coach and why Test cricket is the truest test for any cricketer.


    Initially cricket was just a way to keep close to my father

    I came from a typical cricket-mad Pakistani family where my father and all of his friends were really into cricket. Some of my earliest memories of cricket are going with my father and his friends to the National Stadium in Karachi when overseas teams were touring Pakistan. They were such happy times, unforgettable days and I would look forward to going to watch international cricket, weeks before the matches were to be played and count down the days till the start of the match. I was really close to my father and initially I saw going to watch cricket at the National Stadium and playing cricket as just a way to keep close to him and to remain in his good books.


    A small fish in a big pond

    By the time I moved to Karachi I had already built a reputation in Sialkot as a batsman who could score heavily and who had potential. It was actually quite frightening when I started to play cricket in Karachi as I was just a small fish in a large pond, whereas in Sialkot it was the complete opposite. At first, in Karachi, I had doubts about whether I would make it as a cricketer and actually thought that perhaps I should forget my dream of becoming a professional cricketer. It wasnít until I was 13 or 14 years old when I started to make a name for myself in junior cricket in Karachi. At that time to even get into the local district junior teams in Karachi, you had to be damn good, as competition for places was so tough and very intense.


    I always prayed for my hero Hanif Mohammad

    Hanif Mohammad was my inspiration and my hero. He was the epitome of a gutsy, determined and humble cricketer and someone who I wanted to follow when it came to cricket. I would copy his batting technique as a small child and through school cricket and pretend to be him whenever I played against my friends. We had this game where each of us pretended to be a famous cricketer and nobody dared to be Hanif as they all knew he was my favourite cricketer and that I would want to pretend to be him. I had this routine where I prayed for Hanif that he didnít get hurt when playing for Pakistan and that he scored lots of runs whenever I went to watch him bat at the National Stadium.


    I just wanted to tell my grand-children I made 50 against England, but ended up scoring 274

    I still find it incredible whenever I look back at my score of 274 against England at Edgbaston in only my second Test match. Earlier, I had made my Test debut in 1969 against New Zealand and had flopped badly by only scoring 12. As a result, I was thrown into the wilderness for nearly two years and had to wait patiently for my next chance for Pakistan which I thought was never going to come. I had scored a century in a side match on the tour of England in 1971 against Worcestershire so I was hopeful that I might get a chance to perhaps play one Test match. When I stepped out onto the field at Edgbaston, I couldnít believe that I was in England playing a Test match against them. I recall that when I had scored 49, I said to my batting partner, just make sure you run if I hit it, as I want to tell my grand-children that I score a half-century in a Test match against England, as I have no idea if I will ever play again for my country. Once I reached 50 runs, my confidence grew and I felt invincible and as they say, the rest is history. I never looked back after that score of 274, it was the turning-point for me, and the media all around the world started talking about me. My life completely changed after that innings in Birmingham and subsequently I was selected for the World XI and then played County cricket, largely down to that one innings of 274.


    To reach the milestone of 100 First-Class hundreds against India was the icing on the cake

    There arenít many cricketers who score 100 First-Class hundreds and I feel honoured to be in that small group of players who have achieved that milestone. To complete this feat in a Test match and that too against India was just the icing on the cake. When I reached that milestone in Lahore it felt like in the space of a few seconds my whole cricket career flashed through my mind, from my days in school cricket through to playing First-Class cricket, and then for my country. It was a special moment and one that I will always cherish. Itís wonderful that whenever my name is mentioned in cricketing circles, one of the first things mentioned is that I am a member of that select band of cricketers to have scored 100 First-Class hundreds and this means a lot to me.


    You have to be crazy to be a batsman against pace-bowling

    I faced some of the most hostile, fast, nasty and aggressive pace-bowlers. Men who wanted to kill you, men who wanted to hurt you and men who would do anything to get you out. They were fierce opponents, gladiators who would not take a backward step against any opponent and I was initially facing them without a batting helmet and on uncovered pitches. Thankfully for most of my career, my reflexes were really good and as mad as it may sound, I actually enjoyed the challenge of facing the fastest bowlers of my time. People say you have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper in football, but I say you have to be crazy to be a batsman when you are facing a ball coming towards you at over 90 MpH. But the one bowler who I could never work out and who I found very difficult to face was the Australian spinner John Gleeson. He had an unusual action and was a very unorthodox bowler. Despite coming from Karachi where we had a lot of spinners, I just couldnít understand or get the better of Gleeson.


    New players were welcomed with suspicion

    When I came into the Pakistan team as a youngster, my team-mates were mostly seniors and established players, so I was the new kid on the block and found it difficult to settle into the dressing-room. I always respected my seniors, but I never initially felt comfortable in that environment as the culture was a very formal one where new players were sometimes welcomed with suspicion, rather than with open arms. As time went on though, I became very friendly with Asif Iqbal and Mushtaq Mohammed as we not only played for our country, but were also playing County Cricket together and that really helped my career blossom.


    I never needed a coach to tell me how to bat

    I never bothered with coaches, I never learnt from coaches and I never needed a coach to tell me how to bat. I could never understand why some guys, after a few low scores, would go running to the coach as if that person could wave a magic wand and help them suddenly start scoring runs again. I always felt players who relied on coaches too much were mentally weak and too reliant upon others. My philosophy was always to learn from the great players that I was playing against or alongside. They were my coaches and source of inspiration and who I needed to look at for improvements to my game. I learnt a lot from watching Rohan Kanhai, he was a batsman who I used to love watching bat and someone who I could learn from.


    If you lost to India, your friends and family soon reminded you about it

    Whenever I played against India it always felt different. Back then the hostility of social media wasnít around as it is these days, but there was still an edge to the matches, a real competitiveness and it meant so much to the fans of both countries. If you lost to India, your friends and family soon reminded you about it and in fact they kept on reminding you about that defeat, until the next time you beat the arch-rivals. I was lucky in that I played in an era where Pakistan cricket was on the rise and I feel that my era really helped produce many stalwarts of Pakistan cricket, many of whom played for a long period for their country. That period galvanised Pakistan cricket and we really started to produce a type of tough cricketer who didnít fear whether the opposition was India, West Indies or anybody else and it was an era where self-belief in players really took-off.


    It was tough, it was intense, it was no-nonsense cricket

    With the great periods come the lean periods and every cricketer has to face those lean periods. The biggest problem we had back in my day was that the number of international matches played was not very high and if you had a lean period it was very noticeable to all, especially if you were only playing a few Test matches a year. If there were only three Test matches that year and you flopped, well you waved goodbye to your place in the Test team and it could be a couple of years before you even got the chance to try to reclaim your place in the national team. It was tough, it was intense, it was no-nonsense cricket and anyone who thinks that it was easier to play cricket back in my day has no idea what they are talking about.


    The Pakistan dressing-room is never a place for the faint-hearted

    Pressure is always there and there is naturally always more pressure on you when you are the captain. I went to India as skipper in 1983 and we didnít lose any matches, so I came back in-tact as the skipper on such a high-profile and tough tour. That was a very strong Indian team which was full of confidence as they had won the World Cup a few months earlier and for us to draw the series in their own back-yard was a very good effort. I had two stints as Pakistan captain and unlike others I never really felt any additional pressure. The Pakistan dressing-room is never a place for the faint-hearted especially when you are the captain and if you show any weaknesses, your team-mates will be the first to find them and take advantage of them. Everyone is different and captaincy is a huge responsibility in cricket, but thankfully when I look back at my two stints as skipper of Pakistan, I look back at it with pride and satisfaction and without any regrets.


    County Cricket took me to another level as a batsman

    I will never forget my time at Gloucestershire in County Cricket. They were great times, they were memorable times, moments that I will always cherish. They were wonderful people at Gloucestershire, and I made many friends while I was there, some of whom I am still in touch with. They really looked after me and made me feel a part of the clubís family and I never felt like I was an outsider from another country, rather I felt like I was a home-grown player, such was their love for me. County Cricket took me to another level as a batsman, it was the making of me as a cricketer. I wasnít just scoring the occasional hundred in County Cricket, but rather regular double-hundreds and on several occasions, I made a double-hundred in the first innings and then a century in the second innings of the same County Championship match.


    Real batsmen made runs on the seaming, green tracks of England

    English wickets were the toughest to bat on back in my day and if you could score runs on those pitches, then you could score runs anywhere in the world. The challenge of those green wickets, with the ball seaming around was a tough one, but one that I really relished. In fact, I actually enjoyed batting more on those seaming tracks than on any other type of surface, as they were the type of pitches where you really had to work hard for your runs and where only the best batsmen flourished. It was easy to make runs on slow, low and flat tracks, but real batsmen made runs on the seaming, green tracks of England.


    Edge one through the slips and my coach would have made me do 5 laps of the ground

    The modern-game as far as batsmen is concerned has become rather strange. The influence of Twenty20 cricket has had huge repercussions for the game and not necessarily a positive impact on cricket. Twenty over cricket has become the main format to watch for many which I find rather sad. I donít mind innovations in cricket, we saw that with what Kerry Packer brough many years ago, but when cricket is becoming shorter and shorter, then that has to be a concern. For me Test cricket is the true test of a cricketer and that has to be the case going forward. I have a lot of admiration for the likes of Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Babar Azam, players who have proven themselves in all three formats. However, I worry about the impact that Twenty over cricket has had on the modern generation of batsmen. There are some pretty ordinary batsmen making a living from playing in a rather average manner these days. Recently I was sat with Sunil Gavaskar in Dubai watching a Twenty20 international between Pakistan and New Zealand and one of the New Zealand batsmen luckily edged one through the slips for four and the crowd went wild in appreciation of the shot. Sunil and I turned to each other in disbelief. Gavaskar said to me, what would have happened if we played such a lousy shot in our day, I said, well Sunil, our respective coaches would have had some stern words and made us do 5 laps of the ground after the match was over.
    Last edited by MenInG; 12th November 2020 at 14:37.


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  3. #3
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    Wonderful interview with one of the legends of the game. Thanks!

    That generation was something different. After watching the likes of Zaheer, Gavaskar, Kanhai, Viv Richards and the other giants of the generation, one can never appreciate the modern T-20 pyjama party poppers.

  4. #4
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    greatest pakistani batsman of all time to me. scored 100 fc centuries and adapted to odis right on its arrival as quick as a wink; worked fruitfully in both formats. If there was talent its Zaheer. Here's to Babar who's enroute to breaking every record and becoming our greatest. Buzzing past Zaheer's achievements wont be no easy task, but if anyone its Babar.

  5. #5
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    An average of 47 in ODIs today is considered amazing and you are a sure starter in any team. This guy had it in an era when pitches were uncovered and oppositions like Aus and WI had rampaging bowling attacks.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Syed1 View Post
    An average of 47 in ODIs today is considered amazing and you are a sure starter in any team. This guy had it in an era when pitches were uncovered and oppositions like Aus and WI had rampaging bowling attacks.
    And remember - no helmets! Amazing batsman - sublime strokeplay was witnessed whenever he batted.


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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by MenInG View Post
    And remember - no helmets! Amazing batsman - sublime strokeplay was witnessed whenever he batted.
    That one thing alone makes that generation of batsmen worthy of worship. Imagine what it would have been like facing the pacers of those times, knowing fully well that the smallest lapse in concentration can end one's career or even cause death.

    Those guys did it, and even finished with averages that modern players would give anything to have.

  8. #8
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    45 minute chat with the great Zaheer Abbas and it is 45 minutes that I will always cherish.

    He was reluctant to do the interview initially as he felt that he didn't have much to say regarding his career and that readers would not find what he had to say very interesting. I had to twist his arm a bit, call him a few times and eventually he agreed and I believe it was well worth it.

    What a batsman, what a legend!



  9. #9
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    Amazing interview, pleasure to read. Saj let him know that even today readers cherish his words and to say that we do in fact find what he has to say interesting would be an understatement. Thank you for conducting this.

  10. #10
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    Wow...wow...wow!
    I remember listening to radio commentary as a kid in Pakistan, possibly early 80s, and the commentator phrase that still sticks in my mind, just an isolated memory ..."zaheer ne bahar nikal ker maara...chaar runs."
    As a kid, I found it funny that the commentator would use the word "maara" in a sentence.

  11. #11
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    He was one of the extraordinary talents. Probably Pakistan's most talented and best ODI batter(Miandad has that WC win under his belt though)

    I hope his statements regarding never needing a coach isn't twisted around by our players. Just because Zaheer had immeasurable talent and self teaching ability doesn't mean other batters don't need a coach.
    Every one has a different iq. I think Shahid Afridi(he himself said around 2011 that he can't change his game at this stage) Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad ruined their batting and careers(for the latter two) by such arrogance of not mending their ways or even listening.

  12. #12
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    What a fantastic read. Thanks for the effort @Saj.

    I just hope todayís players donít take to heart what he said about a different era, and just enjoy his narration about his time in cricket. Plus great players donít ever need a lot of coaching, theyíre hyper self motivated and do a lot of learning on their own and understand their game far better than most players. He was well before my time, but the stories are still amazing to read. We have such a storied cricket history. The book of cricket cannot be written without Pakistan having a few chapters and itís thanks to players like Zaheer. I hope the new good players (Babar, Shaheen, Haider Ali) take inspiration from this and take their games above and beyond.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thunderbolt14 View Post
    Amazing interview, pleasure to read. Saj let him know that even today readers cherish his words and to say that we do in fact find what he has to say interesting would be an understatement. Thank you for conducting this.
    I certainly will



  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by CleverSir View Post
    What a fantastic read. Thanks for the effort @Saj.

    I just hope today’s players don’t take to heart what he said about a different era, and just enjoy his narration about his time in cricket. Plus great players don’t ever need a lot of coaching, they’re hyper self motivated and do a lot of learning on their own and understand their game far better than most players. He was well before my time, but the stories are still amazing to read. We have such a storied cricket history. The book of cricket cannot be written without Pakistan having a few chapters and it’s thanks to players like Zaheer. I hope the new good players (Babar, Shaheen, Haider Ali) take inspiration from this and take their games above and beyond.
    Yes I found the coaching part interesting.

    To me it seemed like he knew his strengths and weaknesses as a batsman and nothing would change that. I like the idea that he didn't need to go running to a coach every time he was struggling and instead had confidence, knew he could turn it around and that he learnt a lot from other great batsmen.

    Some tough cricketers back in those days and Zaheer was one of those.
    Last edited by Saj; 13th November 2020 at 23:29.



  15. #15
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    Wow...Amazing interview.


    Virat, ABD, KP and Sir Viv.

  16. #16
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    Definitely worthy of the lofty nickname.

  17. #17
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    "I never needed a coach to tell me how to bat" : Zaheer Abbas
    Sometimes I truly feel this notion has some truth to it.
    What exactly do the batting coaches do in the international arena? Are they even effective to a great extent when you look at their pay grade?

    What if an international team like England or Australia or India didn't have a high profile coach that gets paid millions of Rs or 100's of thousand dollars?

    I mean, in the 92' WC, Intikhab Alam was Pakistan's coach and till this day, he firmly believes that Pakistan won the 92 WC due to his coaching.
    Does that even make sense?

    How will the Indian batting team perform without Shastri's coaching?

  18. #18
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    Surprised at his ODI average. What a legend.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Syed1 View Post
    An average of 47 in ODIs today is considered amazing and you are a sure starter in any team. This guy had it in an era when pitches were uncovered and oppositions like Aus and WI had rampaging bowling attacks.
    His ODI SR of 84.8 is the more astonishing stat. It’s far better than some of Pakistan’s recent ODI batsmen (see: Misbah, Azhar, Shehzad, even Imam). Heck, it’s more than the ‘aggressive’ Kamran Akmal and almost as much as the ‘hyper-aggressive’ Umar Akmal.

    Highest SRs during Zaheer Abbas’ ODI career (min 1k runs):



    Considerable gap between Viv and Zaheer and the others when it comes to a combination of average and strike-rate.


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  20. #20
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    Very nice interview, reading it makes me nostalgic.

    I caught Zaheer in the late part of his career but was still a very good player.

    His point about the difficulty of fewer test matches being played early in his career is a very valid one, I think a decade after making his debut heíd only played about 30 tests.

    Probably the most valuable Pakistan player for any county ever. Perhaps Mushtaq at Sussex is the closest challenger.


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