View, Review: How Bedi, Gavaskar, Zaheer, Azhar – and now Virat and Babar – have kept the India-Pak hyphen intact

Written by Sriram Veera
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Updated: July 17, 2022 12:19:54 pm

Pakistan skipper Babar Azam with former India captain Virat Kohli. (Twitter/Babar Azam)

On Friday, Babar Azam warmed the hearts of many Indians and Pakistanis with a simple message of support for Virat Kohli. The Indian Express looks at a few past episodes where the players from both countries helped revive the fortunes of cricketers from the other country.

When Gavaskar helped Inzamam

The story goes that Inzamam-ul-Haq was gripped with self doubts about playing bouncers in England after the 1992 World Cup. “I never had problems with short balls before but I found it difficult to pick the ball in England, and was going through a bad patch,” Inzamam has said. Luckily, for him, he bumped into Sunil Gavaskar at a charity match mid series.

“The big players have a simple solution to big problems.. Gavaskar said just do one thing. Don’t even think about it. In the nets, don’t prepare for it. Just play normally. Don’t think now the bouncer is coming. Just take it off the mind. Bat normally, you can easily tackle it. It was difficult to implement the mental technique he had given but I tried it in the nets. He solved my problem in a few seconds as he asked me to go to nets and condition my mind in such a way that I stop thinking about facing short balls,” Inzamam said on his YouTube channel. “After that, I never faced a problem again against the short ball.”

Bedi advised Qasim how to bowl on a turner

We now hark back to 1987, incidentally to Gavaskar’s last Test match where he hit 96, arguably the best knock on a raging turner in the history of the game.

Maninder Singh had taken 7 for 27 in the first innings, resulting in Pakistan getting all out for 116. Pakistan’s left-arm spinner Iqbal Qasim, and the offie Tauseef Ahmed shared 10 wickets as India crumbled to 145 all out in their first. The game began to turn as Pakistan managed 249 in their second, with Maninder picking just three wickets for 99 runs. Chasing 221, India had reached 99 for 4 with Gavaskar unbeaten on 51 and Mohammad Azharuddin on 7 when the rest day intervened. Pakistan had only employed three bowlers: the two spinners and Wasim Akram.

@mak_asif Iqbal Qasim is a fine gentleman Crktr I've always admired…!!!

— Bishan Bedi (@BishanBedi) June 18, 2015

On the rest day, there was a function where the two teams met and Bishen Singh Bedi, the former India captain and the great left-arm spinner, spoke about how he was disappointed with his protege Maninder for trying too hard on that spinners wicket. Qasim and Tauseef’s ears pricked up and when they had a private moment with Bedi, they learned the way ahead. Don’t try to spin the ball too much. Let the pitch do the trick.

Only Gavaskar resisted as the two Pakistan spinners, fuelled by Bedi’s advice, ran through the rest. Years later, Qasim would talk about how his captain Imran Khan glared at him on the field, frustrated by the lack of wicket and defiance of Gavaskar, and how Qasim, who now knew the trick as espoused by Bedi, was no longer an angsty man. He would tell Imran to be patient, his approach would reap dividends and it did.

When Zaheer Abbas helped Azharuddin become an aggressive batsman

Now, let’s fast forward by two years to 1989 and let’s zoom in on a moment when Mohammad Azharuddin was dropped from the Lahore Test, and fretting about his future.

Enter Zaheer Abbas. Azhar spots him at the National stadium at Karachi and approaches him for help. Zaheer would recall later, “I told him yaar is taraf toh na poncho, koi dekhlega! (Don’t ask like this, someone will see1).” That jest aside, Zaheer swooped in on the problem. He asked Azhar to change his bat-grip.

Azhar explained what happened. “I remember Zaheer bhai came to the ground to watch us practice. He asked me why I was getting out early. I told him my problems and he suggested I change my grip a bit. The moment I changed my grip I felt more comfortable and confident and started playing freely. Eventually, it also helped me become a more aggressive batsman.”

Azhar’s old grip was forcing his hands to get locked and obstructing the bat flow. Azhar changed it around, had problems initially as his bottom hand would come off the handle, but persisted and turned around his career. “Initially, I found it painful as it hurt my thumb and my right hand would come off the handle. It took time but I was open to suggestions and it worked for me.”

Azhar’s turn to help out Younis Khan

Now to the time when Azhar helped Younis Khan, who was in the midst of poor form. 2016, England, and Azhar was watching Younis struggle on TV. One evening, he put a call through to the Pakistani. Younis was surprised to hear Azhar’s voice.

“He looked ugly in his batting and I felt bad that such a good batsman should play so ungainly. I knew him so I called him up and advised him to stay in the crease and try to play close to the body from inside the crease,” Azhar would say on Ary television. “I am just happy he took my advice and went on to score a double century in the final Test at the Oval.”

Younis Khan, Pakistan's leading run-scorer in Test cricket, identified the early influence of Rahul Dravid on his red-ball career 🏏

The duo scored a combined 23,387 runs in the longest format of the game 🙌#ICCHallOfFame pic.twitter.com/I2QzqhF381

— ICC (@ICC) July 10, 2020

Younis had once sought out help from Rahul Dravid too during the 2004 Championship Trophy in England. Dravid arrived at the room of Younis who was stunned. They had a long discussion, and Younis says his game changed forever after that.

When Wasim Akram taught Irfan Pathan a few tricks

In the same year of 2004, in Australia, Irfan Pathan would tap Wasim Akram’s brain to help his bowling. At the breakfast table in the hotel, he bumped into Akram, in Australia for commenting, and sought help. Akram was setting out to the ground, along with Ashish Nehra who too had sought his help, and when Irfan asked could he also accompany, a smiling Akram would say, “of course, you can.”

Apart from tips on swing bowling (on outswing in particular as insuring came naturally with Irfan’s action), Irfan would tell Sportstar, how Akram “guided me on how to maintain a proper line and length. He also advised me on how to intimidate a batsman during pressure situations”.

A story about grace: from Mohinder Amarnath to Javed Miandad

Let’s end with a story of not cricketing help but a timely reminder about grace. There was no need for Javed Miandad to share this story but he did in his autobiography Cutting Edge.

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Apparently, in midst of a fierce game in a Test in Jaipur during the 1987 series, a match witnessed by Pakistan dictator Zia-ul-Haq, too, the emotions got better for Miandad. Frustrated by the umpiring after another appeal was turned down when Mohinder was batting, Miandad let out an abusive remark to describe India.

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“I used an expletive to describe India and Mohinder heard it. Calmly, he walked up to me and said, ‘Look Javed, call me anything you want but don’t say a word against my country’. That affected me deeply. I have always regarded my own country as being above everything except Allah. I was embarrassed that I hadn’t respected Mohinder’s right to feel the same way about his country. I immediately apologised to him.”

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