Khan Mohammad: Bowler who helped establish Pakistan as a force in Test cricket
Saturday 26 September 2009
Khan Mohammad was a medium-fast bowler who helped greatly towards Pakistan's early success at Test level in the 1950s. Although injuries restricted him to 13 Tests, Khan established a record as the quickest to take 50 wickets for Pakistan, in only 11 matches, a record that stood until the end of 1990, when Waqar Younis eclipsed him.
Born in Lahore on New Year's Day 1928, he was the son of a timber merchant, Jan Mohammad. Khan, who had three brothers, learned the game at Central Model High School and with Friends Cricket Club and then the acclaimed Universal CC. He made his first-class debut for Northern India in 1946-47 and, after Partition, while studying History and Economics at Islamia College, represented Punjab University. Selected for Pakistan's 1948-49 tour to Ceylon, he impressed, taking 14 wickets in the two unofficial Tests.
The newly formed Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan sent him for coaching with the former England fast bowler Alf Gover at his famous indoor cricket school in London, and he developed his skills playing in the Lancashire Leagues and for the Commonwealth side in England in 1950 and 1951. That year he also played a game for Somerset against the touring South Africans and had intended to spend three years in England in order to qualify to play for the county, but those plans soon changed when Pakistan was elected into the Test-playing fraternity, in no small part thanks his superb bowling against the MCC in 1951-52.
He took five wickets for 84 runs in the first innings of the game at Lahore, Wisden reporting that "he made the ball fly and attacked the stumps throughout and gave the batsmen an uncomfortable time, especially against the occasional bouncer". Then in the second, at Karachi, he took eight wickets in the match to help Pakistan towards an important victory. The side's performance was enough to persuade the MCC to second Pakistan's proposal for full Test status at the annual meeting of the Imperial Cricket Conference the following July.
Not surprisingly, Khan was an automatic choice for Pakistan's inaugural Test match, against India at Delhi, and had the distinction of delivering his country's first ball in Test cricket – and taking the first wicket, clean-bowling Pankaj Roy. Unfortunately, he missed the rest of the series with a groin injury, the bane of his career.
Because of injury and his commitments to Lowerhouse in the Lancashire League he could not play a full part in the Pakistan tour of England in 1954, but his experience of English conditions was immediately evident at Lord's. After Pakistan had been shot out for 87, Khan and Fazal Mahmood responded magnificently, bowling unchanged throughout the innings until the home side declared at 117 for 9. Khan bowled the England captain, Len Hutton, for a duck with his first ball, a perfect yorker, and proceeded to hit the stumps of Peter May, Bill Edrich, Godfrey Evans and Trevor Bailey – a testimony to his accuracy – to finish with 5-61.
That winter against India he marked Pakistan's first home rubber by finishing as the highest wicket taker on either side. His tally of 22 victims (at a cost of only 15.86 runs each) remained a record in a series for Pakistan until Imran Khan took 25 against the West Indies in 1976-77. His haul included 5-74 on his home ground at Bahawalpur, the club side he captained to the inaugural Quaid-i-Azam Trophy the year before, and 5-73 at Karachi.
The following season he produced his finest performance, against New Zealand, when in the third Test on a dampish coir-matting wicket at Dacca, he was virtually unplayable, taking 6-21 from 16.2 overs as the visitors were rolled over for 70, and in the second innings he strangled the scoring with 2-20 in 30 overs as Pakistan secured a rain-affected draw to ensure their first series win.
Back at Dacca in the New Year, he ran through a strong MCC touring side, taking 7-84 and 5-55 to spur Pakistan to an innings victory and followed it with another five-wicket haul in the win at Peshawar. When Australia visited Pakistan for a one-off Test in 1956-57, Khan combined with Fazal to shoot out the tourists for 80 at Karachi, and again played a vital supporting role in the second innings as the pair shared all the wickets in the match, helping Pakistan to record their first win over Australia.
He found the going a lot tougher in the Caribbean (1957-58), where he was also hampered by injuries. He did not play until the third Test in Jamaica and probably wished he hadn't, as the opening bowler Mahmood Hussain broke down in the first over and Garry Sobers recorded the then highest Test score, 365 not out. Poor Khan recorded some of the most expensive ever figures – 0-259. Not surprisingly he was not fit for the next match, but was back for the final Test of the series, which proved to be his last. Pakistan won by an innings and he had the satisfaction of making his highest Test score, too, 26 not out. He finished with 54 wickets costing only 23.92 apiece and, but for those wearisome days at Kingston, he would have averaged under 20.
He remained involved in cricket, managing several Pakistan representative sides, and took up numerous coaching assignments in Canada and at home, nurturing young talents such as Wasim Akram. He was also one of the first coaches at the MCC's new indoor school at Lord's, where your author had the pleasure of his genial guidance. He had lived in London since 1960, running a travel agency in Ealing until last year before he succumbed to prostate cancer.
Khan Mohammad, cricketer and coach: born Lahore, (then) India 1 January 1928; married (two sons, three daughters); died London 4 July 2009.
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