Wasim Raja

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The Independent Online

Pakistan all-rounder who bowled useful leg-spin and had a powerful ability to make runs in a crisis

Wasim Hasan Raja, cricketer: born Multan, Pakistan 3 July 1952; married (two sons); died High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire 23 August 2006.

The cricketer Wasim Raja was a highly talented all-rounder who represented Pakistan in 57 Tests and 54 one-day internationals, coached the national side for a short while, and also had a spell as an ICC match referee. He finished his career with impressive enough statistics - 2,821 runs at 36.16 with four centuries and 51 wickets at 35.80 - but he will always be remembered for the style and spirit in which he played the game.

He is still revered for his glorious, uninhibited strokeplay in the West Indies, where he put their much-lauded pace attack to the sword whilst others were cowering, hitting 14 sixes during the 1976/77 series, a record that England's Kevin Pietersen matched last summer against Australia.

Raja played the game with passion and pride, and with enjoyment uppermost in his mind. He had the occasional clash with the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan and always felt that he was on the fringes, selected on a match-by-match basis, while a clique of senior players were omnipresent in the side.

As a batsman, Raja was a prodigy at 18 when he captained the Pakistan under-19 side. He used to practice with Imran Khan, quite often not bothering to wear pads. No wonder Khan wrote of him: "He was in a different class altogether and was already batting with a maturity beyond his years."

Wasim Raja was born in 1952, the eldest of three boys all of whom would play first-class cricket. Ramiz followed Wasim into the Test team and later captained Pakistan, while Zaeem played for National Bank. Their father, Raja Saleem Akhtar, also played first-class, captaining Sargodha, before concentrating on his career in the Civil Service.

Wasim made his first-class début at 15, for Lahore, while still at school at Government College. He went on to Punjab University, where he excelled at cricket and academically, taking a First in his master's degree in politics. He came into the Test side in 1972/73, called up as a replacement for the tour of New Zealand. He made an impact in the warm-up matches and was drafted in for the first Test at Wellington, where he made an attractive 41 in the second innings.

After a run of four matches he was dropped, but forced the selectors' hands with superb domestic performances in 1973/74, when he finished one wicket short of becoming only the second player ever to do the double in a season outside England, taking 99 wickets at 22.41 and scoring 1,010 runs at 32.58.

He returned to the Test side on the tour to England in 1974. Always best in difficult circumstances, he countered Derek Underwood on a wet wicket at Lord's with an all-out attack to hit a superb 50.

At home that winter, he scored his maiden Test hundred against the West Indies at Karachi. His innings was such a fine one that, instead of the usual handful of well-wishers that used to run on to the field to congratulate a batsman on reaching three figures, there was a full-scale invasion. The police moved in to clear them, which took over two hours. As Raja's team-mate Asif Iqbal had tricked him into believing that the innings would not count if the match was abandoned, Wasim was mightily relieved to get back on the field.

He played his best cricket in the Caribbean on the 1976/77 tour, making over 500 runs and finishing top of both the batting and bowling averages for the series against the side that had just destroyed England. Having faced just one ball in Test cricket since his Karachi century two years earlier, in the first Test at Bridgetown he hammered 117 not out and then 71 in the second innings, during which he added a record 133 in just 110 minutes for the last wicket with Wasim Bari. He was defiant that "they can't drop me now", yet felt his contributions were not recognised during that series.

In all, he played 11 Tests against the West Indies, making 919 runs at 57.43 during an era when most batsmen struggled against them. Indeed, only Greg Chappell averaged more during their period of dominance. Such was Raja's ability to make runs in a crisis that, had ICC ratings been in place at the time, at one point he would have been placed in the top three or four batsmen in the world.

He had an excellent record against India, hitting two nineties on the 1978/79 tour there when many of the other frontline batsmen crumpled under the pressure, and finishing the series with 450 runs at 56.25. He made his highest Test score against them - 125 not out at Jullundur, where he also recorded his best bowling figures, four for 50 with his under-utilised leg-spin. Yet largely he missed out on selection for home series against them, when most of his fellow batsmen feasted in the comfort zone of their own surroundings.

Later that winter (1983/84), he played alongside Ramiz on his début at Karachi against England. Perhaps in annoyance at seeing his brother dropped, he scored a hundred in the next Test at Faisalabad.

He was to play only a handful more Tests - his last coming in 1984/85 against New Zealand, despite calls in the media for his recall at home against the West Indies and for the tour to India in 1986/87.

For a number of years, he played minor counties cricket for Durham, where he met his wife, Anne, also a useful cricketer, and took his teaching degree at the university. A serious car accident nearly ended his life, let alone his playing days, in December 1989, but he eventually returned to the game, helping Durham win the UAU Championship the following summer, with a match-winning 50 in the final. He went on to teach geography and physical education at Caterham School in Surrey for 15 years.

He collapsed and died on Wednesday while playing cricket for Surrey over-50s at High Wycombe.