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Inzy was flamboyant version of Rahul Dravid, if you account for manner he batted

By Harsh Thakor 

Few batsmen were ever more an expression of natural talent as Pakistani star. Inzamam-ul-Haq was a concoction of strength and subtlety. He blended power with sublime touch, which was praiseworthy for a man of his bulk. He was ever lazy in the field, but with a willow between his palms he was electrified. He executed shots all round the wicket, was especially strong off his legs, and mercilessly executed pulls and lofted drives. Arguably no batsmen played genuine pace with such assurance, flamboyance or remorseless ease in his era. After Viv Richards no batsmen possessed such reflexes or counter attacked a bouncer with such confidence.
In full flow there were few more captivating sights than watching Inzy strike even good balls with ruthless contempt. Few scripted wins or turned the complexion of matches to such a degree as Inzamam, who could literally explode. On his day Inzy could be as dazzling, savage or mercurial as any great batsmen. Taking domination to realms rarely traversed At his best Inzamam was a manifestation of virtuosity in batting, and epitome of mental resilience. He could construct an innings in the manner of an architect, blending defence and aggression to perfection.

Playing Career

In the 1992 world cup semi-final Inzy resurrected Pakistan from depths of despair to reach threshold of glory, with a swashbuckling 60, executing one of ODI cricket's most scintillating or dynamic batting displays. Rarely have I seen batsmen so surgically bisect the gaps or turn complexion of game in a more organised fashion. In the world cup final of 1992 his 33 played an important role in shaping Pakistan's triumph.
Inzamam was at his best against West Indies. He plundered runs in a home series in 1997 averaging nearly 100, and scored centuries on tours in the Caribbean, in 1993,2000 and 2004.No batsmen executed strokes against the likes of Ambrose, Walsh and Bishop with such command. Inzy's 177 at Rawalpindi in 1997 was a gem., and so was his 135 at Georgetown in 2000 , twin fifties on a difficult wicket at Antigua in 2000.and unbeaten 117 at Kingston in 2005.
In 1994 against Australia at Karachi he steered his team home to an improbable victory in a sensational 58 run last wicket partnership, with Mushtaq Ahmed. Inzamam literally resurrected Pakistan from the grave, with a flurry of attacking strokes in the climax.
In and against England Inzy shaped important series win sin 1996 and 2005 .He scored a classical 148 at Lords in 1996 .In a home series in 2005 he averaged close to 100, including two centuries at Faisalabad.He enabled Pakistan to conquer one of the finest English team sin 2005,who were on a roll. On green seaming tops, he was at home as anywhere, exhibiting great prowess against the moving ball.
In India he was an epitome of consistency with his twin centuries winning the final test at Bangalore in 2005 and enabling Pakistan to square the series. The 184 at Bangalore was ironically scored in his 100th test. Inzamam played some match-winning innings in New Zealand in 1994 and 1996.On green tops he displayed mastery and domination like few ever. His 135 at Wellington in 1994 was a masterpiece. He also registered his highest score of 329 at home against the Kiwis.in 2002.
Against Bangladesh at home, Inzy pulled off a Houdini act at Multan in 2004 ,to steer his team home with an unbeaten 138,in a sensational last wicket stand. Rarely has composure or resilience been displayed to resurrect a side from the grave to reach pinnacle of glory, at a scale paralleled to this fort.
Unfortunately he was not at his best in South Africa or Australia, with only occasional flashes of brilliance. In 1999-2000 his 118 at Hobart and 88 at Brisbane, were exhibitions of all-round batting skill against top pace. His 99 at Bloomfontein in 1994 was one of the finest exhibitions on a fast wicket..Inzy took his side out of the doldrums against Australia in 1994 at Karachi, in a sensational last wicket stand. In Sri Lanka often he was class act, destroying the likes of Murlitharan.

Evaluation

Inzamam ended his test career scoring 8830 runs, at an average of 49.60, with 25 centuries. Representing Pakistan he averaged just above 50. Statistically as a test batsman, Inzamam was an outstanding match-winner of his era, averaging 78.16 in tests won and winning matches when scoring 17 of his 25 centuries. Only Adam Gilchrist had a better average in tests won.Overseas he averaged 45.91., scoring 13 centuries while at home 53.75, scoring 11 centuries.
From 2000 to 2006 he scored 4455 runs at an average of 61.88, which were comparable to the very best. In ODI cricket he scored 11407 runs at 39.75 with 10 centuries. In ODI's won he scored 7 of his centuries and averaged 51.26 with around 65 % pf his runs executed in winning causes.
In executing cross bat strokes like the pull or hook, Inzy was a master accompli. His lofted strokes were as majestic the very best, Even if the striking note of his batting is power, it contained a subtle grace of it's own, with the flow of stream water. To me, in his pure game, Inzamam was more a clone of Viv Richards than even Virendra Sehwag. For sheer natural ability or prowess Inzamam was in the Tendulkar-Lara class. For pure talent Inzamam was in the club of the very top batsmen.
Inzy was a more flamboyant version of Rahul Dravid, if you account for the manner he batted in tune with the situation. Few were more effective in batting with tail enders. Inzy’s greatest virtue was that he retired on the very threshold of surpassing Javed Miandad’s record aggregate for Pakistan batsmen of 8832 runs. It illustrated his selfless nature, not being in pursuit of personal landmarks.
Inzy did scant justice to the talent he was endowed with, exhibiting flaws in his attitude. Laziness or lackadaisicalism was feature of his batting, resembling a lumberjack. Inzy's technique could be lose and his running between the wickets was slow or sluggish, but he more than compensated it with his power composure and wide array of strokes.
Worth mentioning that fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar stated that Inzamam was the hardest batsmen to bowl, a harder proposition than even Tendulkar. Former giant Imran Khan rated Inzamam as a better player of pace than Lara or Tendulkar. I can never forget witnessing the most sizzling strokes deployed by Inzamam playing Alan Donald at his fastest .I never witnessed batsmen in his era who tackled express case with such conviction o composure. Overall possibly Inzamam ranked amongst the dozen best ever middle order batsmen facing top pace. Amongst Asian batsman he was arguably amongst the top 4 best ever against fast bowling, joining Gavaskar,Vishwanath and Majid Khan. It would have been a spectacle witnessing Inzamam take on the great Carribean pace quartet or the duo of Lillee-Thomson or Wasim-Waqar.
Overall I would place him as the 3rd best Pakistan batsmen ever, behind Hanif Mohammad and Javed Miandad. Although more artistic or flamboyant he lacked their durability .or mental resilience. He was the best ever match-winner amongst Pakistani batsmen and arguably Asian batsmen. Arguably he was better match-winner than Tendulkar, Lara or Ponting.In his era as a batsmen Adam Gilchrist was his biggest rival ,in that regard. Few Asian batsmen ever played more innings befitting with a given situation. At his best Inzamam was manifestation of virtuosity in batting.
Amongst all-time greats I would rate him close to the likes of Steve Waugh, Rahul Dravid, Javed Miandad or Alan Border, and on par with V.V.S. Laxman, Mark Waugh, Virendra Sehwag or David Gower. For sheer natural ability Inzamam was in the Tendulkar-Lara class.
Inzamam to me would miss out on being clubbed with the very best like Tendulkar, Lara or Viv Richards. The main reason was his inconsistency or record against the best teams of his day-Australia and South Africa. He averaged 32.27 versus South Africa and 31.40 versus Australia .In Australia he averaged 30.87 while in South Africa 31.78.
For period in the 1990’s and in the 2000’s I would have chosen Inzamam in my World XI, because of his capability as match-winner. He would win my vote amongst the top 40 batsmen of all time and amongst the 100 best cricketers of all. I would class Inzamam as a ‘truly great’ player. Geoff Armstrong ranked Inzamam at 98 th place amongst the 100 best cricketers ever. Regrettably Cristopher Martin Jenkins and John Woodcock did not include him amongst heir 100 best.
It would have been a spectacle witnessing Inzamam take on the great Caribbean pace quartet of the 1980’s or the duo of Lillee-Thomson or Wasim-Waqar. In an ODI under pressure in a run chase I would back Inzamam to take team across the line more than Lara or Tendulkar. He displayed ice cool nerves in run chases. Inzamam could not enable Pakistan cricket to scale the Dizzy heights Imran Khan, Javed Minadad or Wasim Akram did in their day.
It is regretful that as a skipper he could not nurture or knit Pakistan into a top test or ODI side, often becoming a victim of controversies. No doubt he led his team to a drawn rubber in India in 2005 to a series win against England at home later that year. However he lost series against India in 2004 at home and in South Africa, home and away.
The series in England in 2006 illustrated his vulnerability as a skipper. Inzamam, in the final test at the Oval, astonishingly for a man perceived as so straightforward, became the most controversial figure in cricket for a week, leading his side off the field in protest at charges of ball tampering made by umpires Billy Doctrove and Darrell Hair.
They refused to come out at first, and then delayed the start before eventually forfeiting the Test, the first time in the history of the game. In Pakistan, he became a national hero, saviour of a country's pride and honour. He was unable to bind the vast talent of Pakistan into a cohesive unit. Inzamam was unable to weather the storm of internal crisis of his nation’s cricket and permitted politics to creep in. Even when his batting climbed at its peak, Inzamam was unable to keep Pakistan in contention for the title of the best test or ODI team. Both cricket world cups ended in an absolute doomsday for Pakistan when led by Inzamam in 2003 and 2007.
Regrettable that after retirement Inzamam left Pakistan cricket in tatters with none able to knit the talent of a scattered bunch. Match-fixing controversies and team dissension rose to the fore in his day. He often had skirmishes with the Pakistan cricket board as a selector and coach, but in junctures gave Pakistan a touch of it’s glorious past.
---
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist who has undertaken extensive research in cricket

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