For Inzamam Ul Haq, batting in international cricket was like a stroll in the park. When the appropriate wicket fell, he would emerge from the dark confines of the pavilion, squinting in the sunlight, chewing gum like his hero Viv Richards and proceed to the wicket. Not for him the hyperactive stretching and twisting, not for him the desperate last minute rehearsals of the forward defensive. At the most, he could be found working his shoulders a bit, loosening them in anticipation of the bowling. This maulvi's son from Multan was born to be a batsman. And what a batsman he has been!
There are few batsmen in world cricket who can claim to play genuine pace with the felicity of Inzamam. Few others have the ability to stay balanced at the wicket like he does. And few others had that special ability to bat better and better and the situations got tenser and tenser. His shot selection - precise at the best of times, reached unparalleled heights in ODI end games and at the business end of Test matches. He had every stroke in the book and an understanding of batting which made it inevitable that he would average 50 in Test cricket.
He began his Test career in 1992 in England, where Pakistan won, led by Javed Miandad. But he had already become a household name before that through his exploits in the ODI game. He was probably the first cricketer in the modern era who made his name as an ODI batsman before appearing in a Test match. After a slow start he played his first significant innings in Hamilton. With Pakistan facing a first innings deficit of 50 in a low scoring first innings, Inzamam rescued them in the second from the depths of 4/25 towards a lead of 127. The 2 W's then stepped in and delivered victory.
Over the years it became a habit - Inzamam would deliver runs and Pakistan's magnificient bowlers never let him down. Like most long careers however, Inzamam's spanned two generations. He began in what many will consider Pakistan's strongest side ever, and enjoyed great success. Pakistan won a great deal and his runs were invariably very fruitful. But his best years were between 2003-2007 in my view. He was made captain and provided Pakistan with much needed stability. Along with Bob Woolmer Inzamam rescued Pakistan cricket from the double disaster of a rough generational transition and the post 9/11 upheaval which caused other sides to avoid playing Test cricket in Pakistan. He led them through difficult times - a home defeat to India being the lowest point, before squaring a series in India, beating an English side which had just captured the Ashes convincingly and at one point going nearly 18 months without a series defeat. He was a proud captain and even though i felt he was on the wrong side of the Oval controversy, it was hard not to sympathize with his position. It is fitting that he should play his last Test match at home in Pakistan.
Photo sourced from: Cricinfo
When i watched Inzamam bat, i would wait in anticipation for his first stroke in anger. For that is how he played. He was a deliberate genius. He had tremendous ability, but like his great counterpart from India, had mastered his art and liked to apply that mastery. Of his two great contemporaries, Inzamam had a little bit of Lara and a little bit of Tendulkar in him. In my view, he tended to favor Tendulkar's studious, deliberate approach to the West Indian genius's more instinctive strokeplay. He always began watchfully, with that exaggerated forward defensive - his giant frame bent over the ball, much like a gentle giant being kind to a delicate kitten. Once he was ready though, he would unleash a ferocious drive or a ferocious pull shot, always played with decisive footwork which oozed class. This was a proclamation of intent. At his best he could toy with the bowling and do more justice to that phrase than any of his contemporaries. He always seemed to have endless amounts of time and patience at the wicket. A masterful judge of a run chase, there was rarely any need for indiscriminate slogging in Inzamam's view. He didn't need to slog, for he had three strokes to every ball and invariably ended up playing a fourth. He made runs all over the world. He might look back and wonder if he might have done better in Australia and South Africa, but only an uncharitable spoilsport would hold that against him.
I hope he makes a hundred at Lahore - the scene of his epic 329 against New Zealand which set up an innings and 324 run victory for Pakistan thanks to Shoaib's 6/11 in the NZ first innings. He is a 187 runs away from 9000 Test runs and only 19 runs away from Javed Miandad's record career aggregate for Pakistan. For one of Pakistan's greatest, it would be a fitting finale....
Photo sourced from Cricinfo