Life produces strange finishes. Sometimes, Kings grow humble, millionaires turn paupers, and even the demon Bradman got a duck in his last Test appearance. Saeed Anwar would be perhaps contemplating all that since last week. After entertaining spectators to packed houses at the great cricket grounds of the world, from Sharjah to Brisbane, from Colombo to Toronto, from Oval to Madras, and from Lahore to Centurion, the majestic left-hander from Karachi finally announced his retirement from all first class and international cricket. His last innings came before a handful of unconcerned spectators at Bulawayo against Zimbabwe in the last match of Pakistan’s nightmarish Word Cup in March.
Cricketers, like most prominent athletes, lead a fantasy life, and when it all ends - when the challenges stop, the cheering fades, the friends and the lifestyle are gone - it can all seem just as unreal. Some sportsmen cope well while some find it difficult. "I don't think anyone's really prepared for it," said Dean Jones, who was dropped from the Australian Test team in 1992 despite two centuries in his last four Tests. Allan Border said it was as if something had died in him when he finished. “A part of you dies, and you realise you're never going to get it back”. But Saeed Anwar has no regrets. Though like so many cricketers before retiring, he doubtlessly believed that he still had runs left in him and can play for Pakistan for two more years. But unluckily the selectors thought otherwise. Anwar maybe a little disappointed, but not bitter. And even that disappointment will ebb when the warmth of what he has achieved starts to envelop him. He believes this as a will of Allah and is quite satisfied with what he has achieved after fifteen years of international cricket.
Through the prime years of Pakistan cricket, to be picked 302 times is an indication of class in itself. He might permit himself a smile when he will he look back at the 12,875 runs he has made and he can be proud of being in the list of very few who have made at least 31 international centuries. A lot of those were match-winning innings and that is what raises players in the esteem of their contemporaries.
Watching Saeed Anwar bat was to enjoy the game without worrying about what the score was; indeed, without any worry at all. It was like admiring an actor delivering his lines and rising above the plot. He was beautiful to watch, especially when he brought his elegant style to the bustle of one-day cricket. Sweet timing always remained the hallmark of Anwar’s batting. As an opener, he didn't need to slog. He loved to attack the fast bowlers’ right from the start with crispy drives, flashing cuts and late cuts, effortless pulls, well timed hooks and improvised sweeps.
Anwar first came to the limelight way back in 1988-89 when he scored 802 runs including four hundreds and two fifties at an average of 89.11 runs in seven first class games. On that basis he was picked by Imran Khan for the 1989 Pakistan tour to Australia. However, like most Pakistani batsmen he found the dry and bouncy Australian tracks too different and had difficulty getting past thirty in side games. Saeed’s inconsistency drove both Miandad and Imran to write him off as they were convinced he was just a slogger. Yet he came well in the World Series one-dayers against Australia and Sri Lanka that followed with scores of 37, 27, 17, 126 and 43. His first century against Sri Lanka was a class innings, coming off 99 balls and included six sixes and eight fours. At that time Imran had said: “He gives us heart attacks in the dressing room. We never know what he is going to do next.” Imran infact took 21 year old aside and advised him to fashion himself into an opener. Saeed said, “Imran bhai said to me that ‘if you want to play in my side you’ll have to become an opener.’ I wanted to play so the next couple of season’s I watched the openers and began opening the innings in domestic cricket.” The rest is history.
Saeed’s first Test match against the West Indies at Faisalabad in 1990 was a disaster as he got out for a pair. “I am proud of that now. It was better than scoring six and one. It got my name into the record books.” He says. His rehabilitation as a Pakistan cricketer, after the Australian foray, was in 1993 for the Total International Series. Despite yet another prolific domestic season, Saeed was dropped from the Caribbean tour but characteristically fought his way back, later in the year on the friendly Sharjah track, scoring three consecutive centuries. Such was his impact that along with Aamer Sohail he forged the best opening partnership of world cricket. The pace and style of cricket adopted by Saeed and Aamer became one of the main reasons of Pakistan’s dominance. Content with cementing his place in the one-day squad, Saeed then turned his attention to Test cricket and, characteristic of some one who prides himself on being prolific, rattled off four Test centuries in no time.
Saeed was one of the most prolific of the batsmen in the World Cup’96 and with Sohail they brutally butchered the oppositions’ bowling attacks before the first wicket went down. He made 329 runs in the competition. He was at his finest best in the devastation of English bowlers in the summer of 1996. Saeed literally burned the cricket grounds in England with his scorching drives and seared the air with fireballs that clear the boundary ropes and some times even the stands. He joined Pakistan’s Alimuddin (in 1954), Zaheer Abbas (1971) and Shafiq Ahmed (1974) to score a hundred on their first appearance in a first-class match on English soil. Saeed continued his rampage in every subsequent series’ and accumulated 1,595 ODI runs in the calendar year 1996.
A mysterious viral illness sidelined him at the end of the year 1996. There was definitely something wrong. It started as an ordinary flu then stomach gripes followed which made it difficult for him to last too long out there in the middle. There were all sorts of speculations. Some rumormongers were insensitive enough to claim that Saeed was suffering from cancer. Thankfully, it was nothing as serious as that. One diagnosis was typhoid which the press finally believed it really was but, before getting back on the road to recovery, Saeed had missed the Pakistan’s team’s tour of Australia and New Zealand. He returned to the national squad with a virtual vengeance. His courage and fortitude exemplified during his marathon 194 in Madras’ brought to Pakistan the coveted record of highest individual innings. For Saeed the moment was more poignant as he eclipsed the record set by his hero and batting mentor Vivian Richards (189*) in 1984 against England at Old Trafford. In retrospect the innings was marvellous in its fluency and the precision. With a vengeance he demolished the players who were India’s heroes in Bangalore fourteen months ago. All were thrashed over after over and it was the unkindest cut from which India never recovered. Anwar continued scoring heavily in the following years until he suffered a knee injury in 1999. He kept on playing but it got so worse that he had a knee surgery in 2000. He was out for a whole year.
The death of his daughter Bismah in August 2001 brought a revolutionary change in his lifestyle. Anwar shocked the cricket world in when he turned up with a long, thick beard in a sport dominated by men who are clean-shaven. Security guards in Sharjah stopped him as they failed to recognize the famous cricketer from Pakistan. Since the last two years he has been in the news more for non-cricketing activities. He delivers a sermon in a mosque in Karachi advising the young to turn to religion and not waste their time as he did in watching Indian movies. "I read more about Don Bradman than about the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)", he says.
“I never thought of this world as a temporary place and always ran after materialistic pursuits. I felt money was the root of all evils. I felt a great thrill in spending money. But that thrill wouldn't last. If I bought a car, I'd be happy but then somebody else's car looked better. I bought a big screen television and made a home theatre; soon I was looking for something else. I felt no peace within me.” But when I listened to Tableeghi Jamaat people I began to analyze life. "They spoke of how this earth is a temporary abode. They talked about life after death. That got me thinking. I said to myself, if they are wrong, I'll be fine. But what if they are right? Then I'm dead! The Quran says that nobody gets a second chance after death. I realized that life is the colour of the glasses you put on. I never even thought of death. Sometimes on a flight if it was turbulent for a second, I thought 'What if the plane crashes and we die?'"
At Sharjah in November 2001 Saeed fractured his wrist and again missed the most part of the year 2002. The 2003 World Cup was Anwar’s last international assignment. Just like the previous two World Cups he once again top scored for his side in the tournament. His masterful knock of 101 runs at Centurion went in vain as India clobbered Pakistan out of the event. In his last game against Zimbabwe he remained unbeaten as the match was rained off. It is significant to note that Anwar who stepped shakily in international cricket ended his career by scoring a century in his last Test inning and in his second last one-day innings.
Asked how he felt getting out on 194. Though his record is still intact but a double century in ODI would mean a lot. "I was sorry in the past. Now I am not. It is all from Allah. I remember when I hit 194, I thought, 'Oh six more runs' and I was out. Perhaps because I relied on myself and not on Allah." The quiet cricketer now speaks eloquently from the heart. Perhaps that is why he has an effect. Saeed Anwar considers himself not a fanatic but just a normal Muslim, striving to become better - just what every Muslim should do. His wife Lubna, a doctor now wears the hijab. His father has joined him in his efforts to propagate Islam. Even his sister-in-law, born and bred in England now wears a hijab in UK, after being in Saeed Anwar's household for only a few weeks. But he takes no credit. "It is all from Allah."
For a man who didn't seem too keen on records, he will value his achievements greatly. The game always moves on but for a brief moment when Pakistan will play one will sense a little hole at the top. The silky and serene batting of Saeed Anwar will surely be remembered forever.
(Article: Copyright © 2003 Muhammad Asim email:firstname.lastname@example.org)
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