Almost 46 years after making his Test debut against New Zealand in Karachi, Zaheer Abbas is now all set for a brand new innings as president of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
The legendary Zaheer was installed as president at the ICC annual conference in Barbados last week.
“I assure you all that I will stand shoulder to shoulder with all the ICC Members as we continue to strive to inspire more and more people to fall in love with the game we cherish,” Zaheer said at the ICC moot in Barbados.
Earlier, before his departure for Barbados, The News on Sunday spoke to Zaheer about his new role and why Pakistan cricket remains mired in an unending spiral of crisis and much more.
“It’s a great honour for me. And I am thankful to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for nominating me for the ICC presidency,” Zaheer told TNS.
“I know that ICC presidency is now a ceremonial post. But that doesn’t mean an ICC president cannot do anything. As a former Test cricketer and as somebody who has an immense love for the game I’m sure of contributing something positive during my one-year term,” he said.
Zaheer is hoping that as ICC president he will be able to play his role for the revival of Indo-Pak cricket series.
“Matches between Pakistan and India are something that the whole world wants to see,” he said.
“It is also something that is very close to my heart and as ICC president I will try my best to help make it happen.
“It is something that fans on both sides of the border and all over the world want to happen. And I am sure that everybody who loves cricket will push for an Indo-Pak series that is held on a regular basis.”
Zaheer is also hopeful that he will help ICC in its bid to make cricket a truly global sport.
“As president I will try to help the ICC in its efforts to popularise the game all over the globe.”
The focus of our conversation soon shifted to Pakistan cricket.
Ever an optimist, Zaheer doesn’t believe that fixing our cricket was a lost cause.
“We have had our problems and some are still there but I am sure with the right kind of steps we can fix them sooner rather than later.”
Zaheer is fondly remembered by hoards of his fans worldwide as the Asian Bradman. But when he was still a lanky teenager playing on the streets of Karachi they used to call him Garry Sobers but for the same reason – his huge appetite for runs.
“I was always hungry for runs even as a little boy when playing in the streets,” he recalls.
“I was always scoring runs even at the club level,” he said. “My photographs were featured in newspapers all the time. They used to say that I will be a big star one day. Out in the street, they even started calling me Garry Sobers though I was right-handed.”
So prolific was Zaheer that it was impossible not to notice him. He was included in the Pakistan team and made his Test debut against New Zealand in Karachi in October 1969. Zaheer could only manage 12 and 27 in the drawn Test but went on to make history in his very next match with a memorable 274 against England at Edgbaston.
“I kept on batting relentlessly in that match,” he said. “When I came back after finishing the innings everybody was congratulating me and I was wondering ‘what is the fuss all about?’ You see, I was so used to scoring runs by that time that it took some time before I realized that it was a special knock.”
Zaheer took the field at Edgbaston as a rookie but came out a star. He recived a lot of county offers but opted for Gloucestershire.
“It turned out to be a great choice as I enjoyed each and every day I spent with them,” he said.
Zaheer fondly remembers the time he spent on the road with his friend Sadiq Mohammad. “We used to travel together and at times even stayed together. I had a great time with Gloucestershire. I also received a lot of respect from that county. They even named a village as Abbas Town there.”
In England, Zaheer’s greatest county rivals were Geoffrey Boycott and Vivian Richards. “We were the most prolific batsmen in county cricket at that time and it was inevitable that we became rivals. It was absolutely great having them as my competitors.”
Fans used to come from all over Britain to enjoy his elegant batting. “One day this guy approached me in Cardiff where we were to play against Glamorgan. He told me that ‘I’ve come a long way to watch your batting and not your a*** so you better score a century today and I’ll take you out for dinner’. I did score a hundred in that match,” he said.
Zaheer takes a lot of pride in the fact that he is the only Asian with over 100 first-class 100s and believes that he could have broken a few world records had he played more Tests.
“My Test career spanned over 16 years yet I played just 78 Tests. I wonder if I was born in the seventies I could have played twice as many Tests and have scored so many more runs. Probably I was born in the wrong era.”