Majid Khan : The legendary cricketer who took batting aesthetics to surreal regions

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By Harsh Thakor

Recently On September 28th, Majid Khan, former Pakistan cricketer Turned75.I wish a book was written about this legend.

There could be few more majestic sights than witnessing Majid in full flow, whose strokes were absolutely dazzling and scintillating. Few more fitted the description of a flawed genius. In full flow Majid looked like performing a combing operation with surgical precision, but still retaining the grace of a priest bowing before a pulpit. His batting possessed the beauty of a lotus blossoming, being sheer poetry in motion..On a bad wicket he was arguably the best batsman in the world of his era , resembling a surgeon curing patient considered incurable.Majid took batting domination to depths rarely traversed .On his day he exhibited the wizardry of a magician and could caress express pace deliveries over the ropes, like few ever could. Few Asian batsmen ever possessed more of the oriental touch as Majid who explored regions in batting aesthetics rarely transcended.

After Viv Richards, Noone was a better exponent of the hook shot.Majid’s driving was also classical, treating even good balls with contempt. In full flow Majid looked like performing a combing operation with surgical precision, but still retaining the grace of a priest bowing before a pulpit. Majid taking on the likes of Lille and Thomson was simply taking combative spirit to regions of the sublime, like David taking on the Goliath and could caress express pace deliveries over the ropes, like few ever could.

Quoting Anurbha Sengupta of Cricket Country “On his day he looked the most sublime of batsmen. The elegance was unmatched, artistry unique. The eye was quick, the footwork flashy, the timing impeccable. From the pristine whites of his shirt to the flashy spotlessness of his boots, he looked the ideal cricketer. As has been pointed out sometimes, once by Peter West in the commentary box, the only inelegant feature in the entire make-up of the man was the floppy hat he preferred to wear.”“Yes, Majid was often inconsistent. Centuries of the highest order could be followed by strings of low scores that disappointed many after dashes of crisp, fluent strokes had rolled across the turf like fine wine on the palette. But, when the big scores did come they were sparkling gems that gladdened all cricket loving hearts.”

Summary of Career

Majid had a brilliant 1st class career, excelling with both bat and ball.
He played for Lahore against Khairpur Division, scoring 111 not out and bowling fast to capture 6 for 67. He went on to score a double century against Karachi,to resurrect his team from precarious position, of being five wickets for four runs.

At the tender age of 18 he made his debut for Pakistan against Australia capturing 3 wickets, and scoring a duck.

On his 1st tour of England he was unimpressive in the test matches, but sparkled in the first class games .scoring 973 runs at an average of 42.30. In 1968 his unbeaten 147 at Swansea was scored of a mere 89 balls, including 13 sixes. And five sixes of an over of Roger Davis, resembled a dynamite exploding.

Playing for Glamorgan in 1969 Majid gave glimpses of his greatness to come, averaging 39.66 and scoring 1547 runs. His 156 out of a total of 256 for Glamorgan versus Wourcestershire at Sophia Gradens in 1969, compared with the best innings of all time on bad wickets, in the Victor Trumper class. On a broken wicket Majid looked like man farming in a desert, producing a range of brilliant strokes. when every other batsmen looked all at sea. He revealed cricketing skill in regions rarely transcended; facing a top class bowling attack.Wisden monthly simply classed it ‘As magical batting, displaying plenty of time to face the most wicked deliveries. Quoting Peter Walker “On a rough, unprepared, and quite impossible to bat on wicket where the ball flew, shot, seamed, and turned, Majid Khan stood absolutely motionless, parrying the ball as it lifted, cutting or hooking erringly, if it were wide, driving with frightening power, if overpitched and swaying out of harm; s when it lifted unexpectedly. Unless he permitted it, not a single ball passed his bat, not a chance was given, not a false stroke executed. Majid defied every known textbook instruction, inventing strokes that just did not exist.”

From 1973-77 Majid was an epitome of consistency in a crisis in successive series against Australia, England, New Zealand and West Indies. He did not make staggering scores like Zaheer Abbas ,Viv Richards or Greg Chappell , but scored many a fifty in adverse batting conditions as well as 4 classical centuries. He gave his 1st flash of brilliance in test cricket when scoring a scintillating 158 at Melbourne in 1972-73 creating the base for one of cricket’s best rearguard actions, after facing a staggering total. Although Pakistan lost, it took them within a touching distance of a famous win.

Majid’s 167 at Georgetown against the great Caribbean pace battery, ranks amongst the best ever innings against genuine pace, or to avert a defeat. He simply resurrected Pakistan from the grave in a classic partnership with Zaheer Abbas, for the 3rd wicket. In their own right his 98 at the Oval, 48 at Lords, 74 at Leeds in 1974, 158 at Melbourne in 1972-73,167 at Georgetown, or even his 88 ball century in the 1974 Prudential Trophy, were classics In his ODI century at Old Trafford he exhibited batting domination or prowess rarely seen in any form of cricket, ripping apart the likes of Derek Underwood Peter Lever, Bob Willis and Chris Old. For sheer virtuosity, few ODI’s have surpassed that effort of Majid.On bad wicket, Majid’s 48 out of 130 at Lords in the 2nd test in 1974, was one of the most surgical batting exhibitions of all. When executing a century before lunch against New Zealand at Karachi in 1976. Majid took batting domination to realms rarely explored.
Majid was part of the nucleus that transformed Pakistan into one of the strongest sides in the world from 1976-79.

In West Indies in 1977 his 530 runs took Pakistan within touching distance of a drawn rubber, being consistency personified. Dubious umpiring, arguably robbed Pakistan of victory in the 1st test at Barbados where Majid made a substantial contribution, scoring 88 in the 1st innings. Majid’s 167 at Georgetown against the great Caribbean pace battery, ranks amongst the best ever innings against genuine pace, or to avert a defeat. He simply resurrected Pakistan from the grave in a classic partnership with Zaheer Abbas,for the 3rd wicket. Majid blended concentration, temperament and technical prowess at a height rarely scaled, like military commander battling against staggering odds. His 92 at Trinidad in the 4th test, played a crucial role in Pakistan’s triumph. I rank that amongst the best ever batting performances in a test series against fiery pace. Above all he scored when it mattered most, to avert defeat and win games. In my view it was arguably the best batting by an opening batsman against the great Caribbean pace battery, in West Indies. Majid confront the fiery pace of Garner, Croft and Roberts was close to cricket’s ultimate duel.

In the 1979 prudential world cup his 81 in the semi-final against West Indies in a 166 run partnership with Zaheer Abbasd, was executed in classical style. In my view no Asian batsman in that time revealed as much grit as Majid, facing fiery pace.

Sadly he retired on a sour note against India in 1982-83, completely losing his touch. After a loss in form on the 1980 tour of India, he revived his old touch in 1980 when scoring 110 not out and 89 in a home series against Australia and scoring 74 at Melbourne in 1981-82.

Evaluation of Majid

Statistics hardly did him justice averaging around 39, but in his peak Majid was in the very top bracket. Overall for pure talent or genius I would class Majid amongst the top dozen batsman of all time. Zaheer Abbas may have been more elegant or technically correct but in a crisis Majid outscored him. Arguably in the 1970’s it was Majid who challenged the likes of Viv or Barry Richards, the Chappell brothers and Gavaskar for the title of the best batsman .Against pure pace in the 1970’s I only rank Viv Richards or Ian Chappell ahead. I would have chosen Majid to open the innings for a test world XI in the late 1970’s.,preferring him to Boycott or Greenidge.Significant that as an opening batsman Majid averaged 42.3 ,with 5 centuries ,7 fifties and 1,973 runs.

Would I class Majid as great or only Very Good? In test matches, he averaged less than 40, averaging 38.92 and scoring 3931 runs, with 8 centuries. Statistically this record does not compare him favourably with the great batsmen of his time. However if you assess the situations and attacks against which Majid amassed most of his runs, morally he earned greatness. Even the great Sunil Gavaskar or Greg Chappell did not surpass Majid, at his best.

In a crisis he overshadowed Zaheer Abbas and tackled genuine pace better than even Javed Miandad.In many ways, Majid resembled the great Victor Trumper,who averaged less than 40, but was labelled a better batsman than even Bradman ,on wet pitches. I can hardly name a batsman, whose statistics do equal injustice to moral contribution. I feel he failed to do complete justice to his talent.

What may have gone against Majid was his lack of footwork, which he earlier compensated with his razor sharp reflexes.Majid joined the club of a Rohan Kanhai. Gundappa Vishwanath and David Gower hose statistical record hardly did justice to their true ability or were flawed geniuses.

Arguably Kerry Packer cricket and dissension within Pakistan cricket politics, curtailed his career. Inconsistency may have cost Majid a place amongst the all-time great batsmen.

In ODI cricket. I would have backed Majid to be an all-time great. It is worth pointing out that his strike rate was a most commendable 71.42 and average a very impressive 37.41.in the shorter version of the game. In both the 1975 and 1979 world cup Majid was consistency personified.

I praise his efforts to ressurect Pakistani cricket as a manager in 1994 in New Zealand, getting the best out the pace duo of Wasim-Waqar.He carried himself with great dignity as a coach, administrator and selector and boldly spoke against match-fixing.

Umpire Dicky Bird classes Majid in the highest bracket in the class of a Greg Chapell and so did Bishen Bedi,who rated Majid as the best batsman on bad wickets. Imran Khan rated Majid as the best Pakistani batsman of the 1970’s.Sadly he was hardly praised enough by the likes of Dennis Lillee or Gary Sobers and under rated by experts. To me one of cricket’s most underestimated batsmen.

Above all Majid brought grace to the game, resurrecting the golden age of cricket .The justice he gave to the virtues of sportsmanship hardly prevail in days when the game has turned into a million Dollar Business.
Quoting Anurbha Sengupta of Cricket Country “On his day he looked the most sublime of batsmen. The elegance was unmatched, artistry unique. The eye was quick, the footwork flashy, the timing impeccable. From the pristine whites of his shirt to the flashy spotlessness of his boots, he looked the ideal cricketer. As has been pointed out sometimes, once by Peter West in the commentary box, the only inelegant feature in the entire make-up of the man was the floppy hat he preferred to wear.”
“Yes, Majid was often inconsistent. Centuries of the highest order could be followed by strings of low scores that disappointed many after dashes of crisp, fluent strokes had rolled across the turf like fine wine on the palette. But, when the big scores did come they were sparkling gems that gladdened all cricket loving hearts.”

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Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist. Toured India, particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,Massline, Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontier weekly. An avid cricket lover too who has posted writings on blogs like Pakpassion, Indian Cricket Fans and Sulekha.com

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