It has been more than a year since Abdul Qadir has passed away.
Qadir’s legend as a player extended far beyond his stats, which boast an impressive 236 test wickets, but do not speak to the volumes he added to the game with his personality, and his services to spin bowling.
In the era of the deadly fasts of Australia, West Indies and Pakistan, he became the master of a dying art – leg spin. In the many eulogies that have come his way since his passing, one of the prevalent praises has been that he bowled leg spin with the attitude of a fast bowler.
Despite his almost lazy strut to the popping crease, Qadir’s high arm action had so many moving parts that the batsman would often be lost in his movements. To those that have seen footage of him, or have been lucky enough to see him bowl in person, the sight that comes to mind is him turning a big looping google way outside off that crashed into middle-and-leg. Without any fuss and a deadly straight face, he would walk back past the umpire – already on the prowl for his next victim.
This attitude and charisma made him the last lifeline of leg spin bowling. In 1994, when Australia last toured Pakistan, a bottle blond Shane Warne wished to meet Qadir. And as Qadir would with some pride relate later, Warne was nervous approaching Qadir since he was considered such a legend – and the only inspiration for aspiring leg spinners in the 80s and 90s. To this day he holds the record for the best bowling figures in a test innings by a Pakistani bowler – his magical spell of 9-56 against England in Lahore in 1987.
His supple wrists with their astounding ability to control the ball at any angle and any measure of spin on any surface also gave him some batting prowess – having scored three test fifties and two First Class hundreds.
But perhaps the most legendary aspect of Abdul Qadir was his personality. A man of the people, he loved to be in the spotlight. In a time when cricket was a languid sport, especially for the typically pot bellied leg spinners, Qadir was fit and would bowl seemingly without tiring.
When Imran Khan insisted he be selected for a series against England in the late 80s, he famously asked Qadir to grow a goatee because he was going to present Qadir to the English press as a spin magician and wanted him to look like a wizard. While this is testament to Khan’s captaincy, one has to give credit to Qadir for playing along and then some. His eccentricities on the field are well recorded. His long, curly locks and loud appealing all marking him as not just an entertainer – but one of those rare personalities in cricket that help define the game.
Off the field, one can fondly remember an interview he gave to an urdu newspaper in which he posed in silk kurtas with a gandasa announcing he would like to work in the Punjabi film industry.
Abdul Qadir was a leg spinner with the flare and fire of the fastest of the pacemen, and the heart of an artist. Most importantly, he was a man devoted to the game of cricket. He was by no means irreplaceable as a spin bowler, as Shane Warned and many others have shown, but his services to the art of leg spin will never be forgotten. And if a history of the art is ever written, he will go down as the founding father.