The city of Multan has an air of peaceful tranquility. The cosmopolitan rush of Lahore or Islamabad is altogether inconspicuous in the city of ‘Pirs’ and ‘Dargahs’. The city of Multan seems to uphold the dying vestiges of an ancient, medieval city. Even the people are relaxed and proudly laidback.
So, there is no incongruity in Inzamam being the favourite son of the city, the real ‘Multan ka Sultan’.
The batting of Inzamam-ul-Haq systematically resembled soft and soothing ‘Sufi’ songs which are sung in the beautiful mosques at Multan, only the pleasing melodies were replaced by silken cover drives and dainty nudges. On a cultural plane, Inzamam could also be mistaken to be from Lucknow. The `tameez’ that one associates with a person from Lucknow was ingrained in both his speech as well as batting.
If Sunil Gavaskar embodied the combative spirit of Mumbai, the happy ambassador of ‘kharoos’ school of batting, how can Inzamam – ul- Haq not embrace the lackadaisical spirit that envelopes Multan?
But, hang on.
There was more to Inzamam than just the inert carelessness.
Curtly Ambrose was a quintessential fast bowler; he also had a typical irritable nature that defines fast bowlers. West Indies were taking on Pakistan in the third Test at Antigua in 2000. Inzamam was batting on 49 and then a solid front foot defence by Inzamam made Ambrose flung the ball back in disgust. Notwithstanding the volatile nature of Ambrose, the next delivery was arrogantly pulled over square leg for a soul crunching six. Inzamam’s aggression was covert but extremely impactful.
It was a way to say that his ego had been hurt.
So, typical of Inzamam.
Inzamam ul-Haq rose to fame in the 1992 Cricket World Cup that was played in Australia and New Zealand. The romantic tale of Imran Khan handpicking Inzamam to be a part of the marquee tournament is well known in Pakistan and even beyond.
His innings of 60 off 37 deliveries was decorated with seven boundaries and one six, such brutal hitting was yet to be in vogue at that juncture. I t won’t be an exaggeration to say that apart from fiery bowling spells from Wasim and Imran, the controlled aggression from Inzamam laid the path for Pakistan’s amazing victory in that tournament.
If Steve Waugh knew how to bail Australia out of trouble, Inzamam too was quite adept at that skill. For a man of un-sportsman like bulk, he possessed the agility of a gazelle while facing fast bowlers. He had amazing control over judging length and was nimble while facing the best of spinners.
Apart from scoring 8830 runs in Test Cricket, Inzamam also revelled in ODIs. His tally of 83 half centuries echoes a tale of amazing consistency. His ability to pace an ODI innings still holds relevance in the modern day.
The funny tales of Inzamam’s propensity to get run out never undermined his stature as a champion batsman alongside the likes of Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. The calmness of Inzamam while chasing stiff targets was a model to behold for opposition players as well as his own teammates who invariably wilted under severe pressure of chasing targets.
In 2001-02, Inzamam belted a hapless New Zealand attack en route 329, his personal best score in sultry conditions at Lahore. But, the year 2003 was marked by his poor form in the ICC Cricket World Cup; he was even dropped for a brief while. But, he marked his comeback with a belligerent 138 not out and saved Pakistan from the ignominy of losing to Bangladesh.
The initial days of his captaincy stint were turbulent as Pakistan was clinically beaten in both Tests and ODIs by India in 2004. His lack of coordination with Shoaib Akhtar also made life difficult for him as a captain.
The brightest moment in his career as a Test captain came in India when he helped Pakistan draw the Test Series after scoring a magnificent 184 in his 100th Test Match. Pakistan’s home series victory against the Ashes Champions, England in 2005 was a glittering chapter in his Test career. He batted like a champion in that series and scored twin centuries for the first time in Faisalabad. He also went past Miandad’s record of scoring the most hundreds for Pakistan.
The 2007 World Cup in West Indies was marred by the death of Bob Woolmer, Pakistan’s coach. The scenes of Inzamam crying bitterly after getting dismissed in his final ODI innings against Zimbabwe was a combination of sadness as well as agony.
Inzamam was never a man to take things lying down. The strength of his character as a Captain was well exemplified when he refused to take the field in Oval after Pakistan was charged of ball tampering. Though, he was banned for 4 ODIs, in Pakistan he was hailed as a hero who upholded his country’s integrity and pride.
After his retirement, Inzamam’s role in Cricket has been limited. He was the head coach for Afghanistan for a brief time and also helped them win their first ODI and T20 against a full member. In 2016, he was appointed as the chief selector for Pakistan.
Inzamam played a crucial role in uniting youngsters at a difficult time for Pakistan. His funny responses at after- match interviews and press conferences made him a lovable figure all over the world.
Possibly, he is the only one whose name brings smile, adulation, fear and ridicule all at the same time.
Cricket was richer because of his presence, isn’t it?