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Bridgetown, Barbados – a ground to remember

Pakistan and West Indies will face off in the second Test of the current Test series in Bridgetown, Barbados from 30th April.

This is the first time since 1988 that Pakistan enter the second Test after getting a lead in a series in West Indies. They have never won a Test in Barbados but Pakistan’s most memorable performance is associated with this ground when a 23-year-old batsman played the innings which is still considered the greatest of them all.

In those days, England, Australia and South Africa were considered the top teams. England humiliated the West Indies in England 3-0, while South Africa, still avoiding non-white teams, were preparing for an Aussie visit when Pakistani cricketers set sail on 20th December ’57.

Wicket-keeper ‘Gerry’ Alexander, the last white man to lead West Indies and a Cambridge blue was pitted against an Oxford Blue Abdul Hafeez Kardar. West Indies still had the three Ws, Sir Everton Weekes, Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Clyde Walcott, as well as Rohan Kanhai and Sir Garry Sobers.

The first Test began on 17th January 1958 at Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados. Saeed Ahmed, Haseeb Ahsan and Nasim-ul-Ghani debuted for Pakistan while Eric Atkinson and Conrad Hunte did the same for the home team.

West Indies put on 579 with the help of centuries from the experienced Weekes and debutant Hunte. The visitors were so tired after two days of fielding that they were dismissed for 106 in their first innings early on the next day. Batting again, they had to survive three more days and with 470-odd runs behind, needed a miracle.

Out came Hanif Muhammad, who was dismissed for 17 in the previous innings by the debutant Eric Atkinson. Born in 1934, Hanif was short in stature and started out as a wicket-keeper. He had by then played 18 Tests and with the help of two centuries, scored 897 runs at an average of 29.90. That innings was to change it all.

Hanif and Imtiaz Ahmed put on 152 runs for the opening stand as Pakistan ended day 3 at 162/1.

Hanif led the charge and scored exactly 100 runs on fourth day. The only wicket to fall was of Alimuddin for 37. On the fifth day, the home team could only get the wicket of Saeed Ahmed, who scored an attractive 65 on debut. Hanif added 109 more runs to his overnight score.

The end of the day ‘note’ from skipper Kardar played an important part in his innings. On day three, he got a ‘You are the only hope’ by his bedside, next day, it was ‘You can do it’, while the last note carried, ‘If you can bat until tea tomorrow, the match will be saved.’

Leading the bowling attack was Roy Gilchrist, with his ferocious deliveries at over 85 mph. It’s a different story that he was sent back from the 1958/59 tour of India for unleashing a barrage of beamers, ending his career. Eric Atkinson was reverse swinging long before anyone had heard the name and Alf Valentine knew all the tricks of spin before Lance Gibbs debuted in the second Test. Without a headgear and proper protection, Hanif survived everything. At stumps on the penultimate day, a badly bruised Hanif was there when his team crossed 500-run mark.

With a lead of 50, Pakistan began the final day. Hanif needed 30 to become Pakistan’s first triple centurion and soon he did, but after taking his team to safety. Wazir Muhammad, Hanif’s elder brother, was dismissed a little earlier and it was Wallis Mathias at the other end to congratulate the ‘little master’ on this achievement. After 16 hours and 10 minutes of stay at the crease and with 24 hits to the fence, Hanif was dismissed at 337, 27 short of Len Hutton’s world record of 364. The match was drawn amid all speculations.

After this incredible effort, Hanif’s batting average jumped to 39 and he went on to score nine more centuries for his country. With solid concentration, Hanif played the most heroic innings for Pakistan which remains the longest innings played in a Test match, even after six decades.

Pakistan are just one win away from their first series win in the West Indies, and if they play half as good as the team did way back in 1958, they would surely achieve their dream.

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