An era of leg spin ends with death of great bowler Abdul Qadir at 63

Abdul Qadir, the man who revived the art of legspin bowling, has passed away in Lahore from a cardiac arrest.
Qadir, an integral part of Pakistan’s most successful sides in the 1980s and a valuable mentor to Shane Warne and Mushtaq Ahmed among others, was 63, nine days short of his next birthday.
Qadir worked with Pakistan cricket in several capacities after his playing career was over and ran a private academy just outside Gaddafi Stadium. “PCB is shocked at the news of ‘maestro’ Abdul Qadir’s passing and has offered its deepest condolences to his family and friends,” the PCB tweeted.
“We are devastated with the news of Abdul Qadir’s passing and on behalf of the PCB, I want to express my deepest condolences to his family and friends,” chairman Ehsan Mani said. “The PCB, like every Pakistani, is proud of his services to cricket and Pakistan. His contributions and achievements were not only limited on-field, but he ensured he transferred the art of leg-spin to the up-and-coming cricketers.
“Apart from being a maestro with the ball, Abdul Qadir was a larger-than-life figure who was adored, loved and respected across the globe due to his excellent understanding and knowledge of the game, and strong cricket ethics and discipline.
“Today, global cricket has become poorer with his passing. He will be missed but will never be forgotten.”
On the face of it Qadir’s numbers have since been dwarfed by a number of modern spin greats but his impact on the genre is impossible to ignore. At the time he burst on to the international scene, late in 1977 against England, legspin was all but a forgotten art. But a six-for in only his second Test placed it right back on the map.
That England were the opponents was significant, because it was through England that his legend burned brightest. So taken were the English by the exotic appeal of Qadir and what he bowled, Imran Khan advised him to keep a goatee for the 1982 tour to the country, to reinforce the image of him as some kind of strange mystic from the east.
They proved to be profitable opponents as well. In 1987, he took 40 wickets in four Tests against England; ten wickets first in the final Test at The Oval in a draw that sealed a first-ever series win for Pakistan in England, and then 30 wickets in three Tests against the same opponents in Pakistan later in the year. Questionable umpiring took some of the shine off his feats in the series win in Pakistan, but 82 wickets in 16 Tests was unquestionably good.
England weren’t the only side to come up against Qadir at this finest though. Some of Qadir’s best days came in Pakistan’s epic battles with West Indies through the mid-80s. In the two drawn series, in Pakistan in 1986-87 and then 1987-88, Qadir was decisive; his 6-16 in Faisalabad saw West Indies bowled out for just 53 and this, a line-up that included Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson and Larry Gomes.
In the six Tests across those two series, Qadir loomed large, taking 32 wickets, batting out a final over to secure a draw and punching a spectator after some umpiring decisions went against Pakistan.
If there was a blot, it was India, whom he could never quite convince of his genius. Across a clutch of series – he played as many as 16 Tests against them, in days when the two played regularly – but only took 27 wickets. The worst moment was to be dropped for the Bangalore Test in March 1987, a Test Pakistan famously won off the back of two spinners who weren’t Qadir – Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed. So ineffective had Qadir been that even his captain Imran was convinced – by Javed Miandad – to drop Qadir; there existed no bigger patron and supporter of Qadir than Imran.
That mattered little though, balanced against what he brought to the game and such was the case on other occasions. In Australia in 1983-84, for example, he only picked up 12 expensive Test wickets but few who saw him bowl forgot him.
Indeed two pioneering aspects of Qadir’s bowling were starkly evident on that tour. The first was the googly; some days he’d say he had six different ones and some days he said he had two but they were all hugely effective and equally indecipherable. And he wasn’t afraid to bowl them, not hiding them but using them as often as possible.
The second was his ODI bowling. In a Benson & Hedges tri-series campaign in which Pakistan won only one of ten games against West Indies and Australia, Qadir took 15 wickets in eight games at just 18 apiece. He used that googly plenty in ODIs – just as legspinners have learnt again now how useful it can be – and in two World Cups, in 1983 and 1987, he was instrumental in Pakistan’s run to the semi-finals.
One of his finest moments in that 1987 World Cup came with the bat – also against West Indies. An impish but brave hitter, Qadir somehow hit the 14 runs needed in the last over to steal a win, off no less a bowler than Courtney Walsh.
Also Qadir, however, was that loss in an ODI in Hyderabad, which prevented Pakistan from winning the ODI series 6-0. In attempting an impossible – and ultimately unnecessary – second run, Qadir ran himself out, leaving the scores tied and India winners by virtue of having lost fewer wickets. Had he not taken that single, Pakistan would have won on a tie-breaker of having scored more runs than India after 25 overs.
He didn’t fade away once he had left the game, elbowed out ironically by Mushtaq Ahmed, the man he mentored and whose action was a living, breathing tribute to Qadir – the curved run-up, the bounce in each step, a high whirl of both arms and mystery unleashed.
His 1994 meeting with Shane Warne reminded a newer generation of how important a figure he was, though he was a regular and generous mentor. Imran Tahir was a protege and despite not always seeing eye to eye with Shahid Afridi, he did help him rediscover his wrong ‘un not long before Afridi helped Pakistan to the World T20 title.
That was also around the time Qadir was the PCB’s chief selector, a stint that didn’t last long and wasn’t without controversy. But through his academy, he continued to spread the word of the art he helped keep alive.