In an age where batsmen represented brute strength- Hayden, Gilchrist and, Jayasuriya- it was heartening that there was Saeed Anwar, who personified grace, perhaps, a fragrance of the yesteryears.
The scorer of the eighth highest ODI individual score was Karachi’s pride, Pakistan’s weapon of choice- be it amongst the then top-ranked Australia or South Africa and, above all- one of the most charming left-handers of his generation.
Long before the T20s came calling and the spot fixing sagas mushroomed like a black cover on the cricketing galaxy, the sport charmed itself on fluent stroke makers like Anwar.
When he walked down the pitch, whether strolling on the 22 yards demonstrating that familiar follow-through on Kumble’s leg break or simply walking around to cool off some sweat, Saeed Anwar was a figure of grace and dignity.
No loud grunts. No uncouth behaviour, whether or not their opponents were pinching a fiery Pakistan. Add to that, absolute refraining from giving back with hand actions or verbatim.
That wasn’t Saeed Anwar. Even as his familiar partner at the other end, Amir Sohail lost it a bit, often preferring to point to bowlers about his next big hit.
But when his stumps went flying, action replays would show a silent but pained Saeed Anwar, not too upset, not too bogged down.
And in that graceful, focused approach did we see stellar partnerships stitched during Akram’s reign as captain- circa the late 1990s and, Inzi’s reign that came about later, in the 2000s.
Saeed Anwar, it could be said, was Brian Lara sans the flamboyance for Pakistan; a master who batted right at the top of the order, unlike the “Prince of Trinidad”.
Do you remember a bowler sledging Anwar?
Surely the Anil Kumble’s and Venkatesh Prasad’s berated his sticking around for long. A McGrath would be told by Waugh to upset Anwar early on with the shorter stuff.
We could see Ian Bishop, tagging along with Curtly to disturb his concentration. But composed like an old war horse on a mission, the man behind that ever-famous 194 seldom gave in.
The gentle nudges to the covers, the deft touches and glides to backward point and that glorious square drive- Saeed Anwar truly brought alive Tony Cozier from the commentary box.
Though to be fair to him, it was Warne that troubled Anwar the most, choosing to tempt the elegant left-hander to play the flighted delivery, one fledgeling wide outside off, but more than his stumps being shattered, Anwar would keep the slip cauldron busy.
He might’ve heard some chin-music all right, be it from a Curtly or, a Donald but even genuine hot-headed Pacers carried a dignified regard for the man.
Those 8800 ODI runs and over 4000 Test runs were collected with diligence and excellent focus. In the contemporary era that fashions itself on the exploits of blazing starts and lucky mishits that land a few rows down, whether in the stands at the Wanderers or at, the Premadasa, in Anwar’s days, batting was about finding the early gaps and pushing for soft spots to go through.
But what’s your favourite memory of Saeed Anwar, who just turned one shy of 50, ever so gracefully akin to one of the charming knocks creamed by that familiar Wills blade?
Surely, India might not sense any rejuvenation revisiting the epic scenes of the famous Independence Cup, back in 1997 when Anwar tore apart Srinath and Prasad alike.
A mellow recollection of that tenacious 194 against India even today reaffirms the notion felt strongly during that hot Chennai evening. That, Anwar, it just felt, might have gone on and on. Nothing seemed to disturb his concentration. Not even the frequently visible marriage proposals from below the commentary boxes.
He was the charioteer and the guardian of Pakistan’s famous 1990s batting order, a close-knit unit that spurred victories and earned lavish praise for demonstrating what might be called undeniable exuberance in world cricket.
Just look at those names. Amir Sohail. Saleem Malik. Ijaz Ahmed. Inzamam- Ul Haq. Rashid Latif and the common name that tied all together? Saeed Anwar.
In the 14 years that he played, Anwar championed a parallel theory only a few seem to appreciate about Pakistan Cricket, that their game wasn’t always about loud grunts and rubbing victories on the opponents’ faces.
In the sedately aggressive melody that emanated from Saeed Anwar’s blade came about a passion and genuine love for the game that today one doesn’t quite describe as a gentleman’s pursuit. Of course, the Cook’s and Amla’s of the world are around as are the wristy artists like Kohli and Williamson.
But Cricket isn’t just about flair, or is it? It’s about seeing a batsman anoint a home crowd as pleasantly as he fires up in a crucial tie in a big tournament. Always, with a gentle smile. Never with malice. Isn’t it?
Mild-mannered but ever resilient, Anwar gave us some largely understated epics.
He didn’t even crib for money or the fancy for advertising bucks or brand campaigns when he was an admirably handsome bloke at his pomp.
Be it that 169 at Basin Reserve against New Zealand, that 176 against England at the Oval that gave Pakistan a triumphant win over English conditions or, that famous unbeaten 108 versus the West Indies that erupted Lahore in the heat of 1997, Saeed Anwar was Cricket’s rainy season. We all like rains and dance to its tunes, don’t we?