Bau, four steps, forthright ones each, lengthening, a quick lick of the right palm, then three skips, on the third his right foot landing, readying his body for business at the crease. Just before he lands the third skip, both his feet are in the air and both his arms are pointing upwards, like a gymnast about to take off during a floor routine. Okay, maybe not exactly, but in any case, he's not about to conduct business at the crease as much as a party.
Bau, his run-up bringing him in from where a mid-off standing too close might stand. Some days that angle is more than 45 to the non-striker's stumps. There's a science behind it, even though when he tells you it will make sense to nobody but Bau. As he starts his first skip, both his arms start swinging sideways in sync, right arm out, left foot forward, left arm out, right foot forward - like a slow speed walker. If any run-up was made for the Ministry of Silly Walks, it would be this. Overall the effect is that of a rocking chair on wheels.
Bau once told Rahul Bhattacharya, in an encounter for the ages from the book Pundits from Pakistan, that the action was "all artificial", part of a carefully created persona built to defeat batsmen. It wasn't the bowler or the ball that beat batsmen, it was this persona. They say that about Shane Warne too, about how batsmen were dead just from the theatre of Warne at the top of his mark, but man, did it ring true with Bau.
Bau being Bau, it is entirely plausible that the action was made up, a caricature of what the original action perhaps was. Equally it sounds like Bau could have been making up the fact that it was made up - a post-hoc nod to the obsession with his action when he was playing, an obsession that hasn't gone. We're not sure, and never will be; that was the point.
Fifth paragraph in, you probably don't need telling that Bau was Abdul Qadir, who is no more. Family, friends, colleagues and former team-mates called him Bau. A minute in his company and you would too. It took that long for him to become familiar to you. Bau is one of those Punjabi terms of endearment that doesn't have just one meaning, though the one meaning of it that makes sense for Qadir is that it is how those without style might address a member of their breed who has newly acquired some polish and upward mobility; one who, by dint of the clothes he wears, and the care for his general appearance, has become a suited, booted gentleman.
Style was important to Qadir. In his many hairstyles, which like his bowling - like him - often made sense to nobody but himself. Warne's action was great for its lack of frills, walking up like he's about to introduce himself and then really introducing himself. Anil Kumble was all about the weaponisation of those long arms.
Qadir's action was an invitation into the game. Long before he was the greatest legspinner of his time, there was a style in Qadir's action that was enough. Despite attempts, it has never been bettered. Little Mushtaq got closest to it, and he grew up, like so many of us, aping it. A touch of it was there in Imran Tahir - a protégé - though it was far more contained.
It was an action you wanted to copy, because one, it looked like so much fun, and two, it looked like so much fun. If nothing else made sense about the game, if you had no idea what cricket was as a child watching it for the first time, it was an action for which you would watch the game, ball after ball, over after over, day after day. There was so much going on with it, it barely mattered there was nothing else going on in the game. He was a gateway drug and you didn't need rehab for this.
What came at the end of this little parade?
You could watch wicketless Qadir spells, bad Qadir spells, but Lord knows there was never an uninteresting Qadir spell. Watching legspin can be complicated. It's insidery in that you've been conditioned to know there is always some plan at work, some longer game, but you're damned if you know what it is, but you also know that if it comes off, it'll be magnificent.
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See here, how the seam was tilted towards extra cover, and here how it was towards third man, and see the difference? This one had more revs on it. This came from a slightly higher release. That one had more loop. That one was a little quicker. That one turned big, but the one after was dialled down, and it was supposed to turn but natural variation happened to it. See how that drifted but this dipped, and how on earth, and oh, he's out.
Qadir was a born propagator. He had however many googlies he wished to have, depending on the day you asked him: two, six, ten. And if as a batsman you couldn't read it in the first place, who were you to argue with how many he had? There was no such thing as a topspinner, he said, at least that day he spoke to Bhattacharya. Flipper, yes. So good, he only needed one version of it. Once in Lahore, Gordon Greenidge looked pissed as sin to be given leg-before to one, even though the umpires were neutral. So in the next Test, Qadir removed any doubt by castling him with one. Like Warne, Qadir used to alert umpires to a flipper that was coming - with Warne it was a psych, some of that famous Warne sell. Qadir did it because he knew umpires didn't know how flippers worked, and that they were too biased to give it.
And legbreaks, of course. Sometimes he'd float one wide, like such a big, silly lollipop, and a guy like Viv Richards, eyes alight, would dance down the pitch in Lahore and end up in Faisalabad before he figured out that it had drifted and dropped and caught his edge, and that not only was he caught behind but that Saleem Yousuf had mock-stumped him too. The Greatest, out twice to one ball. Balls like this were why people understood that legspin was West Indies' kryptonite in the '80s.
So singular was he when he landed that we now predominantly celebrate his Test career. Which makes sense because after the Second World War, how many prominent leggies were there really? Richie Benaud was done by '64; Subhash Gupte was gone by '61; Bhagwath Chandrasekhar was more a mystery spinner; and Intikhab Alam was an allrounder.
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But it masks a genuinely trailblazing ODI career. The long-accepted way to look at that is through the prism of Imran Khan's captaincy - that it was Imran's genius in insisting that legspin was a weapon that is the thing. It's true, Imran did fight to get him in the ODI squad for the World Cup. But the actual thing is Qadir's genius. The 1983 World Cup was his ODI debut and in his first game he took a four-fer (and scored an unbeaten 41). In his third he became the second spinner ever to take five in an ODI (five days earlier Vic Marks had become the first).
Five years later he had taken his 100th wicket in his 69th ODI. Wickets everywhere, in England, Australia, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Sharjah. He was averaging 23 then, and get this: at the time, only Dennis Lillee and Joel Garner had got to 100 wickets quicker. Sure, Imran's captaincy, sure ODIs were more like Tests, but hello, Bau's hanging with Lillee and Garner and is unequivocally an early giant of the format.
Once Mushy came on the scene Qadir faded, but Pakistan were playing the two together in ODIs in the late '80s. Two leggies, not allrounders, in one XI sounds risky even now and Pakistan played them together in 14 ODIs. They won 12.
In the '80s there was Imran, Javed and, before Wasim, there was Qadir. These were the three pillars of some golden years, three pillars who were also a weird triangle. Imran is widely acknowledged as the reason Qadir was Qadir. Miandad, meanwhile, famously convinced Imran to play Iqbal Qasim instead of Qadir in Bangalore in '87, and it was also under Miandad that Qadir was sent home for disciplinary reasons from a tour to New Zealand.
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But Imran admits he had little idea how to set fields initially for Qadir. Miandad captained spinners better; in fact, he enjoyed devising elaborate ploys with Qadir where he'd ask him loudly to bowl "number two" or "number three", none of which meant anything, but after a delivery he'd complain that Qadir had bowled "number five" when he wanted some other number. This was their common space, messing with the batsman's mind.
And Qadir's record under Miandad's captaincy in Tests is far superior. But even though he was a friend of Qadir's and rated him, Miandad rated Qasim as highly. Imran rated only Qadir, and that was the point. Qadir needed TLC.
It was also the point that with Qadir the numbers couldn't be everything. For instance, you'd look at his 12 wickets in five Tests at 61 on the 1983-84 Australia tour and figure that he was poor. Except you'd never know watching this loving compilation of his bowling from the tour, not least if you pay attention to Benaud's commentary. Always so controlled, so measured, but unable to help a teensy heightening in pitch and tone when Qadir's bowled a "beautiful Bosie" to get Kim Hughes, or even a little exclamation when another Bosie gets Jeff Dujon. To get Benaud's blood pumping? Let's just leave it there.
Go if you must, Bau, but rest assured we know you've gone in style.