HASEEB AHSAN, who died on March 8, aged 73, was a big-turning off-spinner with a jerky action who played 12 Tests for Pakistan. After being called for throwing in the First Test against India at Bombay in 1960-61, he took six for 202 from 84 overs in the Fourth, as India amassed 539 at Madras. Haseeb’s international career ended after an early departure from Pakistan’s 1962 tour of England. This was officially put down to a foot injury, but there were suggestions of a falling-out with the captain, Javed Burki – and unfavourable reports about his action.
Haseeb retired from first-class cricket shortly after, and devoted himself to a business career, in which he rose to become Pakistan International Airlines’ general manager in Britain, and cricket administration. After proving an astute selector – Wasim Akram was plucked from obscurity during his tenure – he returned to England as manager of the 1987 team captained by Imran Khan. Haseeb immediately raised eyebrows by publicly demanding that David Constant and Ken Palmer be removed from the umpiring panel for the Tests, after perceived mistakes in previous matches against Pakistan. The English authorities refused, and a prickly relationship developed between them, the manager and the British press. According to Javed Miandad “it was a role he relished”.
The result – Pakistan’s first series victory in England – arguably vindicated Haseeb’s confrontational approach. But many observers were less kind the following winter after an ill-tempered return series marred by disputes about umpiring, most memorably the dust-up between Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana at Faisalabad. Haseeb was widely thought to be pulling the strings, appointing compliant officials in retaliation for the earlier refusal to sideline Constant and Palmer. Scyld Berry, the long-serving cricket correspondent who later edited Wisden, dubbed him the “Grand Vizier”, and wrote: “With Byzantine skill he has worked through the complexities of his society to attain day-to-day power over the country’s cricket.”
Haseeb is recalled rather more fondly at home. “He casts an unexpectedly long and influential shadow over Pakistan cricket,” wrote Saad Shafqat. “He will be fondly remembered as a doer, a positive thinker, a patriot, and a man of intelligence and nous who served Pakistan cricket with sincerity and impact.”