How history’s first reverse sweep passed the Titmus test

The Attock Cricket Club on Wake Green Road, Moseley, is just another recreational centre jostling for space in just another suburb situated on just another artery in central Birmingham. Its weekend teams arrive with thin kitbags and fat tiffin boxes. They play hard but fair, stopping only for a bite of chicken or when the muezzin from the nearby Belgrave mosque calls for prayers.

This weekend, however, well after the final evening prayer has concluded, the kitbags remain unopened and the curry boxes firmly shut. "How can we play?" asks Azeem Hossain, a Bangladeshi restaurant owner and captain of Attock B. "Our most famous member is not here to watch us yet. He is currently at the other match in Birmingham."

The other match is the England-Australia one in Edgbaston, situated at the end of the road. And the famous member is former Pakistan captain and county cricket legend, Mushtaq Mohammad — a man who prides himself on being just another neighbour in Wake Green. Profusely apologising, Mushtaq arrives and within minutes, a five-overs-a-side match begins.

"This is home, I have lived here for the past 34 years," says one of the five Mohammad brothers to have played for Pakistan in the '60s and the '70s. "I live a stone's throw from the cricket and these are now my people. I am respected here."

Respected he was from an early age. In 1961, two years after making his debut as a 15-year old, Mushtaq became the youngest batsman to score a Test century. At 17 years and 78 days, his 101 against India at Feroz Shah Kotla broke a 29-year-old record set by New Zealand's Giff Vivian. The mark lasted exactly 50 years, till Bangladesh's Mohammad Ashraful shaved it by 17 days.

"I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Kotla, February 1961. I recall that we were in a lot of trouble," says Mushtaq, who walked in at number six with Pakistan 89/4. "But it was my day. The tailenders in Fazal Mahmood and Sheikh Mahmood Hussain batted well with me and helped me get there. I was chuffed about it, of course."

In 1962 he scored his second, in Nottingham, and also received the Wisden Cricketer of Year award. But between 1963 and 1971, Mushtaq did not score a Test century. And when it did come, it was here in his beloved Birmingham. "Oh yes. What a match that was! I still don't think of myself when I think of that game. It belonged to Zaheer Abbas, who scored 274 of the most glorious runs," says the man who scored exactly 100 not out.

But what went wrong in between? "Five of those years were lost for various reasons. Pakistan didn't play any Test cricket in 1963 and 1964. We had World and Commonwealth XIs playing in our country, but those weren't official Tests," he says. He was 21 and in the prime of career, and these years weren't going to come back.

"So I thought, why not county cricket. In 1965, I qualified for Northampton. But during those days, they had a very stupid rule of residential qualifications. I went through it and during this time, I missed both Australia and New Zealand in Pakistan." Pakistan's loss, however, was Northants' gain. It was here that he scored 32 first class hundreds, taking his overall tally to 72 — 17 more than his brother Hanif.

"Oh no, that is nothing extraordinary. I played a lot of county cricket, so that amps up your first class figures. There is no comparison to the best of all Mohammads in our family, Hanif," he says. "He belongs to the ilk of the Bradmans and Gavaskars and Tendulkars."

While Hanif may have been the better batsman, Mushtaq was the only one from his family to invent a shot. "The reverse sweep," he says with pride.

Mushtaq narrates the story of how it came about. "There was no Sunday cricket during the county season in those days. Sunday used to be the off day and I used to feature in club games for pickup sides owned by tobacco and alcohol companies, to make an extra buck on the side. Rothmans Cavaliers was one such team. They used to give me 10 pounds a day to play for them. a lot of money back then," Mushtaq says.

"In one such match, I was up against a Middlesex club with the great Fred Titmus in it. We were chasing a rather large target and Freddie, a giant of an off spinner, was bowling. I couldn't get a run. I looked around and realised that the only gap was at third man. My shot was pre-meditated, but it connected and went for four," he says. "But Titmus appealed!"

Appealed? "Yes, poor old Freddie. He went wild and pulled his hair out. This was 1964, you see. The umpire told Freddie, 'You got a ball in your hand, he has a bat. He can do whatever he wants with it'. And there, the reverse hit was invented."

It wasn't just the reverse hits that he thrived on as a batsman, he loved his inside out shots to the spinners too. So when it was his time to write what he claims was cricket's first tell-all autobiography, he named it Inside Out. "I had a lot of fun writing it. My aim was to put everything out there. Some people liked it, others didn't," he says.

Allan Border perhaps was one of those dislikers. In 1993, not long after taking his children to get Border's autograph, news emerged from Edgbaston that Mushtaq had allegedly offered the then Australia captain $1 million to throw the fifth Ashes Test. "There were already rumours of match-fixing in the early 90s, and Border decided to make some news by jumping on to that bandwagon," says Mushtaq. "It was all bulls**t and I said that in the book. Anyway, I needed to have that kind of money first to think of offering it away. And we commentators didn't earn much then."

Mushtaq the commentator, however, called the single most famous shot in Pakistan cricket. "Javed Miandad told me after watching the footage of the last-ball six that I was possibly more excited than he was when it happened. But that is always how it works. Even today, when I watch these men play at Attock, I am far more thrilled about their achievements than they are," he says. Then with a wink, he adds: "Maybe that's why they always wait for me."

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