Picking a bunch of players and labelling them as "all-time greats" or the "best" can be dodgy.
After all, how do you define greatness? Or how do you rate someone as the best? Is it based on stats? On strokeplay? On digging their team out of trouble? On a century in testing conditions, against testing opposition at crucial points? It can be a combination of all, because great players usually show a lot of grit and resolve, there is ample silk flowing off their bats and they can usually be counted upon in times of need.
Pakistan’s Test journey started on October 16, 1952 under Abdul Hafeez Kardar. Three days later, India had bowled them out for under 153 for the second time in the match, sealing an innings-and-70-runs win. Nine days later, roles had reversed and Pakistan now had a maiden Test victory, an innings rout of India courtesy Fazal Mahmood’s 12-wicket haul.
From 1952 to 2013, Pakistan has produced 213 Test players. Here we form an all-time XI based on the combination mentioned earlier. However, with limited capacity, a few greats were forced to miss out from the XI...
Hanif Mohammad just has to be the first name on the list.
The first half-century by a Pakistani, the longest innings in Test history (a 970-minute 337 against the West Indies), a 499 (then-highest first-class score), of resolute and staunch defence with the added skills of captaining and wicket-keeping, Mohammad earned the "Little Master" nickname by virtue of his performance.
According to Scyld Berry, Mohammad might have been the inventor of the reverse sweep as well. He was also named as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1968 and inducted into the ICC’s Hall of Fame in January 2009. Mohammed successfully underwent an operation for liver cancer in July. His brothers—Mushtaq, Sadiq and Wazir—all played Tests for Pakistan as well as his son Shoaib (whose son plays first-class cricket for PIA in Pakistan).
Starting his career as a pacer, injuries and improvement with the bat helped Majid Khan become one of the most fearless openers in Pakistan.
Khan also scored over 27,000 runs at an average of over 43 showing not only his hunger for runs but also his passion for the game.
He scored a century before lunch in Karachi and also became Pakistan’s first ODI centurion and his safe catching in the slips helped him get the nod ahead of many other dashing and confident openers Pakistan has produced.
If the current generation feels blessed to have seen Sachin Tendulkar play cricket, it has lost out on two of the finest that Test cricket ever produced—Don Bradman and Zaheer Abbas.
Abbas was called the Asian Bradman and is said to be the finest player of his generation. He became the first batsman to score three consecutive ODI centuries but it was his 274 in only his second Test that made the world get up and take notice. He also managed centuries in three consecutive Tests, including a 215 in India.
Abbas is still keeping his link with the sport, and he is often seen in various committees and putting his name forward for any role that appears in the PCB. He has served as team manager in the past, including the Oval Test where Pakistan forfeited the match after being accused of ball-tampering.
Javed Miandad, the "street fighter," is probably the greatest batsman Pakistan has ever produced.
He wasn't a treat for the eyes like Zaheer Abbas or Saeed Anwar, and he wasn’t the biggest of hitters, but after a century on Test debut aged just 19, Miandad is still Pakistan’s highest Test scorer and built his innings, and career, on finding the gaps and accumulating his runs.
This was in addition to absorbing the pressure and displaying his genius on the field. He played a huge hand in Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup triumph but had already become the team’s youngest captain before that (aged just 22).
Imran Khan entrusted Miandad with key decisions on the field, calling him an able deputy. Although he dragged on his international retirement until the 1996 World Cup at home, he played the last of his Tests in 1993 against Zimbabwe, a useful 31 in Pakistan’s below-par 147 and managed to end with an average of over 52.
Former Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq would’ve normally walked in at No. 4 had it not been for Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad staking their claims.
But Inzamam, as great a batsman as he was, has been slotted in at five simply because he was too good to miss out. He combined brutal strength with subtle touches, keeping his cool (except when running out people in times of sheer madness) to take his side past the finish line.
Inzamam was also a great slip fielder (he grew better at it with time as his physique wouldn’t have made him a great outfielder). But Inzamam, who finished his career just three runs behind Javed Miandad in the Test scorers’ list for Pakistan, looked a transformed man from the field to when he took guard. A great puller, cutter and driver, Inzamam’s love for jumping down the track often resulted in huge sixes.
Inzamam was recently hired as a short-term batting consultant late last year, but his business commitments now mean that he doesn’t get time to watch cricket.
Imran Khan is a politician, a celebrity and arguably the greatest cricketer produced in Pakistan.
Khan played international cricket for almost 21 years, from making his Test debut in 1971 to leading Pakistan to the 1992 World Cup title in Melbourne. ESPNCricinfo calls Khan “indisputably the greatest cricketer to emerge from Pakistan, and arguably the world's second-best allrounder after Garry Sobers.” When Khan faltered with the bat, he made it up with the ball. And if that wasn’t enough, his decisions on and off the field did seem arrogant to the naked eye but benefited (mostly) Pakistan at stumps.
Khan is also credited to have spotted Wasim Akram and to have fast-tracked him into the playing-XI. His no-nonsense leadership style annoyed many by benefited many more. And that is why, despite almost 4,000 Test runs and 362 wickets, it is his captaincy that he is most remembered by. Which is why he’s been named captain of this all-time great Pakistan team.
He is perhaps the most loved cricketer in Pakistan, and while opinion is divided of his political career, the first name on everyone’s lips to revive Pakistan cricket will be his.
Bari was not Rashid Latif when it came to acrobats and perhaps not as reliable as Moin Khan with the bat (19 ducks in 81 Tests). But Bari was safe behind the stumps, the reason why Imran Khan persisted with him. And he was competent, playing Pakistan out of trouble with the bat when needed.
The greatest left-arm fast-bowler in cricket’s history, Wasim Akram scripted the ball’s path from his hand to the batsmen with utmost ease.
He had a short run-up but ample swing, seam and magic to worry every batsman he bowled to, Akram was Pakistan’s star performer in the 1992 World Cup final. He made his Test debut aged 19 and picked up a 10-wicket haul in just his second Test. He didn’t look back after that, becoming the only Pakistani to take 400 Test wickets and the first bowler to reach the 500-wicket mark in ODIs.
Akram was also an able batsman late in the day, his 257 against Zimbabwe and almost 3,000 Test runs testament to that. But more than the stats, Akram had the magic spell about him that made him a treat to watch. His hat-tricks in Sharjah, the two-in-two against England in the World Cup final and plenty of lusty blows over the ropes meant that Akram had the potential to become one of the great all-rounders.
He never fulfilled his potential with the bat, but his sorcery with the ball tormented batsmen from all nations.
Saeed Ajmal is yet to make it into the top-10 Pakistan wicket-takers in Test cricket, but his presence in this lineup is a must.
His main rival for the off-spinner’s slot was Saqlain Mushtaq, but despite the latter’s ability with the bat, it is Ajmal who gets the nod for his persistence, control and the jokes he offers on the training field. Ajmal has played just 28 Tests and aged 36, he is unlikely to play a lot more. But he has done enough to make up for his late entry onto the international arena, bamboozling batsmen with his off-spinners, top-spinners and the "doosras."
He was the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket in 2011 (although the ICC opted to snub him for the awards ceremony). Ajmal has the tendency of trying too much in the space of six deliveries but Pakistan’s over-reliance on him means that much rests on his shoulders.
With Wasim Akram and Imran Khan already in the squad, the one remaining fast-bowler’s slot had fierce competition.
But Waqar Younis managed to beat off Fazal Mahmood, Sarfaraz Nawaz, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif for this slot. Younis formed a lethal partnership with Wasim Akram and the late swinging, toe crushing brutal yorkers tormented batsmen for years. Younis, like Akram, made his debut young. He was fast and went for runs. But he managed to apply that banana swing to not just the old ball but also the new one, which meant toe guards became far more important than helmets.
Younis went on to captain and coach Pakistan but, lusty blows aside, his menacing approach and furious release gave young Pakistani cricketers, and Usain Bolt—as revealed in a BBC interview—a new idol.
Abdul Qadir is credited with the rebirth of leg-spin in the age when fast-bowling was what every young cricketer wanted to take up.
Qadir was talented and aggressive, a combination that made him one of the most successful spinners in the sport. He was overtaken by Danish Kaneria as Pakistan’s highest wicket-taking leg-spinners but his contribution to cricket globally made him a valuable addition to this list.
His Test debut yielded a solitary wicket but a five-wicket haul in the following Test ensured he remained a permanent fixture in the playing-XI until the emergence of Mushtaq Ahmed.
Qadir also captained Pakistan in five Tests and ended up losing four of them, and his stint as chief selector didn’t go down too well either.
Honourable mentions are handed out to Fazal Mahmood, Sarfraz Nawaz, Mohammad Yousuf, Saleem Malik, Moin Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq.