Qamar Ahmed: the reporter who has covered 19 per cent of all the Test matches every played
Co-authored with Peter Oborne. Published in the Daily Telegraph 14 January 2014
The world’s most exclusive cricket club will gain a new member on Thursday [16th]. Our friend Qamar Ahmed, one of the world’s leading cricket writers, will report his 400th Test match when Pakistan and Sri Lanka take the field in Sharjah. Only two other people are known to have passed this milestone. One is John Woodcock of The Times (who watched his first Test Match as a schoolboy in 1936, when England played India at Lords). The other is Richie Benaud, whose score includes the 63 Tests in which he performed as a player.
Qamar Ahmed had no Test career to help his quadruple century, although he played first-class cricket in Pakistan as an orthodox slow left-arm spinner. He was the only domestic bowler to dismiss all five of Pakistan’s legendary Mohammad brothers, Wazir, Hanif, Mushtaq and Sadiq, who played 173 Test matches between them, and Raess, who was desperately unlucky to miss a Test cap. Now in his seventies, he can still bamboozle opponents in media and social matches.
Bowling slow left-arm on Pakistani pitches puts a premium on accuracy and control. One can see these qualities in his match reports, free of fancies and flourishes. Whether in English or Urdu or Hindi, they tell people reliably what happened and assess thoughtfully why it happened. Apart from print media, he has been a regular incisive broadcast commentator and summarizer, contributing to outlets in every Test-playing country.
Cricketlovers devour statistics and a few might help to put Qamar Ahmed’s 400 into perspective. Test Match cricket began in March 1877. The 400th Test match was not played until February 1955. The first match he reported was England against Pakistan at Lords in 1974, which was the 743rd Test Match. His personal 400 will be Test Match number 2115. He has therefore reported 29% of all the Test Matches played in the last forty years and 19% of all those ever played. These have taken him to 59 of the 107 venues used for Test cricket. He reported the 1000th Test match (Pakistan’s comfortable victory over New Zealand in Hyderabad in 1984) and the 2000th (England’s big win over India at Lord’s in 2011). They would not have dared to start without him.
He has also covered 732 one-day internationals, including the first eight cricket World Cups.
Qamar Ahmed made his debut in a controversial Test. Lord’s 1974 was the one in which rain leaked under the covers, making Derek Underwood unplayable. He reported its dramas on and off the field from the old press box by telex. He has had a good view of many other controversies since then, including the Packer affair, Mike Gatting’s confrontation with Shakoor Rana and other umpiring rows, ball tampering, drug scandals and match fixing. His tally includes the embittered Oval Test in 2006 between England and Pakistan, the first to be forfeited.
However, there have been many more highlights. He has covered six triple centuries in Test cricket, but none as great an innings as Sunil Gavaskar’s 94, in a losing cause on a treacherous wicket in Bangalore in 1987 against a first-rate Pakistan attack. In the same series, Gavaskar became the first batsman to pass 10,000 runs. Qamar Ahmed was also on hand to see Richard Hadlee become the first bowler to reach 400 Test wickets. He watched Anil Kumble follow Jim Laker in taking all 10 wickets in a Test innings. Again, one feels that none of these players would have dared to reach their milestones without him.
He reported the Test debuts of a host of great players, including Javed Miandad’s 163 and Graham Gooch’s pair. (Gooch made up for it later when he watched him score 456 runs in both innings at Lord’s against India in 1990). Shane Warne, Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, Waqar Younis, David Gower and Inzamam ul-Haq also presented their compliments to him at the start of their Test careers.
A “home” Test for Pakistan in Sharjah is a melancholy setting for Qamar Ahmed’s quadruple century – a reminder of Pakistan’s international exile which shows no sign of ending. But we know that it will make no difference to his ebullient presence in the press box or his acute observation of the proceedings. And we would not bet against him reaching his 500.