Taha Hashim revisits Azhar Mahmood’s 132 against South Africa in 1998, an innings which was voted in third place in Wisden’s 1990s in Review series.
No.3: Azhar Mahmood, 132 (163 balls)
South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test
February 26 – March 2, 1998
The CV doesn’t scream greatness. In Azhar Mahmood’s 21 Tests, he averaged 30 as a batsman and 36 as a bowler. In his 143 ODIs, 18 and 39 respectively. The all-rounder’s international career came to a close with Pakistan’s infamous defeat to Ireland at the 2007 World Cup, though he went on to find success as a T20 globetrotter, playing his last game in 2016 at the age of 41.
Yet at the start of his career it seemed as if he’d cracked the long game, and it was South Africa who suffered in the face of an extraordinary run with the bat. In October 1997, on his Test debut in Rawalpindi, the city of his birth, Mahmood hit 128 not out against the Proteas, lifting his side from 206-6 to 456 all out. It wasn’t just his first Test ton but his maiden first-class century too, and an unbeaten half-century in the second innings capped off a remarkable opening chapter.
Five Tests and four months later he was in South Africa, where he struck gold once more. With Pakistan 112-5 in the first Test at the Wanderers, Mahmood entered the fray and ran up 136 from 215 balls, living dangerously as he routinely thumped the fuller delivery. The fearlessness of youth was clear to see, particularly when Lance Klusener was slapped for six over extra cover. Days later Mahmood racked up another first-class ton in a tour match against Free State before the turn came for his finest innings.
Once again, Pakistan’s No.7 was forced to clean up the mess. Saeed Anwar’s dismissal at Kingsmead brought in Mahmood at 89-5, with Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock having shared the wickets to fall. But the 22-year-old – who would turn 23 a couple of days later – was seeing the ball clearer than anyone else, and he went for it.
Mahmood scored more than three-quarters of Pakistan’s runs during his knock, shepherding the tail brilliantly while he peppered the boundary ropes. He hit 24 fours in his 163-ball stay against no ordinary attack: add up the Test wickets of Donald, Pollock, Klusener and de Villiers and you’ve crossed 900.
Classy drives, a whole lot of runs behind point and guts in front of White Lightning formed an innings that was not only glorious but important too. Pakistan finished on 259 and triumphed four days later by just 29 runs in their first Test win over South Africa. A star, averaging 77 with the bat, was born.
Or so they thought. Mahmood played his final Test at the age of 26, his Durban masterclass the last 50-plus score of his Test career.
But greatness comes in many forms; while it might not have spread across the entirety of Mahmood’s international career, he would’ve felt it in every shot of that 132.