Before Sachin Tendulkar, there was Saeed Anwar

Pakistan’s left-handed batter Saeed Anwar. —Reuters
Pakistan’s left-handed batter Saeed Anwar. —Reuters

Do you remember Saeed Anwar? If you have forgotten, let me remind you.

Anwar is Pakistan’s only left-handed batter to compile more than 10,000 runs in international cricket. He was regarded as one of the best One Day International (ODI) openers back in the day, but he was far more than just that.

Before Sachin Tendulkar happened, Saeed Anwar was the actual ODI trailblazer.

The southpaw scored his first 1,000 runs as an ODI opener at a then whopping strike rate of 85.03. A strike rate of that kind was quite unthinkable back in 1993.

The next best openers, with 1,000 or more ODI runs, at that position were Kris Srikkanth (71.74), Brian Lara (71.57) and Navjot Singh Sidhu (68.94).

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Anwar made his ODI debut in January 1989, the same year when Sachin Tendulkar first emerged on the international scene. For the most part of the next decade, he would go on to dominate the Indian legend in limited-overs cricket.

Anwar wasn’t asked to open the batting for Pakistan until the Benson & Hedges tri-series in 1990, where he was promoted to number three in the batting order as well. His first innings as an opener, albeit briefly, gave a fair indication of what was expected from him going forward.

He notched up 27 runs in 30 deliveries and ended the series with more boundaries than anyone else. His strike rate in the tournament was 105.39. By then Pakistan knew they had found a new ODI opener.

Saeed Anwar ended the 1990s decade as the highest run-scoring opener. He amassed 6,427 runs in 166 innings, Sachin Tendulkar was behind him with 6,270 runs in 139 innings. The southpaw had 31 fifties and 17 hundred to his name, his tally of 48 fifty-plus scores was only bettered by Tendulkar’s tally of 50, which included 27 fifties and 23 centuries.

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He had also scored the highest individual score in ODI cricket in that decade — 194 against India at Chennai in 1997. In 1999, Saeed Anwar also became the third Pakistan player and the 13th overall to score 6,000 runs in ODI cricket. He achieved the milestone against hosts India during the Pepsi Cup. He took 162 innings to get there — the then third-fastest in terms of innings played.

He got there in a quicker time as compared to Tendulkar, who took 170 innings himself.

In the 1990s, between Saeed Anwar and Sachin Tendulkar, there used to be a persistent battle for scoring the most number of ODI hundreds.

West Indies’ Desmond Haynes had retired by March 1994, with 17 ODI tons — the most by anyone in the format at that time. Gordon Greenidge and Viv Richards, both from West Indies, were joint-second in the list with 11 centuries each.

But Anwar’s career was dented by injuries, but he still smashed six hundreds in only 45 innings. On the other hand, Sachin Tendulkar was still six months away from scoring his maiden century. He then went on to score three in as many months to cap off a fine year.

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From his debut till January 1998, Anwar had amassed 5,336 runs in 143 innings at an average of 41.36. Till that period, Tendulkar was averaging 39.05, but he had scored 6,092 runs in 172 innings.

The Pakistan opener also had 15 centuries as compared to Tendulkar’s 12. His average (41.36) was also better than Tendulkar’s average of 39.05. Then came the turning point.

Sachin Tendulkar made the year 1998 his own and racked up 1,894 runs in 33 innings, at an average of 65.31 and strike rate of 102.15. He had increased his tally of ODI centuries by 9 and added 7 fifties as well — 16 fifty-plus scores in 33 innings.

Saeed Anwar, on the other hand, scored 831 runs in 21 innings at an average of 41.55 — pretty modest in front of what Tendulkar had accumulated. Anwar only had one century in that year and by April, Tendulkar had already equalled his tally of 15 hundred in the format. The Indian would then go on to end the year with 21 tons to his name, four more than Desmond Haynes, who had 17.

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In 1996, Anwar was named Wisden Cricketer of The Year and he amassed 2,296 runs that year across formats — the most by any batsman in the world.

Between January 1989 and March 2003, Pakistan were scheduled to play 394 ODI matches and Saeed Anwar was only part of 247 of those. He was unavailable in 147 limited-overs matches for the country and injuries cut short a career which promised a lot more than it offered.

He also missed, through injury, Pakistan’s most successful ODI campaign — the 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

As far as records go, Anwar’s 20 ODI centuries are still the most by a Pakistan batter in the format.

Khan is a sports journalist. He tweets at @_FaridKhan

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