Of course a subject such as this is always going to be rife with subjective opinion, because everyone has a favourite and a stance. Sometimes those opinions can cloud real judgement in terms of the facts, but at the same time statistics don't always tell the whole story. Numbers on a page can give us a lot of information on the end game, but can they tell us about the shot choice, excitement, or pure spectacle that a batsman created on the pitch? Not really.
Admittedly it's a combination of statistics and opinion that leads me to this conclusion – Inzamam-ul-Haq is the greatest batsman Pakistan has seen. I won't pretend there's no debate on this one but I'll stay the course and show why this is a more than a sound position, even if it's not the only option!
Via junaidrao on Flickr
Firstly, the numbers. Inzamam is in an excruciatingly close second in total Test match runs scored to legendary Javed Miandad, with 8830 to the latter’s 8832. Realistically, with three runs in it, that was a single innings' work, or even a single ball's work. You'd have to think, if he wanted, it was a record he could have yanked some strings to get past. In his final innings he needed just six runs to match it, and ended up with three. The moment itself will go down in history, but he stuck to his guns and went out when he said he would. He was a player who could have carried on and made more runs for his country, but he'd made his decision and that was that.
That final choice kept the consistent air of selflessness that 'Inzy' always had about him; he was a team player, and it wasn't his personal achievements that meant so much to him. A more conceited player would have gone out again to reach the top, but he was happy in his career and the runs he had posted to date. It was a noble thing, and that's why he was consistently a fan favourite. His laidback attitude hardly makes you think he'd have batted an eyelid at not reaching the total in front of him, although there would undoubtedly have been real pressure.
Of the top ten Pakistan runscorers, he had the third best average with an exceptional 50.16. Only Younis Khan (53.37), Miandad (52.57) and Mohammad Yousuf (52.29) bested him on that score.
Centuries? He's second with 25, only behind Younis’ 28. He has the highest amount of fifties with 46, and comes in at second on the highest score, hitting a mammoth 329, not too far behind Hanif Mohammad's 337.
In One Day Internationals of course there is only one king, and that is Inzamam. His 11,701 runs in the shorter format have him head and shoulders above Yousuf in second with 9,554. A 39.53 average over 348 innings is a great total for any batsman, although there are a couple that managed to narrowly usurp him on that score. Saeed Anwar and Yousuf's centuries were more plentiful, too, but the reliable big man always led from the front. Again, his consistent fifties (83) are the most captivating, boasting 21 more than his nearest rival in Yousuf.
All of these achievements show why he was such a colossal figure for Pakistan during his time at the crease, and give plenty of ammunition to the argument of why he'll always be heralded as one of the greats. He's not at the top of every table, but he's never too far away either.
The numbers don't unequivocally place him as the top choice, though, so why, I hear you ask, is he?
Well, there's a few reasons I can put together to illustrate my point here.
World Cup 1992
As a young and fresh-faced 22-year-old, Inzamam was a wildcard choice for the team. En-route to picking up the winner's trophy that year, he put in some spellbinding performances that endeared him to cricket fans the world over. That 60 from 37 against New Zealand was a vital innings, and a rapid 42 from 35 in the final contributed to their 249 total. It was very much needed from Inzamam and his team-mate Saleem Malik, who put in great run rates to up the ante after a shaky start. He says this was his proudest moment, and it's easy to see why. Even though not many knew who he was when he first entered the tournament, he left it as a part of cricketing history. With Pakistan at a particularly low ebb at the moment, as betfair have them just seventh favourites at 10/1 for the upcoming World Cup, memories of more successful days will always linger with the fans.
A big man, with big heart
Inzamam was a stoic figure and held together many Pakistan batting orders when things were crumbling around him. Unlikely to be fazed by anything, he had an innate ability to keep his cool, steady the ship and collect the runs when the going wasn't great. You'd never rush the man - in fact he couldn't be rushed as a famously bad runner between the wickets - but often that was his best quality. Standing solid as a rock, anchoring the Pakistan batting line-up and showing you there was always somebody you could rely on.
His size was part character, part attribute, and part frustration for fans, whether bettors or supporters. He was never an out-and-out athlete and at times he seemed like he needed an extra push to motivate him. But as with most great talents there's always something imperfect and human about what they bring to the table. There's no doubt if Inzamam had more enthusiasm between the wickets at some points in his career he'd be the top runscorer by far, but such was his demeanour that it isn't the case. Many have commented on how he could have been one of the world's greatest, including his captain, Imran Khan, who noted, "He did not realise his true potential and he could have done better than he did."
He was a big man, but he was also deft. The technicality of his shots was something to admire, it wasn't forced or muscled, but often subtle. That was all due to his timing. He had a true eye for the game and this let him see the ball early and therefore position himself and give himself time to play his strokes. This was why, in particular, he was such a great player against fast bowlers. A nerve you couldn't break and a cricketing brain that gave him time to play - it was a lethal combination. Playing off his legs and with one of the greatest pulls the game has ever seen, his seemingly effortless run-building is one of the real reasons he ranks at the top.
Inzamam-ul-Haq will now be a part of creating some of Pakistan's future batsmen who could learn a lot from this all-time great. He can talk about the shots and play the ball without ever having to pick up his stride. Though the prospects aren't looking the best, hopefully the work with start to pay off in the coming years if a batsman with Inzy's skill combines that with a real work ethic. Scary.