By Qamar Ahmed
None, amongst all the wicket-keepers we have had in Pakistan enjoyed a vast fan following as did the ever agile and handsome Wasim Bari.
Ever alert behind the stumps, he was a perfect model of a keeper. Focused, fast moving, quick footed and dextrous, he was a treat to watch whether keeping of fast men or against the best of spinners.
Sharp in gloving the ball, catching it or when stumping a batsman, or diving to pick up an edge, Bari was a sheer artist as a keeper and hence his fan following.
Which, indeed reminds me of Pakistan's 1979 tour to India under Asif Iqbal and the then Bombay Test. Pakistan was touring India after 18 years and no matter where we played the crowd greeted us warmly, same was the situation during the Bombay Test. People had come to Indian cities from every direction, from across the border and from Pakistan as well.
Amongst them were our own movie super stars, Mohammad Ali and Zeba. It was during the Bombay Test when the couple, my close friends asked me to accompany them to actor Raj Kapoor's house for dinner.
Greeted warmly by Raj's entire family, we were not only in company of his sons Randhir and Rishi but were also joined by super stars of Bollywood, Dilip Kumar and Amithab Bachan.
There was Neetu Singh too who was to be married to Rishi Kapoor after a few weeks.
That evening remains etched in my mind for the fact when I discovered that how popular Wasim Bari was within the Kapoor family.
Rishi Kapoor during the conversation disclosed that he was an avid fan of one of Pakistani players and if it was possible for me to call Bari in his hotel so that Rishi could talk to him.
'Are you fan of Imran Khan, Zaheer Abbas or Javed Miandad, I asked him. No, he said,' I am fan of Wasim Bari. Which came to me as a huge surprise. I then asked him what makes him a fan of Wasim Bari?
Qamar Sir, he said, he is a great wicket keeper, he is handsome, his hair looks great and he has looks of a movie actor.' He told me.
Minutes later he took me to his room and requested to ring Pakistan team's hotel so that he could talk to his idol.
When on line, I handed over the phone to Rishi, telling Bari that Rishi, your fan would like to talk to you.
I could see the excitement oozing out of Rishi' face while talking to his hero.
When finished talking to him he turned around not only to thank me but also asked me to attend his marriage to Neetu Singh.
I sadly had to decline the invitation because it clashed with a Test I was covering.
Twenty years later as I was walking along in the Oxford Street London that I noticed Rishi and his wife waiting for a taxi.
I dashed towards him, tapped him on the shoulder. As he turned, he asked me who I was. Remember, I am the one who introduced you to Wasim Bari.
He then embraced me, telling me, Qamar Sir, how nice to see.
This was one very memorable moment
Bari was as popular amongst cricketers of countries against whom he played. Alan Knott of England considered to be best in business always rated Bari better than him.
Since making his Test debut at Lord's in 1967 to his final Test in 1984 at Sydney which also happened to be the last Tests of Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rodney Marsh, Bari was one of the best keeper on the circuit.
Be it Knott, Marsh, Murray, he was second to none.
I saw his debut and covered his almost entire career including his last Test at Sydney, he remained for me a joy to watch an artist of his trade, soft in nature and respectful as ever.
In the 1971 and 1974 series in England he was a feature to follow besides the genius of Zaheer Abbas, he was the focus for his safe and acrobatic display behind the stumps.
On the Headingley Test of 1971, he took eight catches in the match, the best at the time.
In 1979, he caught seven batsmen of first eight dismissed of New Zealand.
One of the greats of history with 228 victims behind the wicket he remains a role model for aspiring keepers.
Pakistan's first wicket-keeper in Tests was Hanif Mohammad followed by Imtiaz Ahmad, Naushad Ali, Saleem Yousuf, Rashid Latif, Moin Khan, Taslim Arif, now Sarfraz Ahmad, Mohammad Rizwan but none as adept in the art of keeping as Wasim Bari.