Qadir played first-class cricket for Lahore, Punjab and Habib Bank Limited cricket teams during 1975–95. During his first-class career, he achieved five or more wickets in an innings on seventy-five occasions, and ten or more wickets in a match twenty-one times. He also scored two centuries and eight half centuries in first-class cricket.
Qadir made his debut for Habib Bank against United Bank Limited at the National Stadium during the 1975–76 season. He took seven wickets in the match conceding 93 runs, including six wickets for 67 runs in the first innings. Playing for Lahore C, he took six for 17 against Bahawalpur, his best bowling figures of the season.
Qadir played 209 first-class matches and took 960 wickets with an average of 23.24. His best bowling figures for an innings were nine wickets for 56 runs, whereas his best performance for a match was 13 wickets for 101 runs. As a batsman, he scored 3,740 runs averaged 18.33 from 247 innings. He also scored two centuries and eight fifties. Qadir's highest score in the format was 112 runs. In November 1989, in a warm up match played before the first Test at the National Stadium, 16-year-old Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar hit four consecutive sixes over Qadir. Later on the same day, Qadir predicted that Tendulkar would become one of the greatest batsmen. Qadir played his last first-class match in 1994.
Natural talent combined with aggression and passion made Qadir one of the most successful spinners of his era. He had a distinct run-up, bounding in to the crease, and a great variety of deliveries: there was the orthodox leg-break, the topspinner, two googlies and the flipper. He was unique for bowling leg spin at a time when it was not only rare but considered obsolete, and he kept the torch alight for a generation of leg spinners. His fervent appeals made him a great favourite with the spectators but sometimes got him into trouble with umpires. Qadir played 67 Test matches during 1977–90 and took 236 wickets, with an average of 32.80, including 15 five-wicket hauls. His best bowling performance was against England at the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore in 1987. He also scored 1,029 runs including three fifties.
Qadir made his Test debut at his home ground, Gaddafi Stadium, against England in December 1977; he took one wicket in the solitary innings and made 11 runs in the only innings he played. In the second innings of the second Test played at the Niaz Stadium, Hyderabad, he took his first five-wicket haul—six wickets for 44 runs in 24 overs. Qadir remained highest wicket taker of the series, taking 12 wickets in three matches conceding 305 runs. Qadir's second Test series, in England in 1978, was an injury-plagued let-down, but he was a strong and established force by his return in 1982, when his six wickets in the Lord's Test played a major role in a historic Pakistani victory. He took ten wickets in the series with an average of 40.60.
Qadir's first significant performance came in the 1982–83 series against Australia, taking seven wickets for 156 runs and 11 wickets for 218 runs in the first two Test maches—man of the match in both the matches. He accumulated 22 wickets—Pakistani record against Australia—conceding 562 runs and with the average of 25.54 in the three-Test series. Due to his performance with the ball, he won the man of the series award for first time in his Test career. Pakistan clean-swept the series, winning the first and the third Test by nine wickets each, and the second Test by an innings and three runs. Qadir took 19 wickets for 451 runs with the help of three five-wicket hauls in following home series against England. Pakistan recorded their first series win against England. In the 1985–86 home series against Sri Lanka, he took six wickets in the third match at Karachi.
At the Kennington Oval in 1987, Qadir's ten-wicket haul ensured another series win, this time in England. Three months later, Qadir brought his art to an all new level – in the next home series against the same team – taking 30 wickets for 437 runs in three Tests including the best bowling figures in an innings by a Pakistani, nine wickets for 56 runs at the Gaddafi Stadium. This is also the seventh best performance for an innings in Test cricket, and the best by any bowler against England. He achieved his career best performance in an innings, 61 runs, at the National Stadium, Karachi. Qadir's tremendous performance earned him another man of the series award, and Pakistan won another series against England. During this crusade, he moved past the 200-wicket mark, becoming the first man from his country ever to do so. Qadir was ineffective against India in the 1989–90 home series, taking only six wickets from four Tests with an average above 57. He played his last Test against the West Indies in December 1990 at the Gaddafi Stadium.
Qadir made his ODI debut against New Zealand at Edgbaston during 1983 Cricket World Cup; he took four wickets for 21 runs in 12 overs, earning him the man of the match award. He took 12 wickets for 264 runs in the tournament with an average of 22.00, including a five-wicket haul against Sri Lanka at Headingley, Leeds. In the 1983–84 World Series Cup, Qadir played eight matches and took 15 wickets at the average of 18.13, including five wickets for 53 against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a match Pakistan lost by 43 runs. In the 1985–86 home season, he took six wickets against Sri Lanka, and five wickets against the West Indies including four wickets for 17 runs at the Gaddafi Stadium. Qadir's eight wickets in six matches were the second highest figures against India in 1986–87.
Qadir captained the Pakistan cricket team during England's tour to Pakistan, losing all the three matches; he topped the list of highest wicket takers during the 1987–88 series between the teeams, with eight wickets at the average of 13.17. He took six wickets during the 1988–89 Wills Asia Cup at the average of 17.00, including three wickets for 27 runs, against India in the fifth match at the Bangabandhu National Stadium, Dhaka. During the Nehru Cup in 1989–90, he was second in the list of leading wicket takers, with 12 wicket from seven matches at the average of 21.75. His best figure in a match during the tournament were three wickets for 27 runs, against Australia at the Brabourne Stadium, Bombay. Qadir played his last ODI against Sri Lanka at the Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium in 1993. In total, Qadir played 104 ODIs during 1977–93, taking 132 wickets and averaged 26.16. He also took two five-wicket hauls, including his best ODI performance of five wickets for 44 runs against Sri Lanka during the 1983 World Cup. He scored 641 runs in ODIs, and his highest score in this format of the game was 41 not out.
Qadir was not successful as a captain. He captained the Pakistan cricket team in five Test matches during 1987–88 and 1988–89, losing four of them. He captained Pakistan for the first time against England, in absence of regular captain, Javed Miandad. The three matches he captained in, against the same team, were lost by Pakistan. In ODI matches, Qadir captained Pakistan against Bangladesh and India in the fourth and fifth match of the 1988 Asia Cup respectively; Pakistan defeated Bangladesh by 173 runs, and lost to India by four wickets.
Abdul Qadir replaced Saleem Jaffar, former Pakistan fast bowler, as chief selector in November 2008 for the series against India. A series of three Tests, five ODIs and three T20Is was scheduled to be hosted by Pakistan; the series could not take place due to the deterioration of both countries' diplomatic relationship after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. His next assignment was team selection for the home series against Sri Lanka; the tour was arranged as a replacement for the scheduled tour of India which was cancelled by BCCI. The series was abandoned following an attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore during the second Test between the teams. Qadir resigned from the post in June 2009 without explaining any concern.
Talking with Hasan Jalil at Pakistan Television (PTV) show in 2004, Qadir said: "We all know the ball has always been made up [tampered with] by Pakistani fast bowlers, but with so much scrutiny on this series, this has not been possible." PTV cancelled his contract stating that "We are a national network and we have certain codes of conduct on what can and cannot be said on air. By talking about ball-tampering and claiming that every successful Pakistani bowler had 'made' the ball, he was damaging national pride, and that is against our policy. So we dropped him."
Qadir was born on 15 September 1955 in Rayachoti, Andhra Pradesh, India. His brother, Ali Bahadur, was also a leg-spinner who appeared in 10 first-class matches during 1986–87. Qadir's three sons—Rehman Qadir, Imran Qadir and Sulaman Qadir—also represented different Pakistani teams in the first-class competition, while his younger son, Usman Qadir, has played in 12 List A matches.