By Fazal Abbas
The eternal drama of Pakistan cricket never ceases to fascinate the fans of Cricket game. Why would it? There are only few teams in world cricket, rather world sports, as unpredictable and mercurial as Pakistan. They will be a laughing stock one day with their amateur performance and next day exhibit flamboyant performance with ability to beat best in the world. If not for Pakistani cricket team, cricket would have been the most boring sport of the world.
Pakistan as a country has been through a number of highs and lows since traumatic partition in 1947 and its cricket has followed the similar pattern in direct proportion, showing how this sport is embedded in social, political and cultural facets of the country. Initially dispersed, unrecognised, underfunded and weak, Pakistan’s cricket team grew to become a major force in world cricket. In this series of blogs we shall dig into social, political, cultural and sporting history of cricket in Pakistan.
The trauma of partition
August 14, 1947 – newly created boundaries of Pakistan and India emerged on the map of the world as a result of partition of the Indian sub-continent. An ambitious young fast bowler, Fazal Mahmood, was not going to let political and social chaos, prevalent at that time, to get in the way of his dreams. He left Lahore and made over a 1000 kilometres journey through Punjab and Sindh to reach Bombay, when millions of Muslim migrants were making the journey in an opposite way i.e. from India to Pakistan. From Bombay, Fazal went to Poona to report at All-India training-camp organised for selecting a squad for the upcoming tour of Australia. The camp was abandoned after few days due to non-stop monsoon rains and chaotic political situation. Fazal had to make a risk journey back to Lahore and very nearly met a bloody end on the train back from Poona to Bombay. Hindu fanatics would have lynched him but for the intervention of his travelling companion, the Indian cricket legend CK Nayudu, who defended Fazal against attackers with his cricket bat.
The story of Fazal portrays what inhabitants of two nations went through. Fazal was back in Lahore on September 13, 1947. After immense family pressures and with extreme reluctance, Fazal cabled Lala Amarnath, Indian team’s captain and cricket legend, saying that he would not be able to join the tour. This decision turned out to be one of the most important decisions of his life and one of the greatest blessings for Pakistan cricket. Few years later, Fazal would become the instigator, torchbearer and legend of fast bowling in Pakistan cricket.
The beginnings – Setting up cricket administration body
The official national sport of Pakistan is Hockey but practically it’s the game of cricket. However, this was not the case at the time of partition. Pakistan inherited very little by way of industry and infrastructure when it separated from the rest India. The biggest challenge for the government was to construct the new country’s economic, industrial, social and sports infrastructure.
Development of any sport is directly related to environment in which it evolves – Pakistan cricket has not been different in this respect. The game of cricket was virtually unknown throughout much of rural areas of Pakistan. Even in the urban centres of Lahore and Karachi, cricket was played mainly by upper–middle classes. The game structure was weak with just two turf wickets in the whole country, at Lahore and Karachi. Most of the players who were to represent Pakistan early years came from Lahore – products of Government and Islamia colleges and clubs such as Crescent and Mamdot. Some of them had played in the Ranji trophy, the premier domestic tournament of pre–partition India. The future of Pakistan cricket was looming in dark as it could have become a mere satellite of India. However, Pakistan hung on as a result of sheer hard work and determination.
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For quite some time Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) held Pakistan to ransom. Either it could have first class and Test cricket as part of India – or not have first-class cricket at all. Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) indicated to BCCI that it would prefer India to remain, for cricketing purposes, a single country. For Pakistan, to go it alone meant a giant leap in the dark but it was determined to do so.
The idea of a cricket board was first floated in the summer of 1947 and after preliminary work over course of a year; Board of Control of Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP) was formally founded on May 1, 1948 at a meeting in the pavilion of Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Ground.
The first president of the BCCP was Khan Iftikhar Hussain Nawab of Mamdot. It had three vice-presidents: Justice AR Cornelius, Lt Col. Baker and Mr Britto. KR collector was made the secretary of the Board. Hussain provided the much needed social and political strength. Cornelius, a brilliant man who would later become Chief Justice of Pakistan, provided the intellect to organise the daily affairs. He followed cricket on craze basis. Collector’s home at 72 Garden Road, Karachi was the first official address of BCCP. Diversity of the background of these cricket administrators can be judged by the fact that Cornelius and Britto were Christians; Collector was a Parsi and Col. Baker was an Anglican – reflecting the Jinnah’s vision for a liberal Pakistan.
Justice AR Cornelius
A key decision that was made at first meeting was to ask Governor-general Jinnah to become patron of BCCP. It might have been a necessity at that time but it certainly paid a heavy price in future. Since inception, the post has been used to accommodate political cronies by the governments in power.
Preliminary structure of first-class cricket
The situations was so grim in early years that throughout the 1947–48 season only one first-class game was played, a traditional fixture between Punjab University and Governor of West Punjab’s XI, at magnificent Lawrence Gardens (now called Bagh-e-Jinnah).The match was hosted by Sir Fancis Mudie, governor of West Punjab, who was one of a handful officials and military officers who had been personally requested by Jinnah to stay behind after independence. All most all of the great cricketers of the time, including Fazal Mahmood, Jahangir Khan, Nazar Muhammad and Mian Mohammad Saeed, played in the match which ended in draw.
Lahore GymKhana Cricket Ground, Bagh-e-Jinnah Lahore
Nazar Muhammad (Source: ESPNCricinfo)
There were just 5 domestic first-class fixtures in the 5 years after independence whereas India hosted 88 Ranji Trophy fixtures during this period. Cricket in Pakistan was limited to one-day club games and certain school and inter-university fixtures. Although it played an essential role in maintaining a cricket culture, it was not enough. BCCP needed to take immediate steps to set up first-class structure. In the absence of serious domestic cricket, the only way to do this was to attract international teams to Pakistan.
Beginning of international games for Pakistan
The efforts of BCCP finally paid off. West Indies (WI) was the first international team, which toured Pakistan and for Pakistani cricketers it was a portentous occasion. WI had taken a break from their 5 test tour of India to play at Pakistan and considered it just a relaxing break. Infact, Lala Amarnath told WI captian John Goddard, ‘It is just a schoolboys’ team’. This remark got back to the Pakistan players, who were enraged.
West Indian captain John Goddard and Pakistani captain Mian Muhammad Saeed
The tour started with a drawn game against Sindh Province in Karachi. Next stop was Rawalpindi where WI payed against General Sir Douglas Gracey’s eleven, then the commander-in-chief. Pakistan’s cricketers were disgracefully dismissed for 96 in their first innings, and lost the match by 9 wickets.
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Now came the major event of the tour, Pakistan vs WI at Bagh-e-Jinnah, Lahore. Pakistan was captained by Mian Muhammad Saeed. Mian Saeed, the first captain of Pakistan, had a career that extended from 1930 to 1954. He played for various Indian teams, including Southern Punjab in the Ranji Trophy, in the 1930s and 1940s, and for Punjab cricket teams in Pakistan in the 1940s and 1950s.
The opening pair, Imtiaz Ahmed and Nazar Muhammad put on 148 for the first wicket, but thereafter the team bundled out to a disappointing 241. The opening bowler, Munawwar Ali Khan, regarded as fastest bowler in Pakistan, got his team off to a scintillating start by dismissing George Carew, opening batsman, and skipper John Goddard on first two deliveries of the first over. He broke the stump in to two when he dismissed Goddard who was very annoyed at being misled by Indians. WI, however, then recovered to a total of 308 in first innings.
Imtiaz Ahmad (Source: ESPNCricinfo)
Munawwar Ali Khan
In second innings, Imtiaz and Saeed gave a thrashing to WI bowlers by scoring centuries and putting on a stand of 205 for the second wicket. Eventually the game ended out as a draw. However, by giving tough competition to WI, Pakistan cricketers had made a perfect start in their pursuit of Imperial Cricket Conference’s (ICC) recognition as a Test-playing country.
In the following April, Pakistan team toured Ceylon (name changed to Sri Lanka in 1972) for a two match series. Pakistan beat them by an innings in the first ‘unofficial Test’ and by ten wickets in second.
Pakistan was gradually acquiring a settled look with Nazar Mohammad and Imtiaz Ahmad forming a strong opening pair, Mian Saeed and Alimuddin providing solidity to middle order and Khan Mohammad along with Fazal Mahmood forming a deadly bowling partnership.
In November 1949 Commonwealth XI visited Pakistan which majorly composed of players whose careers were nearing an end. It was a humiliating result for Pakistan as its batting failed twice in the match played at Bagh-e-Jinnah. At the end of the game furious crowd threw stones and verbal abuse at Pakistani players. People called for game to be abandoned. Cricket in Pakistan was breathing its last.
Emergence of AH Kardar
Mian Saeed had set the ground work for Pakistan cricket. He deserved to be forgiven for the fiasco at the Bagh-e-Jinnah against the CommonWealth XI and probably would have been but for the fact the Abdul Hafeez Kardar had returned to Pakistan after an absence of almost 5 years.
Brought under controversial circumstances, Cornelius and Kardar then formed a formidable partnership to achieve an uphill task facing Pakistan – to achieve the status of Test-playing country. Kardar, emerging from Oxford, was marked out as a future leader of Pakistan. It has been widely believed by most of Kardar’s fellow cricketers that he was set upon dislodging Mian Saeed, and undermined his standing by refusing to play under his captaincy.
Kardar had played test cricket having toured England with the Indian team in 1946 and having played both for Oxford and Warwickshire. Kardar took great pride in dressing like an English gentleman, but as he became more confident, “he acquired a post-colonial sensibility.” The English way of running the game no longer appealed. This conversion had consequences for Pakistani cricket, which began to focus inwardly. It learnt to run before it could walk – playing Test cricket before there was a domestic structure in place.
The Oxford University side against MCC in 1948.
(Back row) Nigel Bloy, William Davidson, Jika Travers, Christopher Winn, Basil Robinson. (Middle row) Abdul Kardar, Philip Whitcombe, Tony Pawson, Anthony Mallett, William Keighley. (Sitting) Clive van Ryneveld, Hubert Webb. © MCC]
The immediate challenge which faced Kardar after taking over was the task of leading country against MCC, the name under which England team used to tour overseas, which was to tour Pakistan in November 1951.
Key Players of 40s: Nazar Muhammad, Khan Muhammad and Mian Muhammad Saeed
Next in ‘The Unpredictables’: Part II – 1950s: Pakistan announces itself to Cricket World
- Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack
- ‘Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan’ by Peter Oborne
- ‘The Pakistani Masters’ by Bill Ricquier
- ESPNcricinfo archives (www.espncricinfo.com)
- ‘Cricket Cauldron: The Turbulent Politics of Sport in Pakistan’ by Shaharyar M. Khan and Ali Khan
- Imran Khan’s Autobiography ‘Pakistan: A Personal History’
- ‘All round view’ by Imran Khan
- ‘Controversially Yours’ by Shoaib Akhtar
- Cricket Archive (www.cricketarchive.com)
- PTV Sports (sports.ptv.com.pk)
- Pakistan Cricket Board (www.pcb.com.pk)
The author is a Chartered Accountant from Lahore currently working at one of the leading accountancy firms of the world. His interests include politics, history, sports, music, arts and movies. The views expressed are author’s only. He tweets at @fazalwarraich.