Fazal Mahmood and his Times: Great Memories

July 9, 2022 | By

‘Fazal Mahmood’s name is synonymous with match-winning world-class medium pace bowling in the cricket world. For over a dozen years his achievements with the ball earned Fazal the highest praise from the critics and a respected niche in the annals of the game. Most of Pakistan’s victories were due mainly to Fazal’s superb bowling. He ‘Fazalled’…..(a new word in English lexicography) England, Australia and the West Indies in succession. World cricket history is replete with great exploits, but Fazal Mahmood’s achievements with the ball remain unmatched.’

(Sultan F. Hussain, Editor, Sport Times: 1970)

‘On matting Fazal was often unplayable; on grass he could be equally devastating. To the casual observer he might have appeared harmless and just another bowler turning his arm over. But what guile and consummate skill went into every ball.’

(Alex Bannister)

‘Pakistan’s victory stamped Fazal as a bowler of world class. It is many years since I have witnessed such a wonderful bowling performance in both innings. It is perfectly true to say that Fazal never sent down one bad ball in the 60 overs he bowled. It was inspired bowling at its best…Within half an hour by dismissing Peter May, Denis Compton and Godfrey Evans he had transformed what had looked like certain defeat into an amazing and dramatic victory.’

There is little doubt that Fazal was the main architect of Pakistan’s victories, starting with Lucknow against India, in those early years after Pakistan gained Test status in 1952. He was not the only one. Notable contributions were made by others, but the fact was that in the bowling department it was he who nearly always turned the match in Pakistan’s favour at critical junctures.

Perhaps, Pakistan’s first great official Test win at Lucknow was the only one when one could say that honours were shared between Nazar Mohammad and him. This was the second Test of the 1952-3 series, and indeed the second official Test match ever played by Pakistan. This was when Nazar carried his bat in the first innings, after an opening partnership of 63 with Hanif Mohammed (34), for 124. Pakistan scored 331 and won by an innings and 43 runs. Fazal got a total of 12 wickets for 94 runs. India’s scores were 106 and 182, with Amarnath the only Indian batsman to go over 50, scoring 61 not out in the second innings.

It was in 1997-98 that I had come from Islamabad to Lahore for a weekend. My old friend, Iftikhar (Iffy) Bokhari, said that he was coming across to my house for a cup of tea with me. I was then working as Finance Secretary with the federal government. Iffy said that he would be accompanied by Fazal. As we sat in the verandah of my house, he said that he had a request to make. This was to seek my assistance for Fazal who was contemplating writing his cricket memoirs. This was music to my ears because over the years this was something that I had been suggesting to Fazal. I consented to give my support to the project and proposed that I would be happy to edit his manuscript.

This was the start of a process which was to take over four years and which culminated in Fazal’s autobiography. Fazal was able to enlist the services of the diligent Asif Sohail who helped him in collecting the material for his original manuscript. A little later, the redoubtable Najum Latif was to provide invaluable help in collecting photographs to illustrate the book. I was however surprised when I discussed the contents of Fazal’s proposed memoirs with him. He said that he wanted not to write about himself and his cricketing life but about his outstanding contemporaries who had played cricket at the international level. It took more than a little persuasion from me for him to broaden the scope of his book.

Finally, it was agreed that the book would be in three parts: the first about his own cricketing career, the second about his great contemporaries and the third would contain his thoughts and reflections on some topical cricket issues. The process that we agreed with was that he would send the original manuscript for each chapter to me. I would make changes, as I saw fit, and return it to Fazal. After a go-ahead from him, I would pass on the manuscript to the publishers. They would then send me their suggestions and there would be an eventual sign-off.

In this article, I propose to concentrate on the topic closest to Fazal Mahmood’s heart: his great contemporaries and his close relationship with some of them. His choice of the best cricketers of his time, and his anecdotes about them, illustrate not only his own character but indicate a notable feature of cricket in his times: close friendships with cricketers from rival teams and mutual respect for talent of opposing cricketers. The spirit of the Fifties’ and Sixties’, was perhaps best captured in the words of the great Keith Miller, in his letter to Fazal in 1998:

‘…I must say that your bowling at Karachi against us in 1956 was the best bowling I have ever seen. 6 for 34 off 27 overs in (the) first innings and 7 for 80 off 48 overs in (the) second innings…Your performance was even better than Jim Laker’s remarkable 19 wickets at Old Trafford…The great Australian bowler Bill O’Reilly said ‘Thank heavens we played cricket when we did’…Fazal, I remember you and I opening the attack against England in Colombo. Wasn’t it great fun?’

Fazal’s choice of his fourteen great contemporaries and his cryptic descriptions of them are revealing:

    1. Sir Len Hutton: Master Batsman;
    2. Mushtaq Ali: Elegance Personified;
    3. Lala Amarnath: An Indian Legend;
    4. Denis Compton; Cavalier Cricketer;
    5. Sir Frank Worrell: Rhythm and Style;
    6. Keith Ross Miller: Extraordinary Class;
    7. Nazar Muhammad: Indomitable Courage;
    8. Neil Harvey: Second to Bradman;
    9. Everton de Courcy Weekes: Killer Instinct;
    10. Imtiaz Ahmed: Pillar of Pakistan Cricket;
    11. Hanif Muhammad: Master of Concentration;
    12. David Sheppard: Epitome of Fair Play;
    13. Richie Benaud: Leader Par Excellence;
    14. Sir Garfield Sobers: All-round Genius.

Three England players, three Pakistanis, three Australians, three West Indians and two from India. In those days of Apartheid, South Africa did not play coloured teams and therefore Fazal had no interaction with its cricketers. The only other Test Playing country which was not represented in Fazal’s Fourteen was New Zealand. But his selection shows that these cricketers were picked not merely for their cricketing skills, but for something extra: character.

All these great cricketers reached the heights of achievement because they were ‘professional’, ie highly skilled, and none of them had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Len Hutton was the first professional captain of England as, indeed, in a sense was Lala Amarnath of India.

Frank Worrell was the first black captain of the West Indies, chosen because of his leadership skills and, somewhat similarly, Benaud became captain of Australia at a relatively young age because he brought that something extra to the art of captaincy. The only exceptional person in this list is David Sheppard of Cambridge, Sussex and England. I think that he was in spirit a true ‘amateur’ in the original sense of the term, but he made it to this Magic Fourteen primarily because of his continued commitment to the Church of England. His ecclesiastical career culminated in his becoming Bishop of Liverpool and his being raised to the peerage.

Fazal in his later post-retirement (from cricket) life, became a strict Muslim with a deep affinity for all religions. Indeed, prior to his agreeing to write his cricket autobiography, he had in 1970 written ‘Urge to Faith’, the story of his progress from being a laid back Muslim to a staunchly practicing one. In choosing Sheppard, Fazal was perhaps reflecting his own inclination towards a reflective life imbued with religious values.

From his account of Len Hutton it would appear that Fazal had almost hero-worshipped him. Hutton was at that time the record holder of the highest score in Test cricket (364), but his equally great achievement was to have finally won the Ashes back for England after twenty years, in 1953, when he was preferred over rival amateurs for the captaincy of the England team.

From his account of Len Hutton it would appear that Fazal had almost hero-worshipped him. Hutton was at that time the record holder of the highest score in Test cricket (364), but his equally great achievement was to have finally won the Ashes back for England after twenty years, in 1953, when he was preferred over rival amateurs for the captaincy of the England team.

After Australia’s narrow defeat in the second Test, I recall Neil Harvey’s comment that Tyson was bowling at least two yards faster than any bowler in either team. Lindwall and Keith Miller were Australia’s opening fast bowlers, and

Brian Statham was one of England’s opening bowlers. Tyson had played in the Oval Test in 1954 against Pakistan with match figures of 5 for 57, getting the wicket of Imtiaz Ahmed in both innings.

Hutton played only two Test matches against Pakistan and that was on the 1954 tour. The other Test matches on that tour he missed out on due to fitness problems. His scores in those matches, at Lord’s and at The Oval, make interesting reading:

  1. Hutton b Khan Mohammad: 0. (Lord’s). Only one innings was possible
  2. Hutton c Imtiaz b Fazal: 14. (The Oval 1st innings)
  3. Hutton c Imtiaz b Fazal: 5. (The Oval 2nd innings)

Thus Hutton ended up with a Test average of 6.33 against Pakistan, an aberration in his otherwise stellar Test record, which ended with his scoring 6,971 runs in 79 Test matches at an average of 56.67. But, as it happened, Hutton always believed that he was bowled for zero by Fazal, not Khan Mohammad, at Lord’s. Here is how he relates it:

‘…Fazal Mahmood, a splendid opening bowler at all times, bowled me with a lovely in-swinger the first ball he sent down to me and before I had scored…this was of course in keeping with my Lord’s hoodoo.’

Fazal actually got him out not at Lord’s but in both innings of The Oval Test. Pakistan had gone into that match one down. 1954 was one of the wettest summers of the decade in England and on a damp and rain affected wicket, the fourth and final Test was a low scoring one.

Pakistan were all out for only 133 in the first innings but miraculously got a psychologically important first innings lead of 3 runs when England collapsed for 130, Denis Compton getting 53. Pakistan struggled in the second innings but managed a slightly improved score of 164, thanks to an unbeaten 42 from Wazir Mohammad. As the England second innings started Fazal was one of the few optimists in the Pakistan team, thinking they could win. He targeted Hutton, feeling that his early wicket could be a key to possible victory. Here is how he describes this historic duel with Hutton:

‘In the Oval Test, Len Hutton could not read my in-cutters or leg-cutters. He was repeatedly beaten and was not comfortable…So I maintained my accuracy, speed and rotation of the ball, inviting him to play in the covers, yet giving some room in between bat and ball … (until) the ball found his outer edge and went into the safe hands of Imtiaz.’

With the removal of Hutton and Simpson (c & b Zulfiqar 27), Peter May was joined by Compton. The two took the score to 109 for 2, only 59 runs needed for victory and 8 wickets in hand! This is what Arthur Gilligan described as the turning point of the match: the wickets of May, Compton and Evans coming in quick succession and all to Fazal Mahmood. Pakistan won by 24 runs, thus drawing the series, and becoming the first team to win a Test match in England on their maiden tour.

One of the avenues for foreign cricketers to acclimatise to English cricketing conditions in the Fifties was to opt to play in League Cricket. Although these Leagues were to be found all over the British Isles, the relevant ones for foreign cricketers were a few. These were primarily in the north of England: the Lancashire League, the Central Lancashire League, as well as other Leagues in Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Staffordshire.

These latter Leagues would enable member clubs to engage two professionals each year. Contrary to common belief, the motivation behind League Cricket was to promote knowledge of cricket among amateur club members, allowing them to play and rub shoulders with players of international repute in weekly Saturday afternoon one innings matches.

From the foreign players’ (and sometimes English international players) view point this provided employment during the summer. The rewards were usually meagre ie£5-10 a week, with some exceptions for a Lindwall or a Frank Worrell or a Bobby Simpson. Apart from the weekly club matches the engaged professionals were expected to coach members thrice a week and to act as groundsmen. Another incentive for foreign cricketers, aspiring to play for the counties or for England, was to enable them to ‘qualify’ under the stringent citizenship rules applicable at the time.

Although League Cricket was initiated in the late 19th century, the foreign ‘invasion’ started in the inter-War years with the arrival of Learie Constantine, George Headley and Ellis Achong from the West Indies. After WW2 the Australians dominated with the arrival of Jock Livingstone, George Tribe and Syd Barnes (not to be confused with the great S.F. Barnes from Staffordshire.)

In time, the Pakistanis also arrived in the Fifties, prominent among whom were Fazal Mahmood (East Lancashire), Hanif Mohammad (Crompton), Saeed Ahmed (Nelson), Alimuddin (Haywood), and Ikram Elahi (Haslingden). Fazal enjoyed his times with his club and would often reminisce about the tradition of hospitality there as symbolised by the northern custom of High Tea.

Above all, it gave him a close knowledge of English wickets and of international cricketers from all over the world. Some of this knowledge would prove useful in Test matches later against the West Indies and India. His tour of England with the Eaglets in 1953 had familiarised him with English wickets and also made him realise that to an average Englishman Pakistan was largely an unknown country.

Also, that for leading English cricketers Pakistan, when it did come on tour in 1954, was expected to perform at the level of an average countryside at best. It was this knowledge that made him, as well as others in Kardar’s touring party, give their best in order to place Pakistan on the international cricket map. It may be recalled that Kardar’s book on the 1954 tour was entitled ‘Test Status on Trial’. Before the final Test at The Oval, Kardar writes:

‘During the course of a conversation … between Fazal Mahmood, Maqsood Ahmed and myself, it was even suggested… that we issue a statement to the effect that we would win the final Test… I did not make the statement. I wish I had.’

Until Pakistan’s victory at The Oval, the British press had been generally condescending about Pakistan, despite the fact that apart from their huge defeat at Trent Bridge and despite a very wet summer, Pakistan’s tour record had been satisfactory. They had lost only one county match, which to Yorkshire, when Fazal and Mahmood Hussain were both rested. After The Oval match, the press changed their tone. This is perhaps best reflected in a report by Tony Stevens in the ‘Daily Sketch’:

‘Throw aside our partisan feelings. Admit and give honour to one of the most underrated touring sides ever to play in England, that they could overcome rain and ridicule to rub the lion’s nose in the dust.’

It may be recalled that after defeating Australia in the 1953 Ashes series, England were acknowledged as the best team in the world, having just drawn a Test series 2-2 in the West Indies. It is also noteworthy that India first toured England in 1936 but their first win in England came 35 years later in 1971.

Fazal would always refer affectionately to Weekes as ‘Everton’, on account of the friendship they struck up playing in League Cricket. Fazal thought very highly of Weekes as a batsman, calling him ‘…the greatest ever produced by the West Indies’. This was very high praise, indeed, remembering that Fazal had played against all three W’s (Worrell, Weekes, Walcott), and also against Garfield Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher and Collie Smith. This was perhaps because Weekes seems to have had a special liking for Pakistani bowlers, starting with his 55 (c & b Mohammad Amin) in Lahore in 1948, the first un-official Test match ever played by Pakistan, and going on to score a scintillating 197 (c Imtiaz b Mahmud Hussain) at Barbados in 1958, during the first official Test between the West Indies and Pakistan. If one counts the innings in 1948 in Lahore, Weekes played a total of 9 innings against Pakistan and scored a total of 510 runs, with an average of 63.74. Fazal got his wicket only once in these nine innings, when at Kingston in 1958 he had him caught by Hanif for 39 runs. No wonder that Fazal held Weekes in such high esteem.

Among the favourite cricket stories that Fazal would regale his friends with was the encounter between Weekes, playing for Bacup, and Fazal Mahmood representing East Lancashire. The match was played in 1959 and had been advertised, in Fazal’s words, as ‘a decisive battle between the best bowler and best batsman in the League.’

There was a crowd of over 10,000, unusually large for a League match, but persistent rain had prevented play from starting. By the time the skies cleared it was evening and only two hours of play was possible. The two amateur captains decided that, in view of the expectations of the crowd, a limited overs game would be played: 45 minutes to each side, with the team scoring more to be declared the winner.

East Lancashire batted first and scored 80 odd runs in their 45 minutes. Weekes opened the batting for Bacup but was at number two. As Fazal described it, he opened the bowling and got two wickets in his first over: Bacup 0 for 2. At the other end, Weekes scored with abandon and at the end of over two, Bacup were 18 for 2. Fazal took another 2 wickets in his fourth over, but then Weekes scored more boundaries at the other end. And so it continued, with Fazal getting wickets at regular intervals and Weekes scoring runs in fluent boundaries at the other end. Here, I will let Fazal complete the story:

‘Finally, Weekes came to my end and was to face me in the last over of the day, needing 6 runs to win in an 8-ball over. He played my first delivery in to the cover position which was smartly fielded. With 6 runs needed…Weekes faced my second ball and took 2 runs. On the third ball he was dropped in the slips… he (then) took 2 off my fifth ball. I managed to contain him on my sixth and seventh deliveries. Finally, it came to the last ball with Bacup needing two to win. Everton pushed the last ball on the on-side and ran…I picked up the ball from mid-on… (and) and… just held the ball. The batsman completed one run…The match ended in a tie’ When Fazal related this story in his old age, his grey blue eyes would light up, and he would in his clipped accent pose a question to his listeners: ‘Why do you think Fazal did not have a shy at the stumps and run out Everton?’ (In recounting stories from his cricketing days, Fazal would often refer to himself in the third person.) He would then provide the answer to his own question: ’If he had missed the stumps at the bowler’s end, Everton could have run 2, and won the match for Bacup’. Needless to say there was a very healthy collection from the crowd at the end of the match that day. When the winnings were presented jointly to Weekes and Fazal, the former suggested: ‘Hey, Fazal, there are shillings (in the envelope). Let us walk across the road and have a drink!’

Of all the non-South Asian cricketing contemporaries that he interacted with Fazal’s closest bond was perhaps with Keith Ross Miller, the charismatic Australian all-rounder. Miller was the outstanding all-rounder of his age. Until the almost simultaneous emergence of Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee on the international scene by the Eighties, the only world class all-rounder to challenge Miller’s supremacy in the post-WW2 period was Garfield Sobers.

Miller and Fazal had much in common. They were both tall and handsome, with outstanding athletic abilities. Within the twinkling of an eye they were capable of turning the course of a match. They loved the sport they excelled in and would be generous in their praise for talented opponents. Both were flamboyant extroverts and both were pin-up boys for Brylcreem, the hair tonic. But here their similarities ended.

Miller had started his career just before the beginning of WW2 and towards the end of the War he had served with the Air Force in sorties over Germany. Having survived the War and having lost friends and colleagues during it, he treated cricket as merely a sport; something to be savoured and enjoyed.

Fazal, on the other hand, began to mature as a cricketer after the conclusion of WW2 in 1945. His emergence as a fast medium bowler of quality coincided with the Partition of India and the founding of Pakistan in August, 1947. Like many of his contemporaries, he was imbued with a fierce sense of patriotism and loyalty to the new state of Pakistan.

Accordingly, he turned down an offer to tour Australia in late 1947 with the Indian team, and committed himself to putting Pakistan on the cricketing map of the world. Thus although Miller revelled in his all-round abilities while taking Australia to victory, and while he was always competitive, to him victory in itself was not everything.

Fazal, on the other hand, hated losing and wanted victory whenever he played; this he felt would add glory to Pakistan and its small cricket fraternity. Miller was a natural athlete with interests in horse racing, tennis, socialising. Fazal believed in a severe fitness regime and was committed to his passion, which was cricket.

Fazal had seen some of Keith Miller’s brilliant performances when the latter toured India with the Services team in 1946. But it was in February, 1952, that he got to know him well when they were both selected for a Commonwealth Eleven to play Nigel Howard’s MCC team after the latter had completed their tour of India and Pakistan. The MCC had lost the series 1-0 to Pakistan (with Pakistan getting Test Status, as a result), and drew 1-1 with India.

In Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), they were looking forward to a stress free time, but found themselves pitted against a formidable Commonwealth team, captained by Miller, and including Harvey and Hole from Australia, as well as Fazal and Imtiaz Ahmed from Pakistan, Vinoo Mankad from India and Gunasekra from Ceylon.

The MCC team, virtually an England ‘A’ team, had some promising young cricketers: Tom Graveney, Jack Robertson, Brian Statham, Derek Shackleton, Roy Tattersall and Malcolm Hilton.

Among the favourite cricket stories that Fazal would regale his friends with was the encounter between Weekes, playing for Bacup, and Fazal Mahmood representing East Lancashire. The match was played in 1959 and had been advertised, in Fazal’s words, as ‘a decisive battle between the best bowler and best batsman in the League.’

There was a crowd of over 10,000, unusually large for a League match, but persistent rain had prevented play from starting. By the time the skies cleared it was evening and only two hours of play was possible. The two amateur captains decided that, in view of the expectations of the crowd, a limited overs game would be played: 45 minutes to each side, with the team scoring more to be declared the winner.

East Lancashire batted first and scored 80 odd runs in their 45 minutes. Weekes opened the batting for Bacup but was at number two. As Fazal described it, he opened the bowling and got two wickets in his first over: Bacup 0 for 2. At the other end, Weekes scored with abandon and at the end of over two, Bacup were 18 for 2. Fazal took another 2 wickets in his fourth over, but then Weekes scored more boundaries at the other end. And so it continued, with Fazal getting wickets at regular intervals and Weekes scoring runs in fluent boundaries at the other end. Here, I will let Fazal complete the story:

‘Finally, Weekes came to my end and was to face me in the last over of the day, needing 6 runs to win in an 8-ball over. He played my first delivery in to the cover position which was smartly fielded. With 6 runs needed…Weekes faced my second ball and took 2 runs. On the third ball he was dropped in the slips… he (then) took 2 off my fifth ball. I managed to contain him on my sixth and seventh deliveries. Finally, it came to the last ball with Bacup needing two to win. Everton pushed the last ball on the on-side and ran…I picked up the ball from mid-on… (and) and… just held the ball. The batsman completed one run…The match ended in a tie’ When Fazal related this story in his old age, his grey blue eyes would light up, and he would in his clipped accent pose a question to his listeners: ‘Why do you think Fazal did not have a shy at the stumps and run out Everton?’ (In recounting stories from his cricketing days, Fazal would often refer to himself in the third person.) He would then provide the answer to his own question: ’If he had missed the stumps at the bowler’s end, Everton could have run 2, and won the match for Bacup’. Needless to say there was a very healthy collection from the crowd at the end of the match that day. When the winnings were presented jointly to Weekes and Fazal, the former suggested: ‘Hey, Fazal, there are shillings (in the envelope). Let us walk across the road and have a drink!’

Of all the non-South Asian cricketing contemporaries that he interacted with Fazal’s closest bond was perhaps with Keith Ross Miller, the charismatic Australian all-rounder. Miller was the outstanding all-rounder of his age. Until the almost simultaneous emergence of Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee on the international scene by the Eighties, the only world class all-rounder to challenge Miller’s supremacy in the post-WW2 period was Garfield Sobers.

Miller and Fazal had much in common. They were both tall and handsome, with outstanding athletic abilities. Within the twinkling of an eye they were capable of turning the course of a match. They loved the sport they excelled in and would be generous in their praise for talented opponents. Both were flamboyant extroverts and both were pin-up boys for Brylcreem, the hair tonic. But here their similarities ended.

Miller had started his career just before the beginning of WW2 and towards the end of the War he had served with the Air Force in sorties over Germany. Having survived the War and having lost friends and colleagues during it, he treated cricket as merely a sport; something to be savoured and enjoyed.

Fazal, on the other hand, began to mature as a cricketer after the conclusion of WW2 in 1945. His emergence as a fast medium bowler of quality coincided with the Partition of India and the founding of Pakistan in August, 1947. Like many of his contemporaries, he was imbued with a fierce sense of patriotism and loyalty to the new state of Pakistan.

Accordingly, he turned down an offer to tour Australia in late 1947 with the Indian team, and committed himself to putting Pakistan on the cricketing map of the world. Thus although Miller revelled in his all-round abilities while taking Australia to victory, and while he was always competitive, to him victory in itself was not everything.

Fazal, on the other hand, hated losing and wanted victory whenever he played; this he felt would add glory to Pakistan and its small cricket fraternity. Miller was a natural athlete with interests in horse racing, tennis, socialising. Fazal believed in a severe fitness regime and was committed to his passion, which was cricket.

Fazal had seen some of Keith Miller’s brilliant performances when the latter toured India with the Services team in 1946. But it was in February, 1952, that he got to know him well when they were both selected for a Commonwealth Eleven to play Nigel Howard’s MCC team after the latter had completed their tour of India and Pakistan. The MCC had lost the series 1-0 to Pakistan (with Pakistan getting Test Status, as a result), and drew 1-1 with India.

In Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), they were looking forward to a stress free time, but found themselves pitted against a formidable Commonwealth team, captained by Miller, and including Harvey and Hole from Australia, as well as Fazal and Imtiaz Ahmed from Pakistan, Vinoo Mankad from India and Gunasekra from Ceylon.

The MCC team, virtually an England ‘A’ team, had some promising young cricketers: Tom Graveney, Jack Robertson, Brian Statham, Derek Shackleton, Roy Tattersall and Malcolm Hilton.

Fazal recalled that on arrival at his hotel in Colombo there was a message waiting from Miller to say that he wanted to see him. When Fazal went to see Miller, he was told in no uncertain terms: ‘We’ve got to beat them (the MCC).’ Fazal said that he would ‘try’, but Miller’s response was emphatic:’ It is not a matter of trying. We must beat them.’ The Commonwealth batted first and scored 517, with Gunasekra getting 135, Miller 106, Harvey 74 and Imtiaz 42. The wicket was fast and lively and Miller opened the bowling with Fazal. Within a very short time they had shot out the MCC for 103. Miller enjoyed getting the openers Robertson and Don Kenyon for ducks and later D.B. Carr for 17. Fazal bowled brilliantly from the other end, getting 4 for 46.

Miller enforced the follow-on. Fazal, tired after his spell, was walking off to the dressing room when Miller asked him not to leave the ground and wait for the MCC openers to come out for the second innings. His reasoning was simple. He felt that by going back into the Pavilion, Fazal would get distracted with people paying him compliments. ‘You have bowled well, he said, ‘and taken wickets… (you will) become complacent and lose your concentration.’

Miller and Fazal did not go to the Pavilion, but instead sat outside on the ground and discussed strategy for the second innings. Miller told him that they should polish off the match by getting MCC out for a 100-odd in their second innings. Miller got the first wicket and in came Graveney at number three. Fazal had got Graveney out for a zero in the first innings and wanted to dismiss him early.

But Miller walked up to him with the request that Fazal should let Graveney bat for 20-odd before getting him out. Fazal was stunned when he heard this. ‘Why?’ Miller told him that Graveney was a young and upcoming batsman, and Miller wanted to study his game and discern his weaknesses, because the Australians might be playing against him in the forthcoming Ashes series in 1953.

‘Twenty odd runs? Request granted,’ said Fazal. As it happened, Graveney got his eye in and went on to score 48, before Vinoo Mankad got him out. When he was out, Miller decided to go for the kill and MCC were all out for 155, losing the match by an innings and 259 runs. Miller’s biographer, Roland Perry, describes the Graveney episode as follows:

‘This was cricket espionage at its most direct…Miller tested (Graveney), first with a searing bumper, then some short balls, which took him off his beloved front foot…Miller learnt all he wanted to know about the dashing England batsman, who was billed as a player with the ubiquitous great potential.. When Mankad dismissed Graveney, leaving MCC 97 for4, (Miller) said to his team: ‘Right, let’s finish this off.’

The Colombo match in which they played and plotted together to defeat the MCC was the beginning of a friendship between Miller and Fazal which lasted to the end. They actually played against each other in a Test match only once, when Ian Johnson brought the Aussies over for a one-off Test in Karachi in 1956. Pakistan won that Test by nine wickets. The scores need repeating, since this was an extraordinary performance by Pakistan:

  • Australia 80 (Miller 21; Fazal 6 for 34, Khan Mohammad 4 for 43) and 187 (Benaud 56; Fazal 7 for 80, Khan Mohammad 3 for 69).
  • Pakistan 199 (Kardar 69, Wazir Mohammad 67; Johnson 4 for 50, Miller 2 for 40) and 69 for one wicket (Alimuddin 34* and Gul Mohammad 27*).

When the Test concluded, the Nawab of Junagarh hosted a dinner for the two teams. Although Fazal was the Vice-Captain and also the hero of a historic win against the Australians, he was not given a seat on the High Table. True to form Miller, who had a prominent place on that table, enquired loudly: ’Where is Fazal’s seat?’ As soon as he raised his voice a seat was provided for Fazal on the High Table, next to Miller’s. William Glendenning, an old friend of Miller’s from Perth, remarked that if you were ‘in’ with Miller, you were really ‘in’.

An interesting story is on record about the Karachi Test. Australia were batting first on the matting wicket at the National Stadium, and Miller was down to bat at number five, with McDonald, Burke, Harvey and Ian Craig above him. As the openers went in to bat, Miller settled into a comfortable chair and decided to have a power nap. He asked Munir Hussain, the liaison officer, to wake him up only when his turn came to bat. Burke, Harvey and McDonald got out in quick succession, all to Fazal, and he was woken up with Australia 24 for 3. He got up and asked if McDonald or Harvey were still batting and was told that they were both out. ‘Who got the wickets?’, he asked. When Miller was told that Fazal got them all, he said: ‘Oh, he is running hot again! …Don’t disturb my bed, I’ll be back soon’. In fact he batted for some time, top scoring with 21 in the first innings total of just 80, scored in just under five hours.

One of the issues which kept on recurring through the Fifties and early Sixties was as to who should captain the Pakistan team. Mian Saeed was the first captain of Pakistan between 1948 and 1950. There were only six un-official Tests played during these three years, against the West Indies (1 match), Commonwealth Eleven (one match) and Ceylon (4 matches). Pakistan won all 4 Tests against Ceylon (2 at home and 2 away), and lost one against Jock Livingstone’s Commonwealth while it drew against the West Indies in 1948.

Kardar took over captaincy against the MCC in 1951 and Pakistan defeated the visitors 1-0 in a two match series and thereafter gained official Test Status. He then captained Pakistan in 24 official Tests, winning six, losing six and drawing 12 Tests. After Kardar’s retirement, Fazal Mahmood became captain between late 1958, when the West Indies came to Pakistan for three Tests and remained captain till the completion of Pakistan’s tour to India in 1960-61.

As captain Fazal won two Tests, lost two and there were 6 drawn matches. It may be noted that Pakistan lost the 2nd Test to Australia in Lahore in 1959, the first to be played at the Gaddafi Stadium, but Fazal did not play because of fitness issues and Imtiaz captained the team. Thus, for what it may be worth, the success ratio (i.e. matches won against matches lost) for the three captains was:

  1. Mian Saeed: 4 to one.
  2. Kardar: 1 to 1.
  3. Fazal: 1 to 1.

This is not necessarily an objective way to look at successes as a captain for at least two reasons. First, the opposition’s strength varied considerably. Second, Kardar had a better success ratio if un-official Test results are included, because he captained Pakistan in 6 un-official Tests against 2 MCC teams and in one match against Canada in 1954, winning 4 and losing none. But these statistics perhaps indicate why some senior players resented Mian Saeed being asked to make way for Kardar.

Also, one understands, to an extent, Fazal’s resentment at being made to sit out and make way for Javed Burki. The latter was to captain Pakistan in 8 Tests at home and away, winning none, losing five and drawing three. Thus Burki’s success ratio was 0 to 5.

Fazal was not happy with the way in which he was replaced as captain for the England tour of 1962. He writes:

‘One day, I was sitting in my office when the telephone rang. I picked up the receiver, but an unknown caller was on the line. He said to me, ‘Fazal Sahib there is a telephone conversation regarding you. Please just listen to it. If by mistake you interrupt, I will lose my job.’ …The conversation was between an authoritative voice and the then BCCP President. The voice was saying: ‘We have helped you reach this position and now you have to appoint our nominee as the captain of the national team.’ ‘Do not worry, Sir, it will be done,’ I heard the BCCP president say, ‘What about Fazal?’, he was asked. ‘Do not worry. We will look after him.’

The Pakistan team, for a tour to England in 1962, was named and Fazal was not in it. Javed Burki was captain and the quick bowlers included Mahmood Hussain, Antao D’Souza, Mohammad Farooq, Munir Malik. The first three Tests ended in ignominious defeats for Pakistan: two by an innings and one by nine wickets.

At this point of time, there was a public outcry in Pakistan asking that Fazal Mahmood should be sent for the Tests to strengthen the Pakistan team in England. Fazal was called by Justice Cornelius, the BCCP President, and was requested to go to England. ‘No, I am not in practice, my fingers are very soft and to go in to the Test arena is not an easy task.’ Cornelius eventually succeeded in persuading Fazal to travel to England. He apologised for leaving him out in the first place, according to Fazal’s record, and appealed to his patriotism, saying:’ Fazal, can you save Pakistan from utter humiliation?’

Unknown to Fazal, his friend Keith Miller was covering the ‘lacklustre’ 1962 series in England for the ‘Express’ newspaper. Miller was delighted to hear that Fazal Mahmood, on public demand, had been requested to join the Pakistan team for the fourth Test at Trent Bridge.

Immediately, he wrote a piece for his newspaper with the headline: ‘England is on trial, Fazal arrives.’ Fazal, despite his being out of practice, gave a good account of himself and helped Pakistan to draw that Test match.

Pakistan lost the series 0-4, Pakistan’s most humiliating record against England. In the 4th Test, England were put in to bat by Burki and scored 428 for 5 declared. Graveney and Parfitt scored centuries, while Sheppard and Dexter got 83 and 85 respectively. The bowling figures speak for themselves:

  • Fazal: 60-15-130-3.
  • Munir: 34-4-130-1.
  • Nasim-ul-Ghani: 20.2-1-76–0.
  • Shahid Mahmood: 6-1-23-0.
  • Saeed Ahmed: 2-0-5-0.

Pakistan, in reply, scored 219 in the first innings and, following on, held on for a draw with 216 for 6. (Mushtaq Mohammad 100; Saeed Ahmed 64.) But there was little doubt that despite his

un-preparedness, Fazal Mahmood had put in a sterling performance by bowling as many as 60 overs in England’s only innings. This was nearly half the overs bowled in the entire innings. He had conceded just over 2 runs an over in England’s massive total. The other two main bowlers conceded almost 4 an over!

Keith Miller, always outspoken, shouted at the Manager of the Pakistan team: ‘He is perfect for English conditions.’ He emphasised that Fazal should have been the first choice as a fast bowler on this tour. But there was little doubt that Fazal had been over-bowled by Burki, rather than being nursed to bowl short bursts. By the time of The Oval Test, two weeks later, it was clear that Fazal was tired and lacking fitness. Despite that he bowled another 49 overs, the most bowled by any Pakistani in the first innings, and ultimately Pakistan lost by a large margin of 10 wickets.

Fazal had learnt his cricket at the Kinnaird High School and later at the Iqbal High School. In class seven he joined the Islamia High School in Lahore Cantt. While there and not quite 12 years of age he started playing for the Punjab Cricket Club.

On the occasion of a local holiday in Lahore, his class was required to attend a special class in school. Fazal decided to miss school because his club was playing a cricket match with the King Edward Medical College. Fazal bowled his club to victory with 6 wickets for 8 runs. He went to school next morning with a cutting from the Civil & Military Gazette in his pocket with the headline: ‘School boy does wonders’. He, along with other truants from his class, were asked to stand up and were up for punishment. Fazal pulled out the newspaper cutting in defence and showed it to his teacher. On learning of this fete, the Headmaster declared a holiday and Fazal became a hero! Thereafter, Fazal gradually graduated to the free-for-all for cricket clubs in the ‘maidans’ of Minto Park. As he grew up, and as his talent began to manifest itself, he went on to play on the manicured cricket fields of the Punjab University, Aitchison College and the Lahore Gymkhana. But he would never forget the companionship of those he had grown up with in his development as a cricketer at Islamia College, Mamdot Cricket Club, Northern India Cricket Association and later with the Muslims in The Pentangular. It was this background that endeared Nazar Mohammad (Islamia College, Mamdot CC), Imtiaz Ahmed (Ravi Gymkhana, Islamia College) and Lala Amarnath (Crescent CC, Railways and NICA) to him. Kardar was his friend and contemporary at Islamia College as well as in first-class cricket pre-1947, but the two drifted apart after Kardar proceeded for higher studies to Oxford University and later played for Warwickshire in county cricket in England.

There was a very special place in Fazal’s heart for Lala Amarnath. What attracted Lala to Fazal was his independent and radical spirit. It was Amarnath’s emergence as a major cricketer in the 1930’s and his refusal to accept the dominance of the Princely families in Indian cricket that ultimately led to the post-Partition rise of the independent ‘professional’ in Indian cricket. Fazal had inherited the rebel spirit from his father who had refused a job with the Indian bureaucracy and instead became an educationist, finally becoming the Principal of Islamia College.

So, in a way, Lala Amarnath and Fazal were kindred spirits: each relying on skill to excel at cricket and not receptive to directions from the Establishment. They were masters of their respective skills with unbounded faith in themselves. They would fight against the odds and would not easily give in. They respected each other. Amarnath was the senior in both age and experience, but both would engage in cricketing gossip as equals.

Lala Amarnath was born in an impoverished family. Early in his boyhood he was adopted by a Muslim family in Lahore and studied at the Aligarh University, going on to work for the Railways in Lahore at a modest salary of Rs 15 (in today’s terms, probably Rs 30,000) a month. He became the first Indian to score a Test century when Jardine’s team toured India in 1932-33. He could play only 3 Tests before WW2 and thus lost six years in his prime. He was part of the Indian team to tour England in 1936 but was sent back before the first Test match by the captain, the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram (Vizzy), in controversial circumstances. Vizzy was unpopular with his leading players, including C.K. Nayudu and Merchant, for incompetence as a player and captain.

Amarnath’s Test record was unspectacular, although he continued to the end to be an effective all-rounder, captaining India v Pakistan in the 1952-53 series, the first Test series to be won by India (2-1). His friendship with Fazal dated back to the cricket nets, shared by the Mamdot and Crescent clubs at Minto Park in the mid-Forties.

Although primarily a batsman, he could be a useful medium paced bowler as well as a safe wicket-keeper, when required. He bowled off the wrong foot and would keep a nagging length. He toured England in 1946 in the Nawab of Pataudi (Sr.)’s team. Fazal recalls how, in the tour match against Somerset, Amarnath tied down Harold Gimblett, the hard hitting Somerset batsman known for hitting sixes, until the exasperated Gimblett finally asked him if he (i.e. Amarnath) had ever bowled a half volley. Always quick witted,

Amarnath turned to him and said: ‘Oh yes! I bowled one in 1940.’

Amarnath’s sense of humour was in evidence again in Fazal Mahmood’s account of the Lucknow Test in the 1952-53 Series. This was in India’s second innings, after they had conceded a first innings lead of 225 runs to Pakistan. India had a strong batting line up, with Roy and D.K. Gaekwad to open and Gul Mohammad, Manjrekar, Kishenchand and Polly Umrigar to follow. Amarnath, as captain, was batting at number seven. The second innings saw another Indian collapse and when Amarnath walked in, India were 5 down for 77. Fazal was rampant and had taken four of the five wickets to fall, having got the important wicket of Vijay Manjrekar lbw for 3. Here, I will let Fazal pick up the story:

‘…we were very close to victory with only Lala Amarnath offering stiff resistance. In fact, he was India’s last hope. When he reached the crease to start his innings, Mahmood Hussain was bowling. In pure Lahori style, to which Lala was fully accustomed, I shouted from my slip position in slang Punjabi, ‘Moode, aidha cir phar dae,’ meaning, ‘Mahmood knocked him down with a bouncer’. Lala survived…and then I took the ball, ‘Give me the ball, I will knock him down.’ Lala was my captain before Partition…and (I) respected him… (but) this kind of banter was normal between us…I placed Zulfiqar Ahmed at square-leg, asking him to get ready for a catch…and then hurled a bouncer. Lala (in) trying to fend it away offered a simple catch to Zulfiqar, which he dropped…’

When Zulfiqar Ahmed tried to offer his excuses Amarnath, never at a loss for words, turned to him and said in chaste Punjabi: ‘Even my wife could have held this catch!’

I would like to end these remembrances of Fazal Mahmood’s times with an enigmatic story relating to the Karachi Test match, played between India and Pakistan, on the 1954-55 return tour by India to Pakistan. This was the fifth and final Test, starting on 26, Feb, 1955: the teams going into it 0-0. All Tests in the series were 4-day matches. Since there was no stipulation about minimum overs to be bowled in a day, and since neither side wanted to risk losing, the four matches petered out tamely as draws. The story, recounted in Fazal’s autobiography, illustrates both the very close friendship between Fazal and Amarnath, and also Fazal’s great sense of honour. Once he (i.e. Fazal) had given his word, as a gentleman, to Amarnath he would keep it.

It was Vinoo Mankad who captained India in this series, but Lala Amarnath was the team Manager. The Karachi Test also ended in a draw, but Fazal’s account suggests that this was because of a very carefully planned strategy by Lala Amarnath after, at one stage, it seemed likely that Pakistan might win. The final scores are shown below:

  • Pakistan: 162 (Imtiaz 37; Ramchand 6 for 49, Patel 3 for 49), and 241 for 5 decl. (Alimuddin 103, Kardar 93; Umrigar 2 for 66.)
  • India: 145 (Roy 37; Fazal 5 for 49, Khan Mohammad 5 for 72), and 69 for 2. (Fazal 1 for 22, Maqsood 1 for 5).

Fazal’s point was that after Pakistan got a crucial first innings lead of 17 runs it was evident that this was going to be a low scoring match on a matting wicket which was responding to good medium fast bowling: hence the successes of Fazal, Khan Mohammad and Ramchand. It was also responding to the quick off spin bowling of Jasu Patel.

Towards the end of the penultimate day, Fazal was sitting next to Amarnath, very confident that Pakistan could bowl out India for a low score on the last day, after an early declaration. But Amarnath said to him that he had a trap worked out for Pakistan whereby India would be easily able to draw the game. When Fazal quizzed Lala about his strategy, Amarnath agreed to share it with Fazal provided that he gave his word as a gentleman that he would not share it with anyone. Fazal gave his word. Here we can go back to Fazal’s account:

He quotes Amarnath as saying, ‘Tomorrow morning we will allow Kardar to score freely till lunch time. After the lunch interval, we will give him some more runs so that he can forget about the result of the match and look forward to his century…he will continue batting and waste precious time. Ultimately, there will be very little time for your bowlers to exploit our batting.’

It may be recalled that in their second innings Pakistan had lost their first four wickets 81 runs and this was when Fazal and Amarnath had their confidential discussion. The fifth Pakistani wicket fell after lunch on the last day when the score was 236 (Kardar st Tamhane b Gupte 93.) Pakistan declared at 241 for 5, shortly after Kardar’s dismissal.

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