The death of Dr. Zafar Altaf, following a heart attack, in Islamabad, on Saturday 5th December, 2015, aged 74, hurt his family and a wide circle of friends, both inside and outside cricket, he played, managed, selected, spoke and wrote, with nothing, but passion. Amongst his contemporaries, very few if any, could claim to have a more comprehensive knowhow, of the running of the game in Pakistan, than ‘ZA’ or simply ‘Doc’.
The youngest of the four children of Chaudhry Altaf Hussain, a renowned labour lawyer, Zafar’s birth took place in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, British India, on 1st August, 1941, in a city renowned for the Taj Mahal, one of the 7th wonders of the world. Well, as events proved, Zafar was nothing short of wonders himself. He enrolled at kinder garden at Presentation Convent School, Rawalpindi in 1948 before his move to Cathedral School (Hall Road), Lahore, where he did his Senior Cambridge in 1956.
As a smart student of the game, Zafar emerged as a middle-order batsman, both with Government College, whom he captained and Universal CC. He made it into the Lahore squad, led by Fazal Mahmood, for the 1958-59 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. In only his third game, a semi-final against Combined Services, he notched up 99 – the top-score of the match – at Bagh-i-Jinnah, Lahore. The following week, he chose Bohra Gymkhana Ground, Karachi to reach the magical figure, coming in at number six, he hit 111 for Punjab against Sind, in the Pakistan Inter-University Championship. Zafar’s 35 runs in a low-scoring contest for President’s XI against the 1959-60 touring Australians, with the great Ray Lindwall in its line-up, at Pindi Club Ground, too was noted by keen observers, as a mature innings.
Just shy of his 19th birthday, Zafar’s batting potential got a seal of approval from the national selectors, as he accompanied Pakistan as a ‘baby of the touring team’ to India in 1960-61. Short and slim, almost with an air of reluctance proved an illusion as his dazzling fielding earned him the nod, ahead of the likes of Wazir Mohammed, Duncan Sharpe, Shafqat Rana, and Faqir Aizaz-ud-din. In India, he had a modest run with the bat, despite appearing in 8 out of the 10 side matches, though rarely above number 6, with a highest score of 63, in the last game, of the itinerary, against Bombay CA President’s XI at Brabourne Stadium. Earlier, at the same venue, Zafar, fielding as a sub, caught Polly Umrigar off Mahmood Hussain, in the 1st Test of the series.
On the basis of their better grasp of English, Zafar along with Ijaz Butt and Javed Burki, were often seen rescuing Pakistan players, from embarrassment, in social functions in India.
His two notable batting feats were both achieved at Bagh-i-Jinnah, Lahore, for Lahore Greens, in the 1965-66 Ayub Trophy. A career-best 268 (305 minutes with 38 fours) whilst adding 346, then a national record for the 4th wicket, with Majid Khan (241) in his side’s mammoth first innings total of 824, against Bahawalpur. In the final, although his side lost by 10 wickets, he hit 118 and 87, batting at number six, as captain, against Karachi Blues. This perhaps was Zafar at his best, when cornered by the spin threat posed by, Intikhab Alam and Prince Aslam Khan.
In his last season, before a 3-year break, in 1967-68, Zafar represented Pakistan (also termed as BCCP XI) in an unofficial ‘Test’ against the touring Commonwealth. He had merited his inclusion, by first captaining South Zone to a 3-wicket win in Karachi and then top-scoring with 64 not out, for North Zone in Peshawar, in the two zonal fixtures, against the tourists. He represented Karachi Blues that won the 1967-68 Ayub Trophy. Zafar led Rawalpindi in the Punjab Governor’s Gold Cup in 1971-72. In 53 first-class matches, Zafar’s aggregate stood at 2448 runs @ 32.21, with 4 hundreds and 10 fifties, to his name. In addition he took 20 catches and his occasional leg-breaks fetched him 8 wickets @ 37.87.
In June 1972, Zafar was lured back into the game by skipper A.H.Kardar, who took over as
President of the BCCP, with Lahore as first permanent headquarters. As an articulate young man,
Zafar was made the Honorary Secretary (1972-75) and in addition, deemed suitable for
management. He was appointed Assistant Manager, to M.E.Z. Ghazali, on the country’s ground-
breaking 1972-73 tour of Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand. Zafar also managed Pakistan U-
23 on the tour of Sri Lanka in 1973-74, assisted Omar Kureishi on Pakistan team tour to England
in 1974 and the following summer managed the national side in the inaugural 1975 Prudential
In the period of 1989-96, Zafar was rarely out of the picture, as far as the National Selection
Committee, of the teams, both senior and juniors, was concerned. His name, alongside Javed
Burki and Arif Abbasi, was approved by President Farooq Ahmed Leghari, to form a three-man
Ad-hoc Committee in January 1994. He stopped travelling overseas after his last role as a
manager of the national side in the 1999 ICC World Cup. On his return to Pakistan he was
appointed Chief Executive of PCB for an interim period – October-December – before General
Tauqeer Zia came to the helm on the direct orders of President General Pervez Musharraf.
Such was the impact on the lives of people that his obituary has an undercurrent of a celebration
of his life rather than mourning. Not surprisingly, Zafar was held in great esteem by Punjab
University cricketers of the 1960s – Shafqat Rana, Pervez Sajjad, Majid Khan, Naved Cheema,
Gulraiz Wali, Salim Altaf, Asif Masood, Aftab Gul, Waqar Ahmed, Sarfraz Nawaz, Wasim Raja,
Shafiq Ahmed ‘Papa’, Ehtesham-ud-din and Talat Ali, to name a few – both for his alliance and
Zafar attained M.A.Psychology in 1963 from Punjab University and Phd. Doctorate in
Economics from University of Birmingham in 1981. Outside cricket, he was known as a
reputable Economist and senior Civil Servant. As Federal Secretary for Food and Agricultural
Ministry for almost 10 years, succeeding to avoid the label of political promotion and more
importantly, keeping his doors open to public access. Having developed a great appetite for
books in his student days, ‘ZA’ himself is credited with 11, including, ‘Working with Benazir,
Nawaz and Musharraf’ (2004), giving an insight to the workings of a bureaucrat. Most of his
work dealt with economy, rural development and poverty. He chaired the Pakistan Agricultural
Research Council (PARC) on three occasions.
Not enough can be said about Zafar’s adventurous instinct for cafes, hotels and restaurants, of
any description, right from his teen years, be it Vogue’s Cafe in Rawalpindi to Chalet and Hico
in Lahore. As a beneficiary of a ‘liberal’ pocket money from his dotting father, Zafar was
unanimously acclaimed as a top-class host, who valued friendship above all. An endless chain of
cups of tea amidst rampant discussions on writers, philosophy, psychology and arts, brought the
best of Zafar.
Zafar, married Asma (Stella MacMillan), a childhood sweetheart, who sadly died in 2004 and is
now survived by daughter, Farha and three-year old grandson Ayan. Khalid Qureshi (87), Zafar’s
captain of Lahore, was amongst, a large attendees from all walks of life, in his funeral in Lahore.
An invaluable component of our society, who strove for a better Pakistan and sought
contentment, in going out of his way, in helping the deserving.