Imtiaz Ahmed - Long Triumph Innings
Written by English NewsPaper/Dawn/Others   

Imtiaz Ahmad belongs to that genre of cricketers who provided leadership in building a strong national edifice of the game in the early years.

He thus stands at par with luminaries like Abdul Hafeez Kardar, Fazal Mahmood and Hanif Mohammad, the key players who gave Pakistan a world-class standing.

Imtiaz was named a 'gentleman cricketer' because of his shy and mild temperament.

But as a batsman, he was extremely aggressive. He could hit any bowler off his length. Roy Gilchrist, one of the greatest fast bowlers the West Indies ever produced, would still remember the punishment he received at the hands of Imtiaz in a situation when Pakistan were made to follow-on. "That was the best innings I ever played," Imtiaz recalls. It was the first test in January 1958 at Barbados where the West Indies had scored 579/9 and the Pakistani batting line-up had skittled out for only 106. Pakistan being made the innings with Hanif and blasted Gilchrist for three fours in his opening over and gave the great fast bowler the same treatment in his later overs. Imtiaz went on to score a hurricane 91 whereas the 'Little Master, Hanif Mohammad had scored only 16 when stumps were drawn for the day (though Hanif eventually went on to score 337, the highest score of his test career, and creating a world record of playing the longest test innings of 16 hours and 49 minutes which stands to this day).

Though Imtiaz is now 72, he is still involved in cricket. Currently he is coaching youngsters. Born on January 5, 1928 in Bhati Gate Lahore, Imtiaz hails from a family ' of cricketers. He would keenly watch his father at the nets at the Mamdot Club, Minto (now Iqbal) Park, where Lala Amarnath, one of the great Indian cricketers also used to play. Little Imtiaz first started cricket in the verandah of his old Lahore house with a two-paisa rubber bait, using his primary school wooden takhti as a bat. His father and brothers were his first coaches. He then elevated himself in the game when his father bought him a tennis ball and a small bat.


He got his first real cricket ball when he went to the Islamia High School, Bhati Gate, in 1938. He was in class V  then and enjoyed playing on his school ground which was situated between the Data Darbar and the school building. Unfortunately, the school building is no longer there nor is the ground because the area has been incorporated in the Data Darbar extension project. "Whenever I pass from there, I feel sorry about my alma mater which produced some of the finest cricketers and two international foot-ballers — Yaseen Khan and Juma Khan," Imtiaz Ahmad recalls.

In the Bhati Gate School, he met fellow enthusiasts of the game, who were senior to him and who went on to become cricket legends. They were Gul Mohammad, Nazar Mohammad, Abdul Hafeez Kardar and Zulfiqar Ahmad. other names of his school-mates who used to play cricket fairly well, but who eventually joined the movie industry. They were Aslam Pervez and Siddiq, I better known as Zarif the senior.

With his keen interest in the game evident early on, he was promptly appointed captain of the school cricket team.

He then started practising at the Ravi Gymkhana Club nets and soon became the club's captain. Cricket was very much a part of Lahore's culture then and the two top Lahore teams were the Mamdot Club and the Crescent Club teams, remembers Imtiaz. Mian Jamal Din — Imtiaz's father, Dr. Dilawar Hussain and Mohammad Nisar, the fastest bowler of his time, used  to  play  for  the Mamdot Club and Lala Amarnath, Abdul Hafeez Kardar and Maqsood Ahmad for Crescent. The two clubs were arch rivals and matches between them attracted big crowds. Minto Park was then the centre of the game of cricket and a number of clubs had their nets there.

The only cricket club out-side Minto Park was the Universal which used to have its nets at the rail-way's Carson Institute ground and Fazal Mahmood used to play for it.

Imtiaz used to be a good fielder but always desired to keep wicket. The opportunity came when the Ravi Gymkhana's regular wicket-keeper did not turn up for a match and Imtiaz offered himself for the job. Performing better than the regular wicket-keeper, he was retained for the next match and soon became the official wicket-keeper till he retired from test cricket in 1963.

In 1944, he joined the Islamia College, Railway Road, and was selected for their team. The college produced stalwarts such as Kardar, Fazal, Maqsood, Nazar, Gul Mohammed, Khan Mohammad, Anwar Husain, Khalid Qureshi and  Zulfiqar Ahmad. The Government college was the main rival of Isiamia College and Munawwar Ali Khan, Shakoor Ahmad and his brother Ghafoor Ahmad, Waqar Hasan, Israr Ali and Mahmood Husain were some of the Muslims who played for the Government College team which comprised mostly Hindus and Sikhs. A few Hindu boys were also on the Islamia College   team. "The matches between the two colleges," says Imtiaz, "were like Muslim-Hindu battles." They were mostly played in the Government College's Oval Ground and attracted hundreds and sometimes thousands of fans. Players were subjected to excessive hooting and the people of Lahore used to cheer the Isiamia College team.

When Imtiaz was still in the first year, he was selected for the Punjab University team (the University then had colleges affiliated from Peshawar to Delhi) and scored 70 against Bombay University in the first inter-university match. He scored about 700 runs in one year (1944) and was selected for the Indian Combined Universities Eleven. Abdul Hafeez Kardar was one of the other players in the side.

In 1945, Imtiaz was selected in North Zone side to play the Ranji Trophy for the first time.

Lala Amarnath used to play for South Zone, which comprised players from south Punjab districts. The Maharaja of Patiala was the captain of the South Zone team in whose absence the team was led by Lala Amarnath. In one of these matches against South Zone, Imtiaz scored a century in both innings.

The first match Imtiaz played for North Zone was against West Zone in which he scored a century. Then he played for the Indian Combined Universities Eleven against an Australian team which visited India after having won a series against England. Lindsay Hassett was the captain of the team which also included players like Keith Miller. The match was played  at  Poona and Kardar and Imtiaz scored centuries while playing at Numbers 7 and 8. "In the second innings, our opening batsman was dismissed cheaply , towards the end of the day's play and Kardar was sent as a night watchman.

He scored an unbeaten 186 and was selected for the Indian team which was to tour Australia.

Fazal Mahmood, Gul Mohammad and Imtiaz were also selected for the Australian tour but except for Gul Mohammad, no one else among them went with the Indian team because by then Pakistan had come into being. Gul Mohammad kept on playing for India till 1956 and then migrated to Pakistan," says Imtiaz who played in the Ranji Trophy for two years and scored two centuries.

Imtiaz recalls how hurriedly the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP) was formed early in 1948. It was because the first Supreme Court Chief Justice Mr. A.R.Cornelius took personal interest in the game and "called us  all"  (those selected for the Indian tour of Australia) and suggested that a board should be set up, "as soon as possible". Cornelius, to Imtiaz, is the father of cricket in Pakistan. He got together a "team of dedicated colleagues," like Prof. Mohammad Aslam of Isiamia College and K.K. Collector from Karachi to manage cricket affairs in the new-born state.

Cricket, he says, can rightly claim to be the first game which introduced Pakistan to the world. In 1949, Pakistan toured Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and trounced the home side in the 'two-test' series. The same    year Commonwealth XI came and beat Pakistan in the only unofficial 'test' in Lahore. The turning point for the Pakistan team came when the MCC visited Pakistan under the captaincy of Donald Carr and lost an unofficial 'test' in Karachi. Tom Graveney, Brian Statham, Tattersall, Robertson and Richardson were some of the team members. The MCC's defeat earned for Pakistan  test match status by the Imperial Cricket Conference (now re-christened as International Cricket Conference) in only five years.

In 1950, Imtiaz was among the four players whom the BCCP sent to Alf Cover's cricket coaching and training school in London. Khan Mohammad, Hanif Mohammad and Rusi Dinshaw were the others. Agha Saadat Ali went to this school at his own expense and Fazal Mahmood was sent by the BCCP a year later. Imtiaz talks about sub-sequent series at home and abroad and his personal achievements in batting and behind the wickets and performances by his other colleagues. Abdul Hafeez Kardar's role in laying a strong foundation for the game in the country is second to none, both as captain and the president of the BCCP, he says.

"We were all very good cricketers; but none of us had test match temperament; there was no first class cricket being played here and all the talent in the national team came only from clubs or colleges. Yet, we won a test(Lucknow) on our first visit abroad (India) in 1952; this was no mean achievement and most of the credit for this goes to Kardar," says Imtiaz. Another element which worked at Lucknow (second test) was that the entire team was endowed ; with a spirit of doing something worthwhile on their first outing. Imtiaz was  made the captain of the national team in 1961-62 when England toured Pakistan for a three-test series. He was the third captain after Kardar and Fazal.

When Pakistan went on a tour of England for a five-test series in 1962, Imtiaz was ignored and Javed Burki was appointed captain though he was a junior to Hanif, Wallis Mathias and Saeed Ahmed. Imtiaz says that Burki's  appointment as captain was facilitated because his father held a post in the government at that time and also because the board vice-president and chief selector Muzaffar Ahmad Zafri, was hostile towards Imtiaz. Though removed from captaincy, Imtiaz was still sent to England with the team but could not accept the insult of being sidelined. When the team suffered a humiliating defeat in England, Imtiaz announced his retirement from test cricket.

He was appointed captain once again when a Commonwealth team came to visit Pakistan in 1963 with a galaxy of cricket stars like Rohan Kanhai, Peter Richardson, Basil d'Oleveira, Seymour Nurse, Tom Graveney, Basil Butcher and Charlie Griffith.

Imtiaz says he was first approached by the BCCP secretary, Mian Mohammad Husain,_and then by president Syed Fida Husain himself who asked him to head the team because the BCCP , wanted to have a good crop of young cricketers ready before senior players like him left the field. He agreed but on the condition that Zafri would be removed from the selection board. The condition was met and Imtiaz agreed.

After retirement from the team, Imtiaz's was appointed coach and then chief selector between 1967 and 1981 and then again in 1991. During this period as coach and selector, he says he introduced players such as Asif Iqbal and Mushtaq Mohammad and then Imran Khan in the later years. He says Imran had a tie with a boy called Dara but the former had an edge over him.

During his first class career. Imtiaz scored about 11,000 runs with 16 centuries to his credit. His highest score is 300 which he scored while playing for the Indian Prime Minister's XI against a Common¬wealth team in Bombay in 1951. The Indian team was  headed by Vijay Merchant and included only two Pakistanis — the other being Fazal Mahmood.

Imtiaz has played 41 test  matches and 72 innings. He's scored 2,079 runs at an average of 29.28 with 209 as the highest which he scored against New Zealand in Lahore in October 1955. As wicket-keeper he took  77 catches and stumped 16 batsmen.

The great wicket-keeper batsman of yesteryear says he used to be a great admirer of Dennis Compton and Peter May who were technically flaw¬less.

As for Pakistan, Imtiaz considers Zaheer Abbas the best batsman of all times saying he was technically the most sound. But he does not under-rate Javed Miandad who, he says, made a major contribution  in  winning  the World Cup in 1992. He also praises Hanif Mohammad for his solid defence and Fazal Mahmood who, "was once unplayable."

He considers Imran Khan an outstanding cricketer and a good captain second only to Kardar who managed to give cricket a boost in Pakistan. But for Imtiaz, Kardar has a special place. "Kardar was the architect of cricket and built the game for the country." •

Batting style Right-hand bat

Bowling style Right-arm offbreak

Fielding position Wicketkeeper

Batting and fielding averages

Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave 100 50 6s Ct St
Tests 41 72 1 2079 209 29.28 3 11 3 77 16
First-class 180 310 32 10391 300* 37.37 22 45   322 82
Bowling averages

Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts BBI BBM Ave Econ SR 4w 5w 10
Tests 41 1 6 0 0 - - - 0.00 - 0 0 0
First-class 180   277 166 4 2/12   41.50 3.59 69.2   0 0


By Mahmood Zaman