Cricket’s Golden Son

By Omar Kureishi

In one of my cricket columns, I had written that Keith Miller and Bishen Singh Bedi were two of my favorite cricket persons. Bedi was so overwhelmed to have his name linked with that of Keith Miller that he called me up to thank me for the “great honor” I had conferred on him. Keith Miller died last week on the same day as Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Superman. Thus on a single day the world was made poorer. Keith Miller was no Superman but would surely have been a knight in King Arthur’s Camelot.

I have written a lot about Keith Miller and the last time I did so was in the series “Gallery of Cricket Persons” that I write. I recalled my friendship with him and of the many happy hours I had spent in his company. Someone mentioned to me that I could have been delivering a eulogy. It seems a prescient observation, though it seemed a little sick at the time, and here I am, a few weeks hence, writing an obituary.

Keith Miller was 84 years old and had been ailing for some time, and when one is at that treacherous stage of one’s life, the rage one feels (at the dying of the light) subsides. Keith Miller passed away peacefully. His death should not have been unexpected, yet I had believed that he was like Kipling’s old soldiers who never die but just fade away. I was more than saddened. Public sorrow for me became personal grief.

I don’t want to write about him as a cricketer. He wasn’t the world’s best batsman. He wasn’t the world’s best bowler and he wasn’t the world best slip fielder. But on a given day, he could be any one of those. Keith Miller played cricket on his terms, and what he sought from the game was enjoyment. He could have been the twelfth man carrying drinks and he would have lit up the cricket ground.

I don’t even want to write about him as a person even though he was a close, personal friend and there was a special bond between us. But Keith Miller was a true friend of Pakistan cricket, and when Pakistan toured England in 1954, I remember Kardar telling me that soon after the team arrived, he received a telegram from Keith Miller in which he offered this encouragement: “You can beat them.” Kardar told me that the telegram lifted his morale no end. Pakistan who had patronizingly been dismissed as “the babes of cricket” had someone like Keith Miller in its corner.

When I had gone to England in 1962 to do the commentary for BBC, Keith Miller had sought me out and told me that I shouldn’t be intimidated by the big names who would be doing the commentary and by the experts (Norman Yardley and Freddie Brown) and that he had heard me doing some of the county games and that I was as good, if not better, than them. “Don’t be bullied by them and don’t let them patronize you,” he had said. I hardly knew him at that time but that he should have gone out of his way to buck me up said something of the man and it was that “something” that made him such a special person.

An even better example is when he turned up to play in a benefit match that the Karachi Cricket Association had arranged for Adhu, one of its low level functionaries, a jack of all trades but of modest means and humble origins. It was a fine gesture by KCA but it was not one of those grand benefit matches. It was played at the Karachi Gymkhana but it was an inspired decision as well as an insolent one to have asked someone of the stature of Keith Miller to play in this match. But he came happily.

It was on this occasion that I met him for the first time, and Kardar had asked me to look after him so I took him to lunch. He seemed more keen to talk about his days as a fighter-pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force, once he found out that one of my brothers too had been in the air force and been awarded a MBE. But enough cricket was discussed and a basis had been laid for a relationship that would ultimately develop into a close friendship.

In 1967, I had gone to England once again to do the cricket commentary. As I surveyed the press box at Lord’s, I found seated there or huddled at the bar some of the most famous names in cricket. My son Javed was then six years old and I decided to get the autographs of some of these cricket legends and present the autograph book to him. When he got a little older, he would know its value.

He still has it. I got autographs from Learie Constantine, Richie Benaud, Freddie Truman, Len Hutton, Trevor Bailey and John Arlott. When I went to Keith Miller, he seemed surprised that I wanted his autograph. I told him it was for my son. He asked me his name and how old he was. He then wrote in the autograph book: “Dear Javed, hope to see you play at Lord’s”.

Keith Miller was the golden boy of cricket but he was also the English summer. The writer Sir James Barrie captures the magic: “Rural cricket match in buttercup time, seen and heard through the trees, it is surely the loveliest scene in England and the most disarming sound. From the ranks of the unseen dead, forever passing along our country lanes on their eternal journey, the Englishmen fall out for a moment to look over the gate of the cricket field and smile”. When I first came across this passage, for some unknown reason I thought of Keith Miller. He too would have looked over the gate of the cricket field and smiled.

Rightly his death is being mourned all over the cricket world. Too late to tell him now that I valued his friendship as if it was some priceless diamond. He was not just a great man. He was also a good man.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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