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.