Fazal Mahmood: Pakistan Cricket's First ‘Poster Boy’
By Shaan Agha
A young green-eyed boy ran into bowl on a 22-yard strip. He aimed at a coin kept at good length, carefully placed in line with the off-stump. Each time the boy hit the coin, it was his to pocket.
By the age of thirteen he got into his college team, at fourteen he picked five for thirteen in the inter-college finals, as Islamia College were crowned champions in 1941.
For the next few years his father made sure the boy bagged a lot of coins and set a strict regime for the young lad. In bed latest by 10pm, rising at 4:30am to start rigorous training; a ten-mile run set at different levels of speed every morning.
Ghulam Hussain, a professor of Economics at the Islamia College, was a passionate cricket enthusiast and the president of the college cricket club. But more importantly he nurtured his son to become Pakistan’s first true cricketing celebrity, star and poster boy. He fathered and mentored the legendary Fazal Mahmood.
Fazal came from an educated and well respected lineage; his grandfather Allah Ditta graduated from King Edward Medical College and was one of the first Muslim doctors in the sub continent.
At the age of 19 Fazal was selected to play for India on its maiden tour to Australia in 1947-48, which was going to be his only chance to play against Sir Don Bradman who was to retire that year. He even attended the conditioning camp for the tour, but amidst mass murders and bloodbath in the region, Fazal had to flee the country in haste.
“I was informed about the slaughter when I reached the airport. I could not go to Delhi and Lahore. A kindly passenger gave me his ticket, and I managed to travel to Karachi. The incident changed my life. I decided to stay in Pakistan. I had a lot in India, emotionally and financially, but I had to reconcile myself and settle down in Pakistan,” he recalled.
Pakistan was a new nation and lacked systems, finances and infrastructure. In 1949, the ICC (Imperial Cricket Conference) rejected Pakistan’s application for Test status because of BCCP’s failure to submit membership fee. Second objection was a lack of competitive domestic cricket in Pakistan.
In 1949-50, Fazal was the leading bowler on Pakistan's tour of Ceylon, and when Ceylon returned the visit in 1950 he took 20 wickets in two representative matches. This was a trailer of what was in store.
In 1951 England (MCC Team) decided to visit Pakistan for two side games and two unofficial Tests as break from their tour to India. First three games were drawn at Sialkot, Lahore and Bhawalpur as the two teams headed to Karachi.
Fazal had picked up a thigh injury in Lahore and was ruled out of the match. “A day before the match, while I was in my hotel room (in Karachi), I switched on the radio and found that I had not been selected in the team. I could not believe that I had been dropped, and was crestfallen,” wrote Fazal in his autobiography ‘From Dusk till Dawn’.
One of the selectors Dilawer Hussain called him at night and asked him to come to the Karachi Gymkhana Ground in the morning for the game. Dilawer lied to the other selectors that the Board Chairman Justice A. R. Cornelius had ordered Fazal’s selection.
By lunch on day one, England was five down and Fazal had picked four. “Son, you’ve saved me from the gallows,” said Dilawer to Fazal as he walked into the pavilion for lunch.
Three days later, Fazal hit the winning runs that would secure Pakistan Test status.
In 1952 the Pakistani team crossed the Wagah Border for their inaugural Test series that started at Feroze Shah Kotla, Delhi. Before the game a pretty looking girl told Fazal, “Good luck, but you can’t win against India.” After Pakistan’s innings defeat she approached Fazal again and repeated her lines. This time an emotional Fazal replied: “If you want to see India lose, better come to Lucknow.”
The girl was said to be Indira Gandhi, daughter of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Fifteen years later, she went on to become the Prime Minister of India herself.
It is not known if Indira went to Lucknow to watch the Second Test, but the match was wrapped up in four days as Fazal bagged 12 wickets and Pakistan won by an innings.
Next, Pakistan toured England in 1954. The Pakistani team was invited to the Buckingham Palace and introduced to Queen Elizabeth, where she asked why Fazal had blue eyes unlike his countrymen. Later, he got a special invitation to the Queen’s annual Royal Garden Party. Some people suggest that it was due to Princess Margaret (Queen Elizabeth’s younger sibling) that Fazal was invited to the annual event for several years to come.
England won the Test at Nottingham and Pakistan somehow scrapped through with draws at Lords and Old Trafford, assisted by rain. The last Test at the Oval followed the script of the series and England was in a commanding position, needing 168 to win against a bowling attack they had played with relative ease throughout the wet summer.
England were 109/2 and needed just 59 to win with 8 wickets in hand before Peter May held out to Kardar on a ball from Fazal. Fearing rain, Sir Len Hutton promoted swash buckling keeper Godfrey Evans in the hope of finishing the game that evening.
England was soon reduced to 121/6 before close through some brilliant Pakistani bowling.
A huge Pakistani contingent showed up at the ground the next morning to see their team ignite the Englishmen. Pakistan had switched on the furnace and every run seemed like a milestone for the English. Pakistan recorded a historic win when Jim McConnon tried to steal a single but fell short of the crease. Last four wickets were bottled for 18 runs that morning and the Kingdom was Fazalled by Pakistan’s magic.
England had lost their first Test Match in over three years as the Oval Test witnessed one of the largest crowds in a cricket ground in Britain since World War II.
Though Fazal missed several games through injury, he finished the tour of 1954 with 77 wickets at 17.53 runs apiece.
While Sarfraz Nawaz in Melbourne and Imran Khan at Karachi can claim to have delivered the most memorable and significant solo fast bowling spells in Pakistan Test cricket history, the legend of Oval will live in Pakistani cricket folklore as the ultimate showdown.
Fazal took 12 wickets in the game as Pakistan squared the series with a 24-run victory; at home a national holiday was declared as Pakistan announced their arrival on the cricketing map in style.
Today, we mourn, we pay our respects, but most of all, we cherish Fazal Mahmood’s contribution to Pakistan cricket on the 10th death anniversary of the “Legend of Oval”.
“Pakistan has come here to stay,” Fazal often said, repeating the lines of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. - Courtesy Dawn