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A Throwback to the Amateur Days - Obituary of Mohammad Munaf

Mohammad Munaf, a right-arm medium-fast bowler who represented Pakistan in four home Test matches, besides appearing for Sind, Karachi and PIA, breathed his last in the early hours of January 29, in Amstelveen, a suburb of Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The 84-year old’s gentle nature and love for music featuring strongly in the tributes, pouring in from cricket circles, around the world.

Born in Bombay, British India on November 2, 1935, into a Marathi-speaking family in the Konkani community, settled along the western coast of India, Munaf attended Anjuman-e-Islam school. He was picked for Bombay Schools U-14 cricket team as an all-round cricketer with a natural outswing as his main bowling weapon. Inspired by the phenomenal batting deeds of K.C.Ibrahim for Muslims and Bombay, Munaf had the good fortune to attend nets of Islam Gymkhana at the Brabourne Stadium.

In 1950, Munaf would accompany his family in migrating from Bombay to Karachi, the first capital of Pakistan, a new Muslim state created in August 1947. His selection for Sind, didn’t surprise anyone for as a 17-year old he had shown promise with both bat and ball. He was one of a handful of young budding cricketers to benefit from the patronage of Pir of Pagaro, who resided opposite the Karachi Gymkhana and also led Sind in the first edition of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy in 1953-54.

According to Munaf, ‘In my early teens, I realised I could swing the ball away from a right-hand batsman. My favourite trick though was the change of pace and I once fooled Tom Graveney in mis-timing a drive straight into my hands.’

Munaf shared the new ball with Ikram Elahi for Sind, just like he had done for the first time at Sind Madrassah in the 1950 Rubie Shield - an inter-school tournament in Karachi. Ikram recalls Munaf as, ‘decent soft-spoken and music lover, besides being a good all-round cricketer’. Under the watchful eye of their coach and mentor Master Aziz, Sind Madrassah squad also featured the ‘wonder boy’ Hanif Mohammed, the two wicket-keepers Abdul Rasheed and Behram Irani, middle-order batsman Abdullah and Anwar Elahi and all-rounders Ziaullah Khan and Ghulam Hussain Lasi, son of Ghulam Mohammad, a left-arm medium pace bowler, who toured with the Indians to England in 1932.

Although he was in contention for national colours for more than a decade, kicking off with his selection for Sind against the 1954-55 touring Indians at Hyderabad and followed by an outstanding tour of England with the 1955 Pakistan Eaglets, Munaf, only managed to win four Test caps for Pakistan. In England he also formed a friendship with fellow tourist Abdul Dyer, an industrialist with great passion for cricket, who was well-known for his generosity and emerged as one of the benefactors for talented cricketers from Karachi.

Abdul Dyer, added his tribute, ‘ I have lost a very good friend. We set off from Karachi on our sea journey with 1955 Pakistan Eaglets with stopovers in Bombay, Aiden, Alexandria, Port Said, before docking in Tilbury. On the way, Munaf was happy playing piano and it was quite entertaining for the team members. On the field, a good all-round cricketer, who at times needed to be wound up to perform to his best, as a bowler. During the 1960-61 Pakistan tour to India, I met up with Munaf and a group of friends went on the sets of, ‘Mughal-e-Azam’, a classic cinema film featuring Dilip Kumar and Madhu Bala.’

In the same period Munaf also appeared for Jang CC led by Munir Hussain, later to establish as leading Urdu commentator, and Pak Ahmedabad. Once Pakistan’s match-winning new-ball trio of Khan Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood and Mahmood Hussain lost their zip, the competition between the second generation of pacemen hotted up amongst Ikram Elahi, Munaf, Antao D’Souza, Munir Malik and Mohammad Farooq, in the period of challenging transition from matting to turf wickets.

Despite winning selection for two major tours of West Indies in 1957-58 and India in 1960-61, Munaf didn’t appear in the Test matches, Pakistan were led by A.H.Kardar and Fazal Mahmood, respectively and thus understandably tagged as, ‘an enigma’. ‘He seldom grumbles his luck or lack of chances’ wrote Qamar-ud-din Butt in his book Playing for a Draw.

In the 1955-56 winter, Munaf was picked for no less than three side matches against the touring MCC ‘A’ team at Hyderabad, Bahawalpur and Chittagong before making a debut, following a call-up to replace injured Khan Mohammed, for Pakistan in the final unofficial ‘Test’ at Karachi. Surprisingly, the stand-in captain Fazal Mahmood only called Munaf for two overs in a low scoring match that Pakistan narrowly lost by 2 wickets.

It was the non-availability of Mahmood Hussain and injury to Fazal Mahmood that finally opened the door for Munaf to be included in Pakistan’s Test line-up against Australia in 1959-60. He shared the new-ball with Israr Ali in the first ever match to be played at Lahore (now Gaddafi) Stadium and was reported to have, ‘intimidatingly bounced a fairly good number’. He had the distinction of dismissing Neil Harvey, star left-handed batsman, twice in the match. In the next game at Karachi the Pakistan team, including Munaf, had the distinction of being introduced to Dwight Eisenhower, the first and only American President to attend a Test match.

Two years later in 1961, at Lahore, Munaf picked up 4-42 in 31.1 overs in the first innings and then also inflicted a pair on England’s left-handed opening batsman Geoff Pullar. Pakistan lost the Test and Munaf’s wholehearted effort was lost amidst an unexpected 5-wicket defeat. Pakistan fielding was reported to be as, ‘simply appalling and schoolboyish.’ Further disappointment waited for him when he pulled out of the 1962 tour of England, due to recurrence of painful cartilage in his left knee for which he was hospitalised in Karachi for a month and a half.

After two winters of apprenticeship with Sind, Munaf had been invited to join the strong Karachi squad though his 6 for 67 for Karachi Whites against Punjab at the University Ground, Lahore in the final of the 1956-57 Quaid-i-Azam Trophy, was not enough to clinch the title for his side. In 1958-59 Karachi did win the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy with Munaf as one of the key players in a star-studded team. His only ten-wicket match haul - 10 for 48, came in Karachi’s win against Pakistan Universities at Karachi in the semi-final of the 1959-60 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.

By 1960 Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was ready to jump into the fray and form a strong cricket team by inviting a number of Pakistan Test players, including Hanif Mohammed, Haseeb Ahsan, Saeed Ahmed, Intikhab Alam, Mushtaq Mohammed, Sadiq Mohammed, Antao D’Souza and Munaf. By joining PIA, the players were given financial security and guaranteed first-class cricket. Munaf’s lucky break came after he picked up five wickets and scored 103 for Jang CC against PIA, and straight after the match was approached by Hanif Mohammed to join their team.

After achieving his career-best 8 for 84 for PIA Eaglets against Kent at Dartford in 1963, Munaf was hampered by a knee injury for the following winter. His colleagues on the tour Salim-ud-din recalls, ‘’We used to call him ‘Munna’ for short and my elder brother Alim-ud-din and the Mohammed brothers were all very fond of him. I was once hit on the head in a pre-tour camp at Karachi when an intended bouncer from Munaf didn’t rise at all. Off the field, a wonderful company, he entertained us by playing piano and harmonium and of course with his singing.’

Majid Khan adds, ‘My first vague memory of Munaf is watching him bowl in the 1959 Lahore Test against Richie Benaud’s Australians. After his somewhat ‘bizzare’ absence from the 1962 tour to England, he would accompany us on the PIA Eaglets tour to the same, next year. I always felt with a strong body action he didn’t need a long bowling run-up to generate pace. Had he chosen to stick to a shorter run-up, he might have been more deceptive and I base my argument on facing him myself in Pakistan domestic cricket. An orthodox batting style suggested Munaf had potential to feature in the top six although I only saw him bat in the lower order.’

Shafqat Rana, contributes with, ‘I toured with Munaf with PIA Eaglets to England in 1963 and he was my roommate with PIA to East Africa in 1964-65 winter. A shy individual who spoke little but possessed good sense of humour, dressed well and was fond of music. During our stay in Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, he sought ‘excuse’ from singing, due to a thumb injury, which to us was hilarious. I can still visualise standing at first slip to Munaf’s out swing and picking the red ball with so much ease in lush green grounds in England. His gentle nature was re-confirmed when in April 1964, he rushed to apologize for hitting me on the head after I had ducked into a ball that didn’t rise as much as I expected, in a Quaid-e-Azam semi-final between Karachi Whites and Lahore Greens at Karachi.’

Wicket-keeper Wasim Bari adds his comments, ‘Munaf was a talented cricketer and perhaps suffered due to very little international cricket played by Pakistan in the 1960s. We played together when I joined PIA in 1967 and he would contribute with bat, ball and with his close-in catching. An outswing bowler with good control, Munaf was at his best with the new ball and in terms of pace, a notch or two quicker than Sarfraz Nawaz. A real gentleman off the field, he would be remembered as handsome and graceful personality.’

In one of his most devastating spells, at Karachi Parsi Institute (KPI) Ground, Munaf clean bowled five of his victims on his way to claiming 6-44 off 11 overs against the 1961-62 touring Associated Cement Company (ACC) team from India. By remaining wicket-less and out for a duck, when sent in as a night watchman to open the innings for Pakistan against the 1963-64 Commonwealth team in the unofficial ‘Test’ at Lahore, he brought his international career to an end.

Munaf led PIA in 1964-65 both in Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and Ayub Trophy and again in the 1965-66 Ayub Trophy when Hanif Mohammed was on international duties. His PIA colleague Mohammad Ilyas, added his tribute, ‘I recall Munaf as a gentle and happy soul. He moved the new ball both ways. He was a serious cricketer and didn’t show emotions on the field, regardless of his performance. As a senior player, he appreciated his role to accommodate youngsters and knew exactly how to approach them in the training camp.’

Words of appreciation from Intikhab Alam, ‘Munaf was a very decent human being and a good friend of mine amongst us Karachites. The early 1960s was great time to be growing up in a cricketing environment for we bonded so well and were able to form lifelong friendships. Although there were no speedometers, to me Munaf was fairly quick. With a smooth side-on bowling action, he had a natural outswing. Off the field, he enjoyed his music and in fact was our lead singer on the 1963 PIA Eaglets tour, always pouncing on the opportunity to play piano often found in the hotel lobbies in those days.’

Munaf’s batting potential was evident in his school days at Sind Madrassah for he did open with Hanif Mohammed and coming in at No.5, top scored with 36 on his first-class debut for Sind against Bahawalpur attack featuring Khan Mohammad, Amir Elahi and Zulfiqar Ahmed. He had four fifties to his name at the first-class level and followed his career-best 73 with 45 in the second innings, for Sind against Baluchistan at Quetta in the 1954-55 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. For PIA his innings of 42 contributed to a 125-run stand for the 8th wicket with Hanif Mohammed (170) against Karachi, in the semi-final of the 1962-63 Ayub Trophy at Karachi.

In Karachi, Munaf started off as Senior Traffic Assistant with PIA, and was later stationed to a number of European destinations of the same employee. He accompanied PIA on tours of East Africa in 1964-65 and Ireland in 1969 and brought an end to his 23-year association with the national airline in 1983.

While posted as Station Manager in Amsterdam, which became his home after being posted there in 1976 for a four-year period, Munaf beside playing, took upon youth coaching and then would enjoy long association with VRA, a club where he was simply known as Mohammad. He played an important role in the post-apartheid South Africa cricket by inviting township boys for coaching opportunities in the Netherlands.

Only the second club to have a turf wicket in the Netherlands, VRA rose to prominence after staging 1999 World Cup game between Kenya and South Africa and a three-nation ODI Videocon Cup in August 2004, featuring Australia, India and Pakistan. Alas, Munaf will not be present at the ground that is scheduled to host three ODIs against Pakistan in July 2020.

A good number of players coached and mentored by Munaf at youth level, went on to represent the national Dutch team, though he himself preferred to keep low key, all his life. VRA acknowledged Munaf’s distinguished services in the period 1978-2015, by honouring him with his inclusion in the club’s walk of fame in 2019.

Munaf was one of the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS) beneficiaries at Sharjah in April 2001 during the ARY Gold Cup. Asif Iqbal, the chief co-ordinator of CBFS, recalled Munaf, ‘I played with Munaf for Karachi and then toured with him with the 1963 PIA Eaglets. He was the only fast bowler in my playing career who was upset after hitting a batsman and would feel duty bound to apologize and enquire his well-being. A shy individual who loved his music and entertained us with playing piano, wherever he found one in the hotels we were staying.’

Munaf, as a well-dressed handsome young man attracted attention for his good looks, more so the 1960-61 tour of India when Pakistan team accepted invitations to a number of receptions from the Indian film industry. It was a tour when Munaf remained on the benches, as his good friend Mohammad Farooq, got the preference to play in the Test matches. Farooq adds his tributes, ‘I go back with Munaf when we shared a new ball for a club by the name of Pak Ahmedabad on Kakri ground matting in the old city of Karachi. With a slightly round-arm action, he could generate pace with a short run-up. Tall, good looking, fair-coloured and well dressed, he could be mistaken for a movie star.’

Married to Khalida, a fellow PIA employee and daughter of renowned physician Dr. Mohammad Hafeez Toosi, till their separation in 1977, Munaf had to endure the loss of his only son Shahzad, who died of leukaemia aged 19 in 1987. His last visit to Pakistan was in 1988.

His second marriage to Nasima, whom he referred as ‘rock in my life’ in 1978, provided him with both love and great support through tough times, more so after overcoming major health challenges in 2014. Munaf often found it hard to hide his frustration and gradually telephonic links too stopped. More recently it was the worsening of vascular dementia that caused his isolation from the outside world. He is survived by brother Mohammad Saeed and wife Nasima.

The writer acknowledges the co-operation of Nasima Munaf, PIA colleague Khawaja Shuja-ud-din and all the contributors.