Aftab Baloch - 428 and all that
It was Aftab Baloch’s ill-fate that he played very little cricket for Pakistan, after proving his all-round prowess to make Test debut at 16, in his maiden first-class winter of 1969-70.
Having attracted attention as a school boy wonder in Karachi, he could look forward to a lengthy career at international level, only to be denied it, through some extraordinary chain of events.
Admittedly Aftab was up against it when trying to secure a middle order slot in the 1970s strong Pakistan line-up, occupied by full-time country cricket professionals but what hurt him most was the denial of a level-playing field. With the exception of the 1974 tour of England, he was given a cold shoulder for almost all major overseas tours undertaken by the national side. A permanent stand-bye. Oddly enough, the presence of his father M.S.Baloch in the Karachi Cricket Association (KCA) administration, complicated the matters and there came a time when Aftab could not count on the wholehearted backing in the city of his birth.
At 20, Aftab became only the sixth batsman to score a quadruple hundred in first-class cricket and would go on to lead Sind, Karachi, National Bank and PIA but still not deemed good enough for Pakistan. Now 67, he opens his heart to share the ups and down of his eventful life journey.
‘Our ancestral roots lie in the present Baluchistan but we do not know which tribe and we did not speak Baluchi at home. My forefathers engaged in horse-breeding trade and were invited by the Nawab of Palanpur to come and settle down in his State. My father M.S.Baloch was born in the city of Palanpur in the Indian state of Gujarat and graduated from the Gujarat College in Ahmedabad. He took employment in St. Stephen’s College, Bombay as an English and Persian teacher to Englishmen, in what was then a British India. In this period, he also featured in Bombay University’s winning the 1939-40 inter-university Rohinton Baria Trophy.’
‘My father spoke of his playing at the Hindu Gymkhana that still exists in Palanpur. In the inaugural Ranji Trophy in 1937-38, he represented Gujarat as a first change bowler and was invited to play for Muslims in the 1941-42 Bombay Pentangular. After a season with Rajputana, he was back to lead Gujarat in 1943-44 and in his last season before the partition, he had won selection in a strong Bombay side, led by Vijay Merchant. In Pakistan, he was part of Karachi, the winner of the 1954-55 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and aged 43, captained Karachi Greens in the 1956-57 edition. He was considered one of the best matting wicket bowlers of his time, with his fastish off-breaks and cutters’’
‘I was often reminded by my father’s contemporaries that he was unlucky to miss out on All India’s 1946 tour of England. I was inspired at a young age whilst we three brothers had access to his cricket equipment at home. He was proud to show us the bat that brought the winning run for a dramatic one-wicket win of Muslims, who successfully chased 298 against Hindus in the 1944-45 final of the Bombay Pentangular. He was the greatest influence on me and I loved holding and posing with an English-make bat. In the evenings he would spend 10-15 minutes to guide us to appreciate the finer points of the game.’
‘The likes of Hanif Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood, Mushtaq Mohammad were my heroes and outside Pakistan we had learned about the deeds of Peter May, Denis Compton and Freddie Trueman, from our father. Growing up, the surroundings around the Government Quarters in the Garden West, Karachi, had plenty of open spaces for us to engage initially in a Mohallah team before joining Pak Quarters CC. I was in 8th or 9th grade when I scored my maiden fifty in the inter-school competition.’
‘We eagerly looked forward to the weekends and the tournament run by KCA. I made few appearances for Pak Ahmedabad CC, managed by my father and in 1966-67 had joined Muslim Gymkhana. My switch over to City Gymkhana proved more rewarding as time spent under Nasim-ul-Ghani a shrewd professional, would help me in my captaincy, later on in my career. I later also represented Clifton Gymkhana, run by Siraj-ul-Islam Bukhari, who always backed my talent and was a great source of comfort in the times of disappointment.’
‘Umar Khan and Mirza Idrees Baig, the two former Ranji Trophy players and now well-known umpires, were friends of my father and conveniently both lived in our neighbourhood. Umar who had stood in one of our inter-school matches was impressed with my batting and recommended my name to Idrees Baig, who ran PWD team and was looking to fill in the void created by Zaheer Abbas and Rehman Ali, after the two had signed up by PIA. It was an opening for me and when offered to play for PWD, thrilled to bits, I was determined to do well. My preparation included my father making sure I faced two new balls in the nets for half an hour, to sharpen my reflexes.’
‘I was named in the PWD 15-man squad for the 1969-70 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, following 20 days of rigorous work in a training camp. On my first-class debut against Hyderabad Blues at Karachi, I was lined up to bat at No.5 but skipper Saeed Ahmed informed that he had decided No.9 to be a better batting position. I managed to score unbeaten 77 and had added 162 runs for the 9th wicket with Arshad Bashir (88 not out). It was good fun with the bat and with the ball I took a wicket in my first over and before I know it, I had 6-33 to my name and when Hyderabad Blues followed on, I ran through with 6-46. It was an unbelievable success, in my very first game at this level.’
‘In the six Quaid-e-Azam Trophy matches, I had three hundreds – against Kalat, Quetta and Sargodha - to my credit with a total of 490 runs @ 98.00 and 23 wickets @ 13.91 and we only lost to a strong PIA side in the final. My confidence was high and after scoring 37 for President’s XI against New Zealand at Pindi Club Ground, I was picked ahead of Wasim Raja and Javed Bhatti to make a Test debut at Dacca, East Pakistan.’
‘In my only innings I scored 25 with 3 fours and added 69 for the 4th wicket with Shafqat Rana but due to the weight of expectations, I was not able to play my normal game. I had the backing of A.H.Kardar, who was the chairman of the selection committee and in fact Pakistan were quite relieved to draw the game as the absence of a number of leading batmen – Hanif Mohammad, Mushtaq Mohammad, Majid Khan, Younis Ahmed and Zaheer Abbas - had left us pretty vulnerable.’
‘After my Test appearance, which only six months’ ago was not even in my wildest dreams, whilst still a grade 10 student at Government High School, Lawrence Road – No.1, I had become a public figure. The cancellation of Pakistan u-25 tour to England in 1970 and Pakistan A in Ceylon in 1971-72, was a huge blow for my generation of budding cricketers dreaming of international exposure, but it still didn’t prepare me for what lay ahead of me. Despite consistently performing with bot bat and ball and almost a ‘certainty’ to many, it was heart-breaking to be left out for the 1971 England tour.’
‘Amongst my contemporaries, Wasim Raja, was the all-rounder that I would be competing for a middle order slot in the Pakistan side. Our association dated back when Raja was named captain of the Pakistan Schoolboys team against the England Schoolboys in 1968-69. After scoring 37 as captain of the Karachi Schools at Karachi Gymkhana, I scored an unbeaten 36 to draw the second Mini Test at Pindi Club Ground. My father stopped me accompanying the 1969 Pakistan Eaglets to England, again led by Raja, for he didn’t think I would gain much out of it? I had made a Test debut at his expense but the team management called Raja as a re-enforcement for the 1972-73 New Zealand leg of the tour. He also led Pakistan u-23 to Sri Lanka in 1973-74.’
‘When Raja joined National Bank, he played under me and our relationship was ok. It really upset me when having led the team with a record six domestic trophies in two seasons, the management wanted me to play under Raja, though a brilliant player, he had a well-known tendency to be very rude to his team mates. At that point I had no choice but to leave National Bank and later got to know that his father Raja Saleem Akhtar had influenced the management, through the offices of Sadiq Hussain Qureishi, Governor of Punjab. Despite this latest setback I was prepared to fight, with the national selectors and captain Intikhab Alam too having more faith in Raja, in the Pakistan team.’
‘I reminded the selectors of my form with 50 on a damp wicket for President’s XI against the MCC at Pindi Club Ground in 1972-73. I was soon to realise that a strong lobby was doing their best to malign my reputation which they did through gossip and print media. I was informed by a source that Lala Fida, a Rawalpindi cricketer, created a story that I had invited 2-3 young girls in my hotel room and that I was also spotted throwing the food in a toilet. It was quite bizzare as the family I invited were my neighbours in Karachi, who had recently moved to Islamabad. It was simply catching up with friends and not what was assumed.’
‘In the same period, a cut out of my picture was used by a person who masked his identity whilst holding an anti-A.H.Kardar banner in a rally organised in Karachi. I was being portrayed as an anti-establishment figure on behest of KCA which was absolute rubbish. The feedback provided by Sind Cricket official Razaullah Khan to the BCCP President, and the selectors, namely Imtiaz Ahmed and Nazar Mohammad, proved damaging for my reputation. It was a case of my success didn’t go well in some camps and even my bowling action was questioned during the 1974-75 domestic season, though I was cleared.’
‘The 1973-74 winter was a fresh start to prove my worth and I didn’t disappoint anyone by scoring 122 runs only once dismissed, including 52 at Karachi, in the two unofficial ‘Test’ against Rest of the World. In Sri Lanka, my unbeaten 167 (383 minutes, 24 fours) in Pakistan u-23’s win gave me lot of satisfaction.’
‘In February 1974 whilst captaining Sind I managed to score 428, amidst threat from the opposition (Baluchistan) that if I didn’t declare, they will walkout and there will not be a match. I recall hitting just 25 fours and taking advantage of a rather moderate bowling attack and fielding skills, by smart placing of the ball and stealing twos and threes. Bashir Shana (165), Nasir Valika (74) and Javed Miandad (100) were the three men with whom I shared productive stands in a record-breaking total of 951-7 declared. My dismissal, caught at extra cover by Sabahat Hussain, was a touch surprising, for Baluchistan in our huge total, had dropped few easy catches.
‘Once I had been egged on by stats-savvy Akram Bhai, after I had reached 326 at the end of the second day, I did become conscious of the records. I was told, before my innings only five men – Archie Maclaren, Bill Ponsford, Don Bradman, B.B.Nimbalkar and Hanif Mohammad – had reached the four-hundred mark. I was pleased with the presence of my father and Prof. Siraj-ul-Islam Bukhari at the National Stadium, but I can assure you my innings didn’t attract much media attention from TV or radio and it was limited to just a normal match report. As far as I know, there was no single photograph taken during the match, even more surprising for it was a Quaid-e-Azam Trophy fixture, played at a Test centre.’
‘My form was good and confidence was naturally high. After scores of 31 and 94 in the opening ‘Test’ against Sri Lanka at Karachi, I took my first-class tally for the winter to 1457 @ 52.03, thus booking a place on the 1974 tour of England. I was picked as a middle order batsman and on the insistence of Wasim Bari, also as a stand-in keeper when he needed a rest.’
‘I remember both Mahmood Hussain and Majid Khan, advising me to take wicket-keeping more seriously, if I wanted to challenge Wasim Bari. Maybe it was a mistake as I didn’t take too much notice of that. My excitement for touring England was dampened by the fact that I was not first-choice player and throughout the tour was not once asked to bat in the nets. The team management consisting of Omar Kureishi, Zafar Altaf, Intikhab Alam and Asif Iqbal, didn’t seem to be too bothered and my only contribution on the tour, besides an unbeaten 42 at No.8 against D,H,Robin’s XI at Eastbourne, was to act as 12th man in all the three Tests.’
‘I was invited to join National Bank by its captain Nasim-ul-Ghani, who was impressed with my 60 plus innings for Clifton Gymkhana against them that he was leading in a match played in the KCA League. I was offered good terms by Daud Sahib after a one-day tournament in Quetta. After a season (1972-73) under Nasim, I was confident when appointed captain of National Bank and both my batting and bowling flourished. The presence of Ehtesham-ud-din, Wasim Raja and Iqbal Qasim, made us a formidable bowling unit. In the two seasons I led National Bank, we overtook two main rivals – PIA and Railways – on our way to winning six titles, including Patron’s Trophy twice, Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and Pentangular Trophy.’
West Indies 1974-75
‘My good form with National Bank won me a spot in the opening Test at Lahore, against the 1974-75 West Indies and I was slotted at No.7. In the second innings Pakistan were 214-5 and still not out of woods, when I walked in, having been briefed by A.H.Kardar that I must support Mushtaq Mohammad to take the team to a safety. I avoided the bouncers hurled at me by Andy Roberts and other pacemen and some of my critics, led by commentator B.A.Khan, saw it as my weakness. I added 106 for the 6th wicket and after Mushtaq’s dismissal, having resisted the temptation of risky strokes for the team’s sake, opened out and hit eight fours to reach 60 not out, when skipper Intikhab declared the innings.’
‘To my horror I was dropped for the second Test at Karachi and replaced by debutante paceman Liaqat Ali on a dead wicket that would have assisted a slow bowler. As luck would have it, that proved to be my second and last Test match appearance. It was fair to say that after my recall, following a gap of more than four years, I was not treated well by the selectors and going forward was not even considered for the 1975 Prudential World Cup. After also being overlooked for the 1976-77 tour of Australia and West Indies, I knew in my heart that I shall be very lucky ever to play for Pakistan again.’
‘Both mine and Javed Miandad’s families are from Palanpur and our parents knew each other well and carried a mutual respect. I vividly recall Javed’s great enthusiasm for the game and would get him behind myself on the motorcycle when his father Miandad Noor Mohammad and older brother Bashir, strictly not in favour for him being anywhere near Muslim Gymkhana. Out of sight but fully-kitted, once the match started, Javed would be seen lurking around the ground, offering himself as a fielder. I was happy to support him in his early days when he was picked for Sind. During my innings of 428 for Sind, Javed hit his maiden first-class hundred as we added 174 for the 5th wicket’
‘Even when Pakistan lost four of its middle-order batsmen – Asif Iqbal, Mushtaq Mohammad, Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas – to a retirement and Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in 1977, the selectors opted to ignore me and handed the captaincy to Wasim Bari. My last realistic chance to return to the Pakistan team was against Australia at home in the 1979-80 series. I took seven wickets whilst leading BCCP President’s XI against the tourists at Pindi Club Ground. That was the series Javed was named captain for the first time and I thought he might push for my case when invited for trials but it didn’t happen as both myself and another off-spinner Ilyas Khan, had their hopes shattered by a ‘new discovery’ Tauseef Ahmed, who with only one first-class game for PWD, created enough impression to be drafted in the Pakistan team for the first Test at Karachi.’
‘I was only 24 when I joined PIA, having said ‘ no thank you’ to the previous offers, for the 1977-78 winter, fully aware that I will be sharing a dressing room, with some of the biggest names in Pakistan cricket. In my first game for PIA, I scored an unbeaten 107 against United Bank at Hyderabad in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. In my first against my old team-mates – National Bank – I was leading PIA and my contribution of 125 & 39 was still not enough to save us from a defeat in the quarter final of the Patron’s Trophy at Karachi.’
‘In few years down the line with PIA, I was to realise that from cricketing point of view, it was not the best decision. I would agree with someone who said that was the beginning of my downfall. Although I carried on till 1985, and often asked to lead PIA, my best days were well behind me and my focus was more on a career.’