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Bradford’s Own - Numan Shabbir Syed - An Unsung Hero

The death of Numan Shabbir, the serving Director of The Yorkshire Cricket Board and former first-class cricketer of Lahore, Dawood Industries and Habib Bank and at the age of 59, literally shocked the cricket fraternity, both in England and Pakistan.

As a Level II Coach, Numan has been badly missed as, one of the most respectful coaches, in the league cricket in Yorkshire. Numan was diagnosed with advanced stage of blood cancer (leukaemia), on 10th August 2013. After having braved through the chemotherapy course, within two months though, his body, could no longer stand the strain of medication and a brain haemorrhage, sealed his fate, on the morning of 22nd October. Numan, the kindest of souls, departed for the hereafter, leaving family and friends, in mourning.

Numan was both upright and refined and had no shame in clinging on to the conventional cricketing values of the bygone era. For that very fact, sadly though, he was the type of cricketer who was consigned to the back burner, more so in the age dominated by instant global communication, social media and celebrity status. Hence it is all the more essential to share the life story of Numan Shabbir, who first as an all-round cricketer and later as a coach, dedicated his life to the game.

Numan Shabbir Syed, was born in Lahore on 15th December, 1953, though his ancestral roots lie in Sialkot. One of five siblings, his childhood and education beside two brothers and two sisters, was in Lahore. His father, Syed Nazir Ahmed Niazi and uncle Maulvi Mir Hasan were both renowned educationist. Syed Nazir Ali, served as the Head of Iqbaliat in Punjab University and was author of ‘Encyclopaedia of Islam’ in his long and distinguished career of well over three decades. Numan added, ‘My father was working in India but decided to opt for Pakistan, after the partition of the sub-continent in 1947. He was founder editor of an Urdu publication, ‘Jamia Milia’ and also compiled ‘Talooh-i-Islam’.

The cricket inspiration came from another uncle, which Numan shared, ‘My father’s younger brother, Syed Nasir Ahmed, our Chacha, too was in education but also a sports mad. He was appointed lecturer in Aitchison College plus being the Games’ Superintendent and his name is mentioned in Imran Khan’s book too. He also served as secretary of the Universal CC, before my joining the club.’

‘My first school – GRO1 Lahore - .I took to cricket, quite late, when I was around 13-14 and studying in 8th Class in Sir Syed Cambridge School, Lahore, where I also passed my matriculation exams in 1972. I started going to Universal CC nets in the days when there was Azhar Khan, Masood Iqbal and Tariq Azhar. The top players though were Asif Masood, Tariq Cheema and Saeed Bakhsh. Within a year, I had established myself to be considered for Senior Wazir Ali League but against my wishes was advised to start with the Junior section of the league before stepping up to the next grade. The senior and junior leagues were a big difference.’

Q.D. Butt, was secretary of Universal CC at the time Numan joined the club and was full of praise in his interview in June 2013, ‘Q.D. Butt was a legend. He had a loving and caring nature and did all in his power to polish the talent of players. He had stood as an umpire in Test matches and was a devoted cricketer. Chaudhry Saeed of National Tyres, too was another dedicated well-wisher of our club, who had spent 15-20 years with the club, whilst earning their livelihood outside the game. Lahore club cricket scene was always buzzing with bright cricket talent discovered by Crescent, Universal, Victorious and later by Servis Industries. The club that revolutionized and made the biggest impact was Panther and Tiger (P & T) Gymkhana. With players like Saadat Ali in their ranks, their fearless and aggressive approach, was almost unheard of, in the 1970s. Not very dissimilar, I would say, to the modern day t20. The founding member of P & T Gymkhana, Azhar Zaidi deserves all the credit for it.’

Universal, a leading club of Lahore, was based in Bert Institute, Gari Shahoo, also referred to as ‘Nach Ghar’ (Dance House), which besides cricket also had badminton courts. Numan Shabbir held membership of Universal, till his death but had lost contact with the present players and administration. On his cricket heroes, Numan paused and replied, ‘In those days there was no concept of sporting heroes. Muhammad Ali’s fights and international hockey matches, particularly India vs. Pakistan, were major attractions. The names of Hanif Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood and Imtiaz Ahmed, stood out but for me Zaheer Abbas, was a delightful batsman. He overshadowed everyone else and at times, when in flow, he was ahead of even the great Vivian Richards.’

Awarded to Numan Shabbir Syed wife in October 2014.
©Noreen Syed.

On Pakistan team, Numan shared his views, ‘I do not have great recollection of the 1972-73 series in Australia or New Zealand but this was the period when individual performances mattered more to Pakistan players. They did not seem to have the will to win or shall we say did not possess enough confidence to even contemplate a victory against say, England or Australia. The art of winning is a mental challenge, which was introduced to Pakistan cricket by Imran Khan, under whom our national team achieved some remarkable victories.’

Numan progressed through the inert-collegiate cricket with impressive all-round credentials for Government College, where he was contemporary of Agha Zahid, Azhar Khan & Mudassar Nazar. Numan recalls his University days, ‘Once I started playing for Government College and Punjab University, I gained the desired level of confidence. I cannot forget my hundred against Islamia College in the Inter-Collegiate final @ Sialkot. Such was the intensity of our rivalry, the match could not be played at any venue in Lahore. I was injured but returned to complete my hundred with last man in. Majid Usman and Azhar Khan were my team-mates. Coir matting was the norm and very little club cricket was played on turf wickets. Minto Park’s centre wicket was turf and the rest were mostly jute matting. Our understanding of the game was just focused on bat and ball and very little else.’

BCCP U-19 Finalists - Lahore and Karachi teams at National Stadium, Karachi

BCCP U-19 Finalists - Lahore and Karachi teams at National Stadium, Karachi
©Noreen Syed.

As one of the promising all-rounders in Lahore, Numan at 18 set out on a cricket journey in a politically very tense phase in the country’s history, following the creation of Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) in December 1971. Lahore had enough depth in the pool of players to enter two teams, in the 1971-72 BCCP Trophy. Numan’s first-class debut came when selected for Lahore ‘B’ vs. Pakistan Railways ‘B’ at Railways Stadium, Lahore. Lahore ‘B’ was captained by wicket-keeper Mumtaz-ur-Rehman and the squad also included Mudassar Nazar, Shahid Aziz & Azhar Khan. Lack of experience on both sides was evident for all told there were 12 players playing in their first match at this level. Numan’s dogged 33 in a 91-run stand with Pervez Akhtar (120) in the second innings, helped his team to a commanding position and force a 255-run win. In the very next game, which Numan missed, against Rawalpindi @ Pindi Club Ground, Lahore B, lost by an innings and 86 runs and it was followed by 5-wicket defeat against Peshawar at Services Club Ground, Peshawar.

Numan recalled ‘Peshawar had a good side with Maazullah Khan and his brother playing for them. My sweep shot broke a car’s window but no harm was done. Both Shahid Aziz & Azhar Khan were with me @ Universal CC. In those days the opportunities were far and few. To most of us ordinary or shall we say unambitious lot of club cricketers Wazir Ali Senior League (WASL) was the ultimate challenge we could not think beyond that’

In Numan’s second season in 1972-73, Lahore ‘B’ had a new captain in Khalid Aziz and other team members included Azmat Khan, Azhar Qureshi, Shahid Hafeez Kardar, Arif Naqqash & Zaeem Raja. By the time the 1973-74 BCCP Trophy kicked off Numan could make claim to have made progress in his standing for he was included in the Lahore ‘A’ squad led by Aftab Gul and it also included Pervez Mir & Masood Iqbal. Aftab Gul was described by Numan as ‘The most relaxed captain I played under though a very unpredictable character.’ The team suffered a heavy defeat of 10 wickets at the hands of Punjab Universities, at Aitchision College Ground, Lahore. The 1974-75 Punjab Championship, included three teams from Lahore. Numan was part of Lahore ‘A’.

Shafiq Ahmed ‘Papa’ and Numan Shabbir had to their credit the recruitment of Zaheer Abbas, Imran Khan, Rawalpindi’s Mohammad Sabir and Bahawalpur’s Farooq Shera to play for the Dawood Industries Group in the 1975-76 BCCP Patrons’ Trophy. Numan added, ‘Both Zaheer Abbas and Imran Khan had agreed to play for Rs. 1000/match. We also had Imran Butt and Intikhab Ahmed, who bowled off-breaks’. Shafiq Ahmed, himself though appeared for National Bank ‘A’ in the tournament. Numan, after being in the reserves for the two group matches was included for the quarter-final against Railways at Railways Stadium, Lahore. In the final stages of his team’s run-chase, Numan’s contribution of 28 not out was priceless for it guided his team to a narrow two-wicket win. Dawood Industries, in the final, at Bagh-i-Jinnah, Lahore, though were beaten by PIA by an innings & 115 runs. For reasons unknown, Dawood Industries vanished from the cricketing horizon, after a solitary appearance in the Pakistan domestic cricket.

The following year in April 1977, Numan made his debut for Habib Bank, when he was selected alongside Javed Miandad and Abdul Qadir in the final of Sikander Ali Bhutto Trophy. There were limited opportunities for Numan in a strong Habib Bank side which in 1977-78 proved its status by achieving the first ever Grand Slam in Pakistan’s domestic cricket. It secured Quaid-i-Azam Trophy, BCCP Invitation Tournament and BCCP Patrons’ Trophy, in Javed Miandad’s first year as captain.

Numan added, ‘I was taken in by Habib Bank, following my performance for Pakistan Universities @ Multan. Abdul Raqeeb was a gentleman, but was so unlucky to be competing with Iqbal Qasim for a slow left armer’s slot in the Pakistan side. Javed Miandad was most intelligent cricketer. Abdul Qadir was a great bowler, a match-winner, the present DRS system would have been to his benefit for lot of players at both domestic and international level survived by not offering their bat. Ali Zia played him well, in fact exceptionally well.’ Numan, a specialist cover point fielder, substituted regularly for Habib Bank from February 1980 to December 1984, a period he did not make it into the playing eleven for first-class cricket.’

Numan’s 17-years (1972-89) brought him 34 first-class appearances. As a lower-order batsman, Numan frustrated opponents with his gritty batting, often saving his best when the top order had failed to prosper. In first-class cricket, Numan scored 867 runs @ 20.16 with three fifties to his name. As an occasional leg-spinner, Numan captured 16 wickets @ 43.93. Numan was part of the Habib Bank squad for 12 seasons and the presence of quality spinners, Abdul Raqib, Abdul Qadir, Nadeem Ghauri & Akram Raza, served the team so well that Numan was rarely called on to bowl. It will be fair to say that his playing career never really took off and he will be better remembered as a cricket coach.

Incidentally Numan’s top score of 77 and best bowling figures of 3-10 arrived in the same match - a Quaid-i-Azam Trophy fixture between Habib Bank and Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB) at Pindi Club Ground, Rawalpindi in 1984-85. A second innings collapse saw Habib Bank reeling at 50 for 6 when Numan and wicket-keeper Zaheer Ahmed (112 not out) shared 149 runs for the 7th wicket that eventually led to a 173-run victory for his side. In the same winter, Numan, once again performed a rescue act in the PACO Cup match for Habib Bank against Railways at LCCA Ground, Lahore. Taking guard with the scoreboard showing 94-5, Nauman reached 66 not out, thus playing his hand in his team’s 40-run win.

Rawalpindi’s reputation of a giant-killer was based on its surprise victories against big sides for its bowling attack took maximum advantage of the home conditions. On one such occasion, Habib Bank suffered a narrow 2-wicket defeat at the GHQ Ground, Rawalpindi in the 1986-87 Quaid-i-Azam Trophy. Numan’s top-score of 49 out of his side’s below par first innings total of 165, was to no avail. Numan signed off as a first-class cricketer in Habib Bank’s fixture against HBFC in the 1988-89 Quaid-i-Azam Trophy. Numan’s only appearance in the Wills Cup, the national one day tournament, was in the semi-final defeat against PIA at Pindi Club Ground in which he was the most economical bowler on either side with figures of Nauman served as a Match Referee in 1995-96 domestic season and took a Golden Handshake from Habib Bank in 1997.

Eccleshill Cricket Club - 1980

Eccleshill Cricket Club - 1980
©Noreen Syed.

Numan’s first season in league cricket in U.K. was 1976. Numan recalls his early days in U.K., ‘Initially I stayed with my cousin Hafeez Siddiqi, who worked in Textile and Tanveer Sahib of Shabab Restaurant supported me with my cricket. My debut game in the Essex League was rained off after 15 overs of fielding but was signed on for the rest of the season. I also played for Paddock in the Huddersfield League. In 1977, I scored the fastest century of the season when Allan Lamb was also contracted, to play in the same league. In 1980, my club Eccleston were second division champions in the Bradford League. In the 1978-80 period, another South African, A.H.Walker, was signed. He said to me come over to South Africa but I could not say ‘yes’ for Pakistanis could not be seen to have links with the country that practised apartheid. I also represented Holmfirth in the 1980s.’

He also claimed Bradford League’s Sir Learie Constantine All-Rounders Trophy and referred as Bradford’s Mr. Cricket in his Benefit Match, whilst turning up for Manningham Mills. In the four seasons (1999-2003), Numan was with Shelley CC in the Huddersfield League, before switching his energies to coaching of schools in Yorkshire.

Apart from Test cricketers, Khan Mohammed and Wasim Raja, Numan was one of few Pakistanis to take up coaching when he did his Level I Certificate in 1983, a course that lasted for 12 days in Lilleshall and followed it up with Level II Certificate in 1986-87. Numan was the chief co-ordinator of the coaches who worked in Pepsi-Imran clinic in the early 1990s. Pepsi-Imran Cricket Clinic also employed Azhar Khan, Sadiq Mohammad, Arshad Pervez, Javed Ilyas, Farrukh Zaman and Zakir Khan as coaches in different regions of the country and could claim to have produced cricketers, Taufeeq Umar, Imran Nazir, Jaffar Nazir, Yasir Arafat and Mohammad Akram. Nauman felt that only 10% of the people, who did Level II coaching, gave their experience to the game and the rest just do it to test their knowledge.

During the 2008-09 Numan provided one-to-one private coaching for both Adil Rasheed and Shahzad Ajmal, the first two British-born Asians to represent Yorkshire. Both Adil and Shahzad have since represented England too. He had 5-6 sessions with Adil who, according to Numan was not groomed on the tour of West Indies in 2007-08 whereas Graeme Swann was.

‘I worked for Bradford Council as a freelance coach in schools. It is a stressful profession which should be rewarded appropriately. Since 2002, I have worked as Director/Development Officer here in Yorkshire. I am the first Pakistani to be bestowed with such position in the U.K. The overall standard is the league is very low. Lot of Pakistani input from taxi drivers but the intensity through inter-rivalries see them emotionally charged and not taking one step at a time to progress and develop. Asians are taking over many clubs in the Bradford League but their management lacks professionalism’

Nauman had strong views, on Pakistan team of 2013, ‘What is the role of a Head Coach, I ask you. Sadly for the last 15 years, Pakistan has not had an opening batsman of international calibre. Our Pakistan first-class system is not producing players and opening batsmen that we have simply out of their depth whilst facing quality bowling. Playing to bowlers’ will. Salman Butt, Imran Farhat, Taufeeq Umar and Mohammad Hafeez, they are all quite ordinary and average cricketers and have also suffered from inconsistent selection policies. We need honest management that gets the best talent forward and then the selection process needs to be transparent.’

Following his marriage, Nauman in 1999-2000 period resided in Manchester.
In 2000 the couple moved to ‘Little Pakistan’ Bradford, West Yorkshire. He is survived by his wife, Noreen. The journey of the gentlest of souls to its Maker has created an inevitable vacuum, never to be filled.

The name of Nauman Shabbir amongst the winners of Asian Cricket Awards 2014, held on 7th October at Lord’s Cricket Ground, was a just recognition of the Pakistani’s coaching role in Yorkshire. Almost five years, after his untimely death, Numan’s legacy as a determined all-round cricketer and a noted coach, liveson.

Cricketing Tributes

Azhar Khan – Test Cricketer
Member of the Selection Committee – December, 2013.

‘Numan was a dear friend and we played together at Government College and Habib Bank. It was in the 1969-70 period that I started actively pursuing cricket. Before that time, Numan was also my club mate as well in Universal CC. He was a very useful all-rounder as a lower order batsman, leg-break googly bowler and a brilliant cover point fielder. At the time our club, was based in Bert Institute in Lahore and run by Q.D.Butt (President) and Aslam Taya (Secretary), two of the most efficient and able cricket administrators at that level of cricket. Numan also made a name for himself in league cricket in England. I am going to miss him a lot.’

Agha Zahid – Test Cricketer
PCB Curator – January, 2014

‘Salim Mian, in Numan we have lost a very fine human soul, who was ever so sympathetic to people’s sufferings. I played alongside Numan in Government College. I was his captain whilst we were selected for Lahore Division for the 1971 National u-19 Championship. Our final was against Karachi that was captained by Aftab Baloch. I scored 150 in the second innings and this match was televised by PTV. Despite the influence of Raja Saleem Akhtar, I had no hesitation in picking Numan in our playing XI, ahead of Zaeem Raja, brother of Test players, Wasim Raja and Ramiz Raja. Numan was an all-rounder and he helped us win the final. In the later years we also played together in Dawood Industries and Habib Bank. In the days I played Minor Counties for Devon in the early 1980s, he used to act as my guide to show me around London. The slow pitches in league cricket in U.K. saw him take up off-breaks instead of leg-breaks. We have lost a very good friend and I pray for Allah to bless his soul, Aameen’

Shafiq Ahmed ‘Papa’
General Manager Domestic Cricket Operations PCB - January 2014

‘I was so sad to hear of Numan Shabbir’s death. Off the cricket field, I remember him as a very alive and humorous person. He was a popular cricketer and possessed a rare quality of always being in a positive and upbeat mood. A man of lovely nature and I am told he fought his illness very bravely until in the last 3-4 weeks, when things unfortunately got very bad for him. I played alongside Numan for Dawood Industries, which I recall as the first professional club in Pakistan. In our only season in the domestic first-class cricket (1975-76), we also had Zaheer Abbas, Imran Khan, Agha Zahid and Sultan Rana playing with us. In Lahore’s club cricket, Servis and Panther & Tiger Gymkhana, provided us with stiff opposition. I have great memories of those years and hence Numan is a huge loss amongst my generation of cricket.’

Arslan Mirza, an ardent and knowledgeable follower of Pakistan cricket, based in Hounslow, Middlesex

‘I recall watching Numan Shabbir in the years 1967-68, when he was a member of Universal CC that practised in Bert Institute, Lahore. I did not see Pakistan pace bowler, Asif Masood, who also played for the same club. I often travelled with Numan from Lahore to Sialkot, in the period of 1973-82, to purchase cricket gear. They are great memories for me. Sialkot was home city for both me and Numan but it was in Lahore that I first met him and we had lot of fun watching cricket matches and eating out in the evening, especially in Liberty Market. At times I thought Habib Bank skipper Javed Miandad, could have given Numan more games. He was more often than not a regular 12th Man in Pakistan’s domestic cricket as he was a brilliant fieldsman. As I friend I would like to have seen him play more than what he did.’

Majid Usman, a 1972-73 Pakistan tourist to Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand and a close friend of Numan

‘I rushed from London to Bradford to attend funeral of Numan Shabbir. He was a very dear friend. We both knew each other from our primary school days in Lahore before we both moved on to Sir Syed Cambridge. We played alongside each other for Government College and Punjab University. The matches between Servis CC and Universal CC brought us face-to-face in club cricket. He was far from an international cricket superstar but his services to the game of cricket shall be remembered for a long time to come. Veteran paceman Khan Mohammed and Numan Shabbir were two of the best cricket coaches, settled in U.K., amongst Pakistani players. I have great memories of him and he will be sorely missed by us all’.

Abdul Qadir, the great leg-spinner of the 1980s and a colleague of Numan Shabbir at Habib Bank

‘Numan was a good cricketer who left a very good impression on people for his sense of humour. He was a fighter, who whenever selected, gave his all and often rescued Habib Bank with useful scores as a late order batsman. Such was the strength of Habib Bank team with Arshad Pervez, Agha Zahid, Mudassar Nazar, Mohsin Khan, Javed Miandad, Azhar Khan, Sultan Rana, Masood Iqbal, Abdu Raqeeb, Liaqat Ali and myself that the likes of Rashid Israr, Tehsin Javed and Nauman were often amongst the reserves. Since God had blessed me with leg-spinning talent, Habib Bank did not use Nauman’s leg-breaks very often. He could also bowl off breaks and medium-pace but the opportunities were scarce. In the same era he would have played much more matches for any other team except Habib Bank. It was unfortunate.’

‘Before our days with Habib Bank, I came up against Numan at club level in the matches between Dharampura Gymkhana and Universal CC. I was so pleased he took to coaching, once his playing career was coming to an end, as he was a thoughtful cricketer and had a good temperament for that role that suited him very well. It was a good decision on his part. I also recall when he invited me to come over to see him in Leeds for promotion of cricket coaching with young kids. I rated him as a cricketer and he was an excellent company. May Allah help his family and friends, through these very tough times.’

Babar Altaf, wicket-keeper batsman, Yorkshire over-50s, set to represent England in the first ever over 50s World Cup, junior to Numan Shabbir at Universal CC, Lahore
September 2018

‘I joined Universal CC in 1981 and the likes of Numan Shabbir, Azhar Khan. Masood Iqbal and Tariq Azhar were our seniors at the club. Our nets were at the Bert Institute ground in Gari Shahoo, Lahore. In the days when we concentrated just on batting and bowling, the concept and importance of fielding was not at the level it is at present, Numan held a unique position as an excellent fieldsman. His agility saw him run, field, throw and catch, much better than most cricketers of the period.’

‘As an 18-year old I arrived in Sheffield in 1984 with an aim to play professional cricket. I had no idea of the cricket set-up in England. Soon I was informed that 50 miles away in a town called Bradford is where I need to be heading for competitive cricket. Numan Bhai introduced me to Bradford League for which I was very grateful to him. He was a respected figure in Bradford, both as a player and as a coach. What I miss the most about Numan is his smile and a sense of humour. He brought smile to our faces even in difficult circumstances.’

Ishtiaq Mir - Yorkshire-based Pakistani businessman, charitable fundraiser and pioneer of Ramadhan Radio.

'I was first introduced to Numan Shabbir whilst I was playing for Queensbury and then also in the Quaid-i-Azam Sunday League in Bradford. Nauman and his wife Noreen regularly attended cultural programmes organised by the literary society. He was a real gentleman and very cultured and appreciated both Urdu literature and poetry. He was a big name in Bradford as a coach and I am pretty certain, hundreds of Asian kids benefited from his expertise. His sudden death was very hard to take.' 

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