The passing away of Dr. Aijaz Baig - an opening batsman for Railways and Punjab University, who rose to presidency of two English cricket clubs - on 24th March, in Aldershot, Hampshire, U.K. brought an end to a cricket journey that had its roots in Lahore Cantonment.
The writer, in the last six years, benefitted considerably from his delightfully uncomplicated nature and anecdotal trove of the 1950s Pakistan grass roots cricket.
Eldest amongst the eight siblings, which included five boys, Mirza Aijaz Anwar Baig was?born in Lahore (Punjab), British India on 1st?October, 1935. His ancestors had arrived in Lahore at the turn of the 20th century, direct from Central Asia in the region that now is Uzbekistan. In the 1948-49 period, Aijaz alongside Zafar Altaf, had his first taste of the game. Soon the pair would be seen scampering sharp singles, as tail-end batsmen, with Cantt Gymkhana. The friendship formed between the two, remained intact until the latter’s death in 2015. Zafar’s death really shook him and he was very open about it.
Sports were very much in his genes as his father, Khuda Dad Beg, had represented North Western Railways (NWR) to win the 1940 All-India Hockey Tournament. He also officiated for the Railways athletics batch that toured Dhaka (East Pakistan) for the Pakistan Games. Aijaz too developed interest in hockey and one day, whilst dressed up for a match, was persuaded by boys, who he later found out were immigrants from Jullundur, to join them in cricket. A few years down the line, he would enrol at Cantt Gymkhana, the leading club in Lahore Cantonment.
Whilst at Islamia HS, Lahore Cantt, he had the first experience of Minto Park – the hub of club cricket in the city, situated five miles away from his house. Prior to heading off, Aijaz would furnish himself through a newspaper with the Sunday fixtures, on the three pitches at Minto Park: a vast?Maidaan. Representing Mamdot CC, whom he had joined at the invitation of Mohammad Amin ‘Billy’, Aijaz averaged over 100 with the bat in 1958, helping his side to win the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Summer League. At Mamdot, he rated Gul Mohammad, as the finest captain he played under.
A gritty opening batsman, raised exclusively on matting, Aijaz was up against some of the canny new-ball bowlers– the great Fazal Mahmood, Yawar Saeed, Mohammad Munaf, Ghafoor Butt, Munir Malik, Ikram Elahi, Shaukat?Gaadi?and Qayyum Butt (the quickest he faced). In the Islamia College nets, it was Khan Mohammad, who tipped Aijaz to use the short handle by bringing both hands closer to help him bat, with more freedom.
At Islamia College and Punjab University he partnered Khawar Butt, Khwaja?Shuja-ud-din and Amin Ashraf, as opening batsman and in one of his first games on Lahore Gymkhana’s turf wicket, soon realised it was a pre-requisite to be able to execute the hook shot. Aijaz’s generation of cricketers were essentially self-taught who by observing and listening to the senior players, developed their ‘survival instinct’. Aijaz modelled himself on Nazar Mohammad and would also have the opportunity to open with Imtiaz Ahmed, for Ravi Gymkhana. In years to come, he thus proved himself as a very fine batsman with a tighter technique against the new ball and cut through point and cover drive being two of his more productive scoring options.
Aijaz’s selection for the 1953-54 Islamia College team, led by S.D.(Shuja-ud-din)?Butt, was a big leap for the 18-year old, following his 69 and 29, in a three-day game, the previous year for MAO College, against them, The skipper would name him Aijaz?Tillah, for playing on to his stumps, in somewhat casual way, minutes before the close of play. The nickname stuck with him in the cricketing circles, even during his brief spell with Universal CC. In one of his purple patches, in three consecutive innings, Aijaz scored 94 against Engineering College, Lahore, 98 against Lahore Gymkhana and 100 off Free Batters CC.
In the 1954-55 winter Aijaz was both secretary and vice-captain before having the honour of leading Islamia College in 1955-56, when the team was picked from intermediate (Railway Road) and degree (Civil Lines), i.e. Year 1-4, for the very last time. He was honoured to be bracketed alongside an impressive list of post-partition Islamia College captains – Imtiaz Ahmed, Khan Mohammed, Abdul Hameed and Ajmal Malik.
With a strong bowling attack, at his command, featuring Shaukat?Gaadi, Qayyum Butt, S.F.Rehman and Abdul Aziz (the off-spinner and one of the first exponents of the delivery, now referred to as?doosra), Islamia College managed to beat Universal CC in the semi-final and Pakistan Railways, at Carson Institute Ground, in a two-innings final, of the M.A.Khan Sardar Rasheed Cricket Tournament. Surprisingly he never spoke about his wicket-keeping role which he performed both in club and college cricket.
The greatest challenge, for Islamia College, though was against their arch rivals, Government College, in the Punjab University Cricket Championship final at the Old Campus Ground, Lahore. The fanfare would kick off in the build up to the rivalry and continued with national selectors and former players of both camps scrutinising each and every move of the twenty-two players. The supporters of both camps, spared no one and it was common for the mild banter to turn into hooting and exchanges of hostilities.
Aged 21, Aijaz entered the first-class arena with his inclusion in the Railways squad, featuring skipper Masood Salah-ud-din and Aslam Khokhar -for the 1956-57 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. His brief first-class career amounted to 8 matches, with the highest innings of 71 against Punjab at Railways Stadium, Lahore in the 1957-58 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Both grit and composure was required as Aijaz and Sultan Mahmud (60) added 134 for the 2nd?wicket in the second innings, to secure an honourable draw.
Now having enrolled at Government College for his Masters, there was no time for nets but despite that, in his final year, 1959-60, Aijaz helped his team to a 9th?consecutive final win against Islamia College and won a place in the Pakistan Universities squad. In the same winter, he hit 40 in 131 all out in a losing cause, for Punjab against Karachi, in the final of the Pakistan Inter-University Championship. One of his team-mates, considered Aijaz, as a very good batsman, against the new ball
Aijaz arrived in the U.K in October 1963 and successfully combined career and pleasure, till in his 50s. The first club he appeared for was Turnham Green, where his opening partner was Naeem Virk. He then broke a club aggregate record of most runs in a season at Walton-on-Thames in 1968, with the final tally in all matches, exceeding 1800. His colleagues at the club, included Naved Cheema, Zia Burney and Anwar Ahmed, a younger brother of Pakistan Test players, Saeed and Younis.
After moving up north in 1972, Aijaz went to Lancaster University for his research and joined Lancaster CC. He also represented Blackpool, a club that had previously signed Hanif Mohammad and Rohan Kanhai, as the overseas professional. In 1974, the middle of his three years, he played a full season and survived a new-ball spell from Garry Sobers in a Knock-out Cup against Littleborough at Blackpool.
After his debut in 1977, Aijaz captained Carnforth CC for five years in the North Lancashire League and was the club Chairman for another three. He also led the club in the testimonial and benefit matches respectively of David Lloyd and Barry Wood. Finally there were two years at Warton CC, mostly for the 2nd?XI, at his own request.
Aijaz remained a fervent supporter of Pakistan cricket, whilst permanently settled in England and found Asif Masood, Agha Zahid and Abdul Qadir, receptive to sound cricketing advice. Aijaz was present at Edgbaston, Birmingham when Pakistan suffered a shocking one-wicket defeat against West Indies in the 1975 Prudential World Cup. In the 1990s, he refused an invitation from Zafar Altaf to manage Pakistan team to Sri Lanka, a decision he would later regret.
Aijaz did his MSc in Physics at Punjab University and obtained PhD from Lancaster University. He also did his M.Tech at Brunel University and was a Member Institute of Physics (M.Inst.P) and the professional qualification of Chartered Physicist (CPhys). A few years his death, Aijaz served as Vice-President and President, one year each, of Aldershot Underwood Bowls Club.
When the family moved down south to Hampshire, Aijaz also served as President for Aldershot (Thames Valley League) for 7 years until 2014. His two sons, Ahran and Naeaman, both played cricket for The Royal Grammar School, Guildford and Naeaman, followed in the footsteps of his father by opening for Aldershot. He also captained the club for three years and guided them to promotion one season, followed by winning the league, the very next year.
His younger brother Shahbaz Baig, kept wickets for Islamia HS, Lahore Cantt, Universal CC, MAO College, Lahore, Government College, Lahore, Mughalpura Greeners and after moving to Karachi in 1967 for Nazimabad Sports and PWD. Shahbaz wrote a book on cricket coaching and carried on with the game during his lengthy stay in Saudi Arabia.
The author is indebted to Dr. Aijaz Baig, Shahbaz Baig, Ahran Baig & Khawaja Shuja-ud-din, in the accuracy of the details in the obituary.