End of an innings - Col. Rafi Nasim
It was hard not to have a soft corner for Col. Rafi Nasim, a delightful soul and one of the best known cricket administrators in Pakistan, who breathed his last in the early hours of December 7, in Lahore.
The former Hon. Secretary of the Pakistan cricket Board, a position no longer in existence since 2001, was sadly another victim of coronavirus, a worldwide pandemic, little over a month shy of him turning 90. In the last 14 months, the cricket circles in Lahore have been severely shaken by the passing away of four irreplaceable gems – Ashiq Qureishi, Abdul Qadir, Haji Mohammad Bashir and now Col. Rafi Nasim – leaving behind a trail of great service to the game.
Born in Lyallpur (Punjab), British India, January 10, 1931, he did his matriculation at Government High School, Amritsar in 1946. For further studies, he enrolled at Anglo Arabic College in Delhi, where his father was posted in the Government service. Following the partition of the sub-continent in August 1947, the family moved to Lahore and Rafi began his three-year student life at the prestigious Government College and graduating in 1950.
Colonel Sahib – as he was referred to, had two spells as the Hon. Secretary in what was then known as Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP) with most of its affairs still being run on amateur lines. The first stint in June 1978 could not have arrived at a more challenging times. The Ad-hoc committee headed by Lt. General K.M.Azhar had been appointed recently, Pakistan had fared very poorly in their two back-to-back series against England without its five Kerry Packer players and the Indian team was due to arrive, first time since 1955. Not to mention the prospect of a sponsorship deal with Pakistan Tobacco Company. Col.Rafi certainly fulfilled the expectations and retained his position when Air Marshal Nur Khan took over as the Chairman of BCCP in February 1980, but only survived another four months.
His second tenure was under Major General Ghulam Safdar Butt, when appointed in June 1984. Now the calendar was dominated by international cricket exchanges and Pakistan in a 12-month period would host Test matches against India, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, besides inviting West Indies for a five-match one-day series. Sharjah, was hosting two limited-overs tournaments each year and Col. Rafi and the BCCP provided vital support to develop the infrastructure of the game in the desert. He supervised the relaying of pitches in Lahore and Karachi and would also lent groundsman Haji Mohammad Bashir to UAE in order to maintain a strong relationship with Abdul Rehman Bukhatir, the key financier behind the success of Sharjah.
The increased international cricket activity was just the right build up to Pakistan co-hosting the 1987 Reliance World Cup, alongside India. It is to be said that India-Pakistan cricket relations had never seen better days and Col. Rafi got on well with his Indian counterparts, during his time in the office. The development of infrastructure at all the key grounds was his priority and sadly his dismissal in December 1986 could not have been more ill-timed and Pakistan cricket could not benefit from a continuity factor, in view of the forthcoming first ever global cricket tournament.
One of gentle nature, Col. Rafi preferred to have an affectionate relationship with the Pakistan players and continued to do so until his infamous spat with Imran Khan, soured it. His entry to the Pakistan dressing room at Peshawar in December 1985, following a lacklustre batting display and a 40-run loss to the West Indies was challenged, by the Pakistan captain. It was an unfortunate incident and could have been avoided, had common sense prevailed on both sides. The timing of Col. Rafi’s entrance in the dressing room was not perfect but Imran could have handled the situation much better than he did. After doing so well in his role as a Hon. Secretary, he felt he was hard done by the Board and left it as a bitter man.
A six-month diploma course in Journalism from Punjab University was an indication of his future plans but an opening in Pakistan Army in 1952 proved too tempting. In the same period, Justice A.R.Cornelius invited him to join the managing committee of the souvenir for the 1951-52 MCC tour to Pakistan and he along with S. Naseer Ahmed, was a joint editor. After retiring from the Army in 1976, Col. Rafi resumed regular writing with monthly magazine – Sportimes – edited by S.F.Hussain, his close friend with whom he also participated in panel discussion programmes for Radio Pakistan in Lahore. In that period, he was also member of the Executive Committee of the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA), with whom his first association was as a Joint Secretary and working most passionately alongside Q.D.Butt (Secretary) and Dr. Jahangir Khan (President), before his Army career.
For six decades, Col.Rafi penned his views and comments through his writing for some of the major sports magazines, daily newspapers and websites, in Pakistan and overseas. Few years prior to his death, Col. Rafi was envisaging to collate 2,500 articles consisting of his life-long writing on Pakistan cricket, with some work in Urdu too, including his last stint as a feature writer with Daily Times, to compile and publish it by dividing in15 volumes. It is to be hoped that the voluminous task is taken up by the cricket Board, before it is too late.
In the 2000-02 period, Rafi also contributed to cricinfo.com website and continued to write regularly till hit by brain haemorrhage in February 2015. It was to affect his memory and he no longer had the appetite or the mental co-ordination to sit on the keyboard. His granddaughter was a helping hand for him to remain in touch with his network of friends and would often refer to ‘the evaporation of cricket knowledge’ from his mind.
Despite ill-health, thankfully Col.Rafi was still fine in conversation and continued to enjoy narrating the cricketing anecdotes and share life experience of the yesteryears, be it Ravi Gymkhana’s tour of India, his close association with the likes of Gul Mohammad, Nazar Mohammad, Imtiaz Ahmed or Fazal Mahmood or his days at the BCCP. In fact it was Imtiaz, later to become a close friend, who asked him to join Ravi Gymkhana and improve his batting, after watching him score 86 for Government College. Besides playing, he was chosen for the role of Hon. Secretary of the club, established back in 1929 in the times of British rule, for his qualities as a writer and administrator. In that role he undertook a tour of India - the first by a Pakistan cricket club - in December 1950 and along with other members which included Imtiaz Ahmed, Waqar Hasan and Israr Ali, was awarded Honorary Membership of Cricket Club of India (CCI) in Bombay.
As a critic of the modern cricket management, he often reminded the readers that love of cricket had been replaced by love of money in case of the cricket bodies all around the world, including Pakistan. Rafi never saw Pakistan cricket in isolation, instead looking at the wider global picture of the game, both in the days of being a Board official and more recently with the concept of the Big Three (Australia, England and India) surfacing in 2015.
To Ashiq Qureishi, he was seen an ideal person for Secretary General position with Pakistan Veterans Cricket Association (PVCA), established in April 1998 and as expected, carried his duties with great enthusiasm for 15 years. As one of the celebrated Ravians, his presence enlightened the atmosphere at Government College functions, both cricketing or otherwise and always showed keenness to contribute to its publications and also sat on different committees.
It was a pleasure to have Col.Rafi amongst the participants of a dinner hosted for the touring 1997 Pakistan A team in Southall, Middlesex by the author and Col. Shuja-ud-din Butt. His last public appearance could well be in March 2019 when he attended an annual festival cricket match at Government College. He is survived by wife, a daughter and two sons.
The first week of December 2020 has claimed the lives of many distinguished personalities of Pakistan that included former Prime Minister of Pakistan Mir Zafarullah Jamali, Caretaker Chief Minister of Punjab Mian Afzal Hayat, Sherbaz Khan Mazari, author of 'A Journey to Disillusionment, and younger brother of Caretaker Prime Minister Mir Balakh Sher Mazari and Col. Rafi Nasim, an officer and a gentleman who had served Pakistan Cricket Board with integrity, passion and honesty.
Col. Rafi was a patriotic decorated soldier who served Pakistan in war and peace. He was an Old Ravian and was on the rolls of the Government College Lahore in the late 1940s. He was a cricket enthusiast who served as a Secretary of Ravi Gymkhana before joining the army. Appreciating his writing ability Justice Cornelius asked him to be on a Committee to prepare cricket souvenirs published during the visits of the touring international teams. He wrote informative columns and kept them meticulously bound in volumes.
His last appearance at the Government College was at the annual cricket match in 2019. I met him again in March 2020 at his house the last time and presented him several books. Looking at the books he remarked, "They're quite voluminous, I wonder if I will have time to read them". He had had a fall recently and was not feeling too well. He then asked me to take the books back but I declined. He had been most hospitable when Peter Oborne and I interviewed him for the Wounded Tiger.
He was distantly related to former Pakistan cricket captain Imtiaz Ahmed and it was at his asking he had joined the Ravi Gymkhana which toured India in 1950-51 and attended the shooting of the blockbuster movie "Aan" and met its director Mehboob Khan and leading actor Dilip Kumar.
Although he had been very close to Imran Khan during his cricketing days and would address him as Immi, but a showdown between them over a matter of discipline, parted their ways forever. Imran had told Col. Rafi to leave the players’ dressing room but the Colonel stood his ground and reminded him that he was the secretary of Pakistan cricket Board and all the cricket venues and the dressing rooms came under his jurisdiction. The last time I spoke to Col. Rafi was in the third week of October 2020 when I invited him to the annual festival cricket match at the GCU. He declined due to ill health but asked me to convey his greetings to all at the match.
I first met Col. Rafi Nasim in 1978 in the then BCCP office to discuss Pakistan Tobacco Company’s formal association with Pakistan cricket. I found him very humble, soft spoken and understanding of the commercial proposition that I had made to him. He was the signatory to our first sponsorship agreement with the Board. He was highly devoted and loyal to the game and believed in innovative development of the game at grass root level. He was passionate towards ground development preparing for the Indian team’s visit.
By 1980 before his first tenure came to an end, he had formed a Domestic Tournament Monitoring Committee (DTMC), comprising of Little Master Hanif Mohammed as Chairman, Razaullah Khan(HDCA), Hafiz Manzoor Hussain(LCCA) with myself as sponsors representative. His choice of the members indicated his clear headed merited selection to look after the domestic cricket and indeed also spoke volume of his acumen towards development of the game. The concept of DTMC continued to work to the end of Pakistan Tobacco Company’s association with the cricket Board in 1998.
Col. Sahib’s second tenure with the BCCP was with Lt. General Safdar Butt for a short period between1984-86. Once again he devoted his time towards the development of media facilities at different grounds anticipating the needs of international media attending the 1987 Reliance World Cup.
Over the period our friendship grew at personal level. I found Col. Sahib a thorough gentleman having love for the game at passionate level, but he was at times misunderstood by players as well as other members of the Board. Hence he fell prey to internal politics which hurt him a lot. I am saying this because he had confided in me. May Allah (swt) rest his soul in peace. It was a combination of ill health and the cricket Board’s lack of acknowledgement of his role in the game that stopped him in making an appearance at the launch of ‘Another Perspective’ in the media centre of the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore in April 2019. The gentleman is no more, but his good deeds are there for us to remember him in good thoughts.