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Hamid Nagra - The Pride of Lyallpur

Hamid Nagra was by far one of the best cricket talents to emerge from Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) in the days the city came under Sargodha Division.

In his prime in the 1960s, when he opened the batting and also kept wickets, he had a huge disadvantage as Pakistan played very little international cricket and the national team’s composition was more or less exclusively of players from Karachi and Lahore.

Hamid Mansoor Nagra, was born in village Lahorian Wala, Chak Jhumra, 13 miles outside Lyallpur (Punjab), British India on March 8, 1943. His grandfather was a land owner and his father Siraj-ud-din Nagra became a well-known figure in Lyallpur, Jaranwala and the surrounding districts, both in law and politics. After his masters in Geography at Aligarh University, he did his LLB and practised till his death in 1981. Hamid, second among the four siblings, was prolific with the bat in inter-school cricket whilst captaining Government Technical High School, Peoples Colony, from where he did his matriculation in 1959.

As a schoolboy Hamid, physically still needing filling up, happened to be in the right place at the right time when in 1958-59 winter Lyallpur Gymkhana’s regular wicket-keeper was absent. It was an opportunity not to be overlooked for inclusion in Lyallpur’s only reputable cricket club. The club had previously been captained by both Anwar-ul-Haq and M.U.Haque but at the time was managed and dominated by Pathans that had migrated from Jullundar and now based in Katchery Bazar, in the heart of Lyallpur city. Hamid also recalls, the club secretary, Zia-ul-Haq Naeem, a right-hand batsman, who exercised his executive power with both dedication and kindness.

The entry to Lyallpur Gymkhana’s home turf - Bohranwala Ground - was exclusively with club membership. It was the only club in the city that from day one had a turf wicket and had its yearly schedule planned and printed, whilst maintaining strong affiliation with Lahore Gymkhana - their frequent hosts for eagerly-awaited sunday fixtures at Bagh-e-Jinnah.

By now a well-known figure in the cricket circles, Hamid’s inclusion in the Sargodha team for the 1961-62 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy was inevitable. As an 18-year old, he had a dual role of opening the innings and also keeping wickets, something quite common in Pakistan in the 1960s. In doing so, on November 11, 1961, he walked out with fellow-debutante Sherandaz Khan and faced the first ball for Sargodha at first-class level from Peshawar’s Saleem Chaudhry, at Bohranwala Ground.

The picturesque ground with its old pavilion, built during the British rule in the early 20th century, in the past had been known as Gymkhana Ground, Company Bagh Ground and Bagh-e-Jinnah, before settling with Bohranwala, named after plantation of a good number of Banyan (Bohr in Punjabi) trees, at the site. The venue, initially hosted three overseas teams: India (1954-55), MCC ‘A’ (1955-56) and MCC (1961-62), sparking considerable interest amongst the youth in the city, including Hamid. The ground has not been used for first-class cricket since 2000 but remains the choice for Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for junior cricket.

Hamid’s 54, batting at No.5, against a strong Combined Services attack featuring Munir Malik, Shuja-ud-din and Javed Akhtar at Pindi Club Ground in the 1962-63 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, was a personal milestone as a maiden fifty. In the following year, at Bohranwala Ground, he carried his bat with an unbeaten 122 to his name out of Sargodha’s 265 all out against another strong opposition in Railways. This was also a sole first-class appearance for younger brother, Khalid Nagra, who was fairly decent cricketer at both inter-collegiate and club level.

Having played under Mohammad Ramzan, Raja Saleem Akhtar, Iqbal Chaudhry and Iftikhar Bukhari, Hamid took over the reins as new captain of Sargodha for the 1964-65 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. One of the highlights of his career was in top scoring twice for a combined team of Sargodha, Multan and Bahawalpur, with 50 and 65 as an opening batsman, against Rawalpindi and Peshawar in the 1966-67 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy at Pindi Club Ground, never known to produce a batting track and up against Mohammad Sabir, rated by many, as the best wrist spinner in Pakistan.

An unbeaten 195 in Punjab University tournament was one of Hamid’s memorable batting feats for Government College, Lyallpur against Government College, Lahore. Besides carrying the bat he was on the field for the entire duration of the match, having kept wickets in both innings. He certainly passed the endurance test in that five-day fixture at Bohranwala Ground but to his utter disbelief didn’t attract any write-ups in the print media.

In 1964-65, Hamid invited by Islamia College, Lahore on a one-year all-expenses paid agreement and obliged them by helping to beat their rivals, Government College, Lahore, in the zonal final, played in Bahawalpur. There was also success against Gordon College, Rawalpindi in the final of the Punjab University, held at 501 Workshop ground in Rawalpindi. His inclusion in the 1965-66 Punjab University team in its annual fixture against Punjab Governor’s XI at Bagh-e-Jinnah was an acknowledgment of his batting talent. He also enjoyed the support of three former Pakistan cricketers – Aslam Khokhar, Nazar Mohammad and Maqsood Ahmed.

The inclusion in the side games against touring sides to Pakistan, often was viewed as a token gesture for the local players, though a stage to shine as well if given appropriate role in the playing eleven. Hamid was dismissed for 35, having worked hard in an opening stand of 68 with Aftab Gul, after Punjab Governor’s XI skipper Asif Iqbal had sent a message to up the tempo, against the 1966-67 Ceylon team at Lyallpur Stadium, hosting its first ever-first-class match. His dismissal annoyed Hamid for he was well set for a substantial innings and in the same winter he was further hit by a double failure, whilst appearing for North Zone against the MCC u-25, at Peshawar.

Having regained his form with a fighting 87 in Sargodha’s 246 all out against Punjab University attack led by Asif Masood, in the Ayub Trophy at Sargodha, the two cheap dismissals against 1967-68 Commonwealth at Sargodha, proved Hamid’s last opportunity to catch the eye of national selectors.

The 1969-70 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, in which Hamid led Sargodha to the top of the points in a group consisting of four teams, he was the aggrieved party in an unsavoury incident. Raja Saleem Akhtar, heading the Sargodha Division management, replaced Hamid with his son Wasim Raja, for the quarter-final stages. Disheartened with this unexpected act of ‘nepotism’ from someone he had high regard for, Hamid pulled out of the Sargodha squad in dismay and quit the game.

Hamid was persuaded to come out of ‘retirement’ in 1978-79 winter, having focused more on his career in the previous nine years. Not surprisingly, asked to captain Sargodha in the BCCP Patron’s Trophy, he was equal to the challenge in scoring 97 and 108 in the match, on his way to sharing hundred-run opening partnership in each innings with Mushtaq Ahmed, against Lahore Municipal Corporation at Faisalabad.

After saying no to Railways in the 1960s, Hamid joined United Bank in 1970 and would remain with them till 1982. He continued playing for Lyallpur Gymkhana till 1972, having kept wickets for a 13-year period with club. He enjoyed an injury-free career without helmet or a thigh pad and took great pride in not being dropped in his career with the Gymkhana.

Hamid represented Sargodha and National Tyre and Rubber Company, in a first-class career (1961-62 to 1978-79) of 27 matches, in which he scored 1000 runs @ 27.77 with two hundreds, 6 fifties, caught 27 and stumped 5 as a wicket-keeper. As an occasional medium-pace, he never came on to bowl at this level of the game.

A slim figure with a sound technique, Hamid’s batting and wicket-keeping feats are still reverberated in the cricket circles of Faisalabad, four decades after his exit from the game. On occasions he has been persuaded to take up honorary positions in the regional cricket administration.

He moved to Sargodha in 1982 and has been part of a family business dealing with the distribution of medical goods. He has kept in good physical shape by playing badminton which he had to give up after a minor hear condition in 2001. He has three sons from his marriage.