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Hand of Fate - Raees Mohammad (1932-2022)

In his playing days
In his playing days
 
Three centurions for Karachi 1955 - ( L to R), Raees, Hanif & Wazir.)
Three centurions for Karachi 1955 - ( L to R), Raees, Hanif & Wazir.)
 
3. With brother Sadiq.
3. With brother Sadiq.
 
With youngest son - Umair.
With youngest son - Umair.
 
A TV appearance - GEO
A TV appearance - GEO
 
( L to R) Mushtaq, Raees, Wazir, Hanif & Sadiq with Ameer Bee.
( L to R) Mushtaq, Raees, Wazir, Hanif & Sadiq with Ameer Bee.
 
(L to R) Raees, Hanif, Ken Barrington & Wazir - 1955-56
(L to R) Raees, Hanif, Ken Barrington & Wazir - 1955-56
 
Ameer Bee @ the Ladies Club, Junagadh
Ameer Bee @ the Ladies Club, Junagadh
 
Wazir, Hanif & Raees
Wazir, Hanif & Raees
 
With brother Sadiq
With brother Sadiq
 
The Famous Five - Hanif, Raees, Wazir, Mushtaq & Sadiq
The Famous Five - Hanif, Raees, Wazir, Mushtaq & Sadiq
 
With wife - Rukhsana
With wife - Rukhsana
 
A portrait
A portrait
 

As the second-in-line amongst the five Mohammad brothers of international fame, who dominated Pakistan cricket for three decades, the death of 89-year old Raees Mohammad on February 14 in Karachi, draws curtain on one of the less fortunate cricketers of his time.

Ironically, there is enough evidence to suggest him being the most gifted all-rounder in the family, yet Raees was the odd one out when it came to national honours.

In the 1950s there were not many in Karachi or for that matter in Pakistan who could match Raees’ all-round skills. In addition to his batting attractively in the middle order, he was also a front-line wrist spinner and a brilliant fielder too. With all those qualities, the closest he would come to represent his country was against India at Dacca – the first official Test hosted by Pakistan – in the 1954-55 series. Having been assured the previous night, of his place in the final line-up, by skipper A.H. Kardar, to his utter dismay he was replaced in the morning by Maqsood Ahmed, who after having resolved his rift with the cricket Board, was back in the side.

Still only 22 it was amazing Raees never got a second opportunity to follow the trail of his two heroes – Garfield Sobers and Richie Benaud. His only consolation, if any, being that both his brothers – Hanif and Wazir – were in the playing eleven and down the line would have both Mushtaq and Sadiq, establish themselves as world-class batsmen. Such would their impact on the country’s batting arsenal that remarkably at least one of the Mohammad brothers would feature in all but one Test match of the 101 played by Pakistan in the period of 1952-79.

Born in Junagadh (Gujarat), British India, on December 25, 1932 to Shaikh Ismail and Ameer Bee in a sports loving environment, Raees at seven joined elder brother Wazir, in his first taste of cricket. The pair of them would represent Madrassah High School and besides the push from father and maternal uncles – Bashir, Dilawar, Hameed and Shakir - were getting the necessary facilities through the patronage of Dilawar KhanJi, from the Nawab family of Junagadh, himself a keen cricketer. The batting feats of Ranjitsinhji and his nephew Duleepsinhji , also from the Kathiawar Peninsula remained a source of inspiration for the family with third-in-line Hanif too now displaying early signs of correct defensive technique in the early 1940s, whilst a student of A.G. School, Junagadh.

The upheaval in Junagadh state following the invasion of Indian troops would force the family to opt for safer heaven. In the first quarter of 1948, a train journey from Junagadh to Bombay was followed by a sea voyage that would see them arrive in the coastal city of Karachi, the capital of Pakistan. After a brief stay in Old Haji Camp for the refugees the family was relocated in Kaal Bhairu Hindu Temple on Lawrence Road in Garden Town, where they would reside till 1954.

The death of their father in 1949 added extra strain on both Wazir and Raees to look for employment besides keeping the flame of cricket alight, which they did by joining Pak Moghul CC with its nets in Jehangir Park, the hub of cricket in the city. All five brothers, including Mushtaq and Sadiq, the younger two who would start their cricket in Karachi, is documented to have played for the same club and also been mentored by Master Aziz – full name Abdul Aziz Durrani, a cricket coach at Sind Madrassah-tul-Islam. A wicket-keeper and one of seven Muslim players in All India’s team in an unofficial ‘Test’ against Jack Ryder’s Australian team at Calcutta in 1935-36.

Raees’ first-class debut, ahead of brother Wazir, came against the visiting 1949-50 Commonwealth side whilst picked for Karachi & Sind at Karachi Gymkhana. Having arrived as immigrants amidst refugee crisis, in short space of four years the Mohammad brothers would be in the international spotlight, following 16-year old Hanif’s 64-run contribution in the historic 4-wicket win against MCC at Karachi Gymkhana in 1951-52 that would earn Pakistan full membership of ICC. The first great achievement to savour for Ameer Bee, who would go down as the second most celebrated cricketing mother after England’s Martha Grace (c.1813-1884). Ameer Bee lived to the age of 84 and breathed her last in 1994, having also witnessed her grandson Shoaib Mohammad proving his merit with the bat for Pakistan, more so when led by the great Imran Khan.

Picked for The Rest against Pakistan on their return from the 1952-53 tour of India for which Raees was a strong candidate but missed out due to 44-year old Amir Elahi chosen on his vast experience . He top-scored with 66 to show what the national team had missed in India. Despite doing pretty well in the first-class season and in the trials in Bahawalpur, Raees was again left behind for the 1954 tour of England which was heart breaking for a young untried 16-year old Khalid Hasan had been preferred over him.

There was no cricketing wisdom in selectors’ judgement. Instead, he was shipped with 1954 Pakistan Eaglets, for whom he had an outstanding tour in the English summer. At times Raees, one felt would have stood a better chance to play for Pakistan if his brothers – Wazir and Hanif, were not already in the team. The selectors and A.H. Kardar, somehow didn’t fancy the idea of three brothers in Pakistan Test line-up though on merit one can argue they were all were worthy of their places. Although in December 1954, he was happy to have Raees with him on a short tour of India, undertaken by a squad made of Pakistan Combined Services and Bahawalpur players.

The three brothers – Wazir, Raees and Hanif – appeared for the first time together in first-class when picked for Karachi, led by Anwar Hussain in the 1954-55 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. In this particular game against Railways at Karachi Parsi Institute (KPI) Ground, Raees, coming in at No.5, fell four runs short of his maiden hundred though he dominated a 133-run stand for the 4th wicket with Wazir (122 not out). The two brothers in the middle order had followed younger brother Hanif’s 84 as an opening batsman, in their side’s total of 452.

Few days later at the same venue Raees hit an unbeaten 118 in three hours against Sind, having added 255 runs without being separated for the 4th wicket with Hanif (230 not out). In the final against Combined Services at National Stadium, Karachi, the three brothers were at it again – Wazir (118), Hanif (109) and Raees (110) – having contributed 76.94% with their bats in a total of 438. The sons of Ameer Bee had great appetite for batting and would show their ‘displeasure at being dismissed, even after scoring big hundreds’, according to Pakistan Test all-rounder Shuja-ud-din, who along with off-spinners – M.E.Z. Ghazali and Miran Bakhsh - toiled hard against the three, in the final. It was the first and possibly the only instance of three brothers scoring hundreds in first-class cricket history and would lay the foundation of 9-wicket victory for Karachi to claim their first Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.

In a flood relief exhibition match representing Pakistan Governor’s XI against Pakistan Prime Minister XI at Karachi in September 1955, Raees showed his talent in hitting 129 and shared the crease with the great Australian all-rounder Keith Miller, who smashed 132 and is on record of stating, ‘Allow me to tell you that I had the pleasure to bat with this lesser member of this illustrious family when I flew and played in a flood relief match in Pakistan some years ago and Raees made one of the finest centuries imaginable. Had I been asked to name a potential Test player, it would most certainly have been this one member of the family who just missed out.’

In the 1955-56 season, Raees could not produce any outstanding performance against touring teams - New Zealand or MCC ‘A’, - to nudge the selectors, after which his chances of representing Pakistan were pretty slim. The choice for a reinforcement for the 1957-58 West Indies tour was S.F. Rehman, the third wrist spinner in six years to have been preferred over Raees, sparking more disappointment in the Mohammed family to suggest that he was simply a victim of a tug of war between the cricket politics of Karachi and Punjab. Looking back it is fair to conclude with very limited international cricket played by Pakistan till the 1970s, there were number of players who suffered the same fate.

Raees was to have a strong influence on both Mushtaq and Sadiq, by feeding them his wrist spinning variety with a tennis ball from 15 yards in their residence in Garden Town, originally a Hindu temple. He was thrilled to see them maturing into accomplished batsmen at Test level for Pakistan and also achieve great success in English country cricket. Besides their batting potential, both brothers owed it to Raees in learning the subtle art of wrist spin which featured leg-break, googly and flipper. In Test, first-class and List A limited overs cricket, collectively Mushtaq and Sadiq claimed 1334 wickets, largely on the strength of their respective careers with Northamptonshire and Gloucestershire.

It was a three-day match at Hyderabad, between Hyderabad Chief Commissioner’s XI vs Fazal Mahmood’s XI, in February 1960 that brought together all five brothers – Wazir, Raees, Hanif, Mushtaq & Sadiq - divided between the two teams – in a single first-class match. In what proved to be Raees’ last season at first-class level, Raees captained Karachi B in the 1962-63 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. After beating Rawalpindi in the semi-final at Pindi Club Ground, his side was soundly beaten by Karachi A, captained by brother Wazir, in the final at Karachi. In his 30-match first-class career (1949-50 to 1962-63) representing Karachi, Raees scored 1344 runs @ 32.78 with 2 hundreds, 8 fifties, caught 21 and claimed 33 wickets @ 31.27 with 4-82 as his best haul.

Though he passed on his experience to the next generation and enjoyed their success, Raees was rarely seen at cricket grounds after playing his last game in 1963. Three of his sons Shahid, Asif and Tariq inherited his batting skills and too played first-class cricket. Asif perhaps the most talented of the three, represented Pakistan u-19 and Pakistan u-23 and hit seven hundreds in a successful playing career with PIA. After a couple of years employment with Habib Bank, Raees would switch to National Bank, before offered a job with PIA by Air Marshal Nur Khan. He resided in ‘Ameer Cottage’ in Nazimabad 1 for about 15 years before settling down in Gulshan-e-Maymar in 1999 till his death.

In April 2019, Raees accompanied brother Sadiq and his youngest son Umair, as a special guest at the book launching of ‘Another Perspective’ by Taher Memon and the writer, at Karachi Gymkhana, the venue that had seen him blossom into a very fine all-round cricketer. Though frail already, he was badly hit hard by the covid-19 restrictions that stopped him going out for a walk or to the snooker club. Raees married twice, in 1954 to Rabia, who hailed from Ahmedabad and passed away in the late 1980s. He is now survived by second wife Rukhsana and his seven children, featuring five sons and two daughters, to whom he was simply Baba.

Impressions

Mushtaq Mohammad:

‘I watched all three elder brothers bat and found Raees to be the most attractive, with his aggressive approach to the game. Growing up, he was my ideal and I made up my mind very early on that I would follow his path. He was by far the most gifted cricketer in our family and from early 1950s to mid-1960s, he was the best wrist spinner in Pakistan. He inspired me to take up leg-spin and I always imagined his approach to the wicket and his delivery stride, whilst bowling. He had enormous contribution in my development as a bowler.’

‘It is fair to say that it was the ‘dirty politics’ that denied him the opportunity to play for Pakistan. He could have gone on 1952-53 tour to India but 44-year old Raja Amir Elahi got the nod. For the 1954 England tour he should have been an automatic choice, he was shocked to see the name of 16-year old Khalid Hasan in the final squad. Having seen his performances for the 1954 Pakistan Eaglets, former Surrey England paceman Alf Gover was of the opinion that he should have been touring with the Pakistan squad. In the 1954-55 home series against India, when Raees was again in good form with the bat and ball, 47-year old Miran Bakhsh walked in to play at Lahore and Peshawar. He was certainly a victim of some bizarre and illogical options taken up by the national selectors.’

Nasim-ul-Ghani:

‘I didn’t know Raees Mohammad on one-to-one basis but would meet him through the family, which as we all know were all stars of Pakistan cricket. It was unfortunate for him not to play for Pakistan as in his era there was lot of competition and very little international cricket. I bowled to him in Karachi’s club cricket and recall him as a clean-hitting and good looking stroke player, besides bowling leg-breaks and fielding very well in all positions. We played together in Quaid-e-Azam Trophy matches -for Karachi B in 1957-58 and for Karachi Whites in 1961-62, when we were beaten by Karachi Blue in the semi-final. I admired his simplicity and as a soft-spoken individual his death is certainly a great loss to his family and friends.’

Asif Ahmed :

‘I did not interact much with Raees Bhai as I did with other brothers. But I do remember him as a very competitive person who in my opinion could not steal limelight like his brothers due to being a contemporary of Amir Elahi - the famous leg spinner of Indo-Pak fame. He was a better all-rounder than many but some people are unlucky in many ways. He was a gentleman, well dressed with Mushtaq Ali-like kerchief round his neck. When I used to go for nets at my club Pak Moghul in Jehangir Park , Raees Bhai was a regular member of Kathiawar Gymkhana club which had nets opposite our club. We admired his game and then came a time when we played in the same tourney -Lady Hawabai. With due respects to other siblings he was the best looking among them. I had the privilege of being the Manager of Pakistan Under 19 team that toured Australia in 1981-82 winter and one of Raees Bhai’s son Asif Mohammad was a member of the same.’

Syed Naseem Ahmed :

‘In my opinion he was a better leg spinner than Mushtaq and certainly deserved a place in the national team. He was a very good all-rounder and better fielder amongst the Mohammad brothers. But more so he was a thorough gentleman and a noble soul. He played many remarkable innings for Karachi Cricket Association (KCA) but missed the bus because coming from the same family went against him. One may not believe it but I remember and quote A.H.Kardar saying that "he has simply ignored him for this reason?and do not want monopoly of the Muhammad brothers". Surely the lady luck did not favour him. May Allah place this gentle cricketer in the highest place in heaven. Ameen.’

Khalid Rafiq :

‘Raees Bhai was a simple man with austere habits. Although senior in age and in cricket we developed a good rapport. He was a dashing all-rounder and certainly unlucky not to have played for Pakistan. He liked chewing betel which I was told was disliked by A.H. Kardar. This was perhaps one of the reasons he was ignored? During those days merit was not the only criteria. He was jolly and bore a smile?and as a cricketer he gave 100% always. I last met him at a lunch hosted by Masroor Mirza at Karachi Gymkhana to honour Wazir Mohammad who was on a visit to Pakistan after many years in 2017, the year I migrated to?US. It?was 17th January. He had become lean and frail but was full of?life. To?his close associates he was known as USTAAD.’

Mahboob Shah :

‘I did come across Raees Mohammad at club level cricket in Karachi in the 1950s and since he was much senior to me, there was not much interaction. The three brothers - Wazir, Hanif & Raees - scoring hundred in the same innings of Quaid-e-Azam Trophy was a remarkable achievement and a great honour for their mother, Ameer Bee, who herself was a keen sportswoman. Raees I would say was the best of the fielders in the family, both in terms of running speed and catching in the outfield. A very fine batsman and quite good leg-spinner and you have a very strong all-round presence.

Ghaffar Ali Khan

‘Raees was my senior. I was a member of Karachi B team in the 1962-63 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, that played four matches in Punjab and reached final , only to lose to Karachi A, in a three-day finish at National Stadium. He was a quality all-round player and also had a good sense of humour. I also recall him being addictive to chewing paan, with a bit of tobacco in it. Raees was by far the best dressed among Mohammad brothers and I have nice memories of playing for and against him.’