Hand of Fate - Tahir Mughal Obituary
Just a month over, after the news of his suffering with stage four gallbladder cancer was confirmed at Shaukat Khanum Hospital, Lahore, Tahir Mughal passed away in Sialkot on January 10, aged 43.
Tahir always in demand, as a bowling all-rounder, represented no less than six departmental teams in domestic cricket, besides lifting the profiles of both Gujranwala and Sialkot, on his way to claiming 503 first-class wickets @ 21.66 and sharing the new ball with Waqar Younis, Mohammad Asif and Shabbir Ahmed – three Pakistan internationals.
Tahir Mahmood Mughal, the youngest of the five siblings, was born in Daska, one of four tehsils of Sialkot District in Punjab on April 25, 1977. After serving his apprenticeship with Dawn CC in his home city and Gujranwala u-19, at the age of 20, he was handed a new ball in the 1997-98 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, for Gujranwala, led by Shakeel Ahmed Jr. on their return to first-class cricket after a gap of 10 years. In the 1996-97 season, Tahir was one of the core players for Gujranwala to win the Grade II final and qualify for promotion into the Grade I first-class cricket.
In only his second appearance, Tahir would pick up ten wickets in a thrilling contest against Lahore City at Gujranwala. Thrilled with the youngster’s immediate impact, Shakeel, the only Daska-born international for Pakistan, was confident Tahir’s hard work and focused approach, evident from his time at Dawn CC, were the right ingredients to take him up the ladder. Besides Shakeel it is to be said that the wholehearted backing of his two older brothers, after the death of their father, further pushed Tahir towards his cricketing ambitions.
In the following season (1998-99) his combined tally of wickets - for Gujranwala and Agricultural Development Bank of Pakistan (ADBP) - was 67 @ 21.73, propelling his department to the final of the PCB Patron’s Trophy. Tahir as a medium-fast bowler with natural inswing was keen to broaden his horizon. In 1999 a chat with opposition bowler Umar Rasheed, proved crucial for Taher to bowl out-swing with more confidence and later to develop it as a key weapon in his armoury.
Tahir would go on to reach 50 wickets in a Pakistan domestic season on three occasions with 2001-02 being the outstanding one with 83 wickets @ a miserly average of 15.75, including three ten-wicket hauls and further two nine-wicket hauls. Not to mention his 427 runs @ 28.46 – his best season with the bat too and one thought he was now in competition with the likes of Azhar Mahmood, Abdul Razzaq and Yasir Arafat. For that very reason, Rashid Latif, who was also captain of Pakistan team, invited him to join Allied Bank, for whom he continued good form for two winters.
There were 39 five-wicket hauls for Tahir with a career-best 7-50 achieved for Silakot against Peshawar at Sialkot in the 2004-05 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, when sandwiched between the two left-armers – Sarfraz Ahmed and Zahid Saeed - in a three-men pace attack. The skill level of the three was such that Sialkot became the winner of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, for the first time in 2005-06 and in that capacity would tour India to play against Uttar Pradesh, the winner of the Ranji Trophy, for the 2006-07 Mohammad Nissar Trophy.
Surprisingly, with a pretty impressive 42.48 balls/wicket strike rate as a new ball bowler at domestic cricket, Tahir didn’t even get to represent Pakistan A or a side match against a touring team. The only occasion he got a nod from the selectors was to travel with the Pakistan team for the 2006-07 Hong Kong Sixes that lost to South Africa in the final. Humble by nature and somewhat laid back in his approach, at times one wished Tahir was a touch more fired up as some of his contemporaries. One of his senior team-mates at Gujranwala thought if Test cricket was beyond Tahir, he was definitely worth a chance in white ball.
Despite the regional backing of Malik Zulfiqar, Sohail Zaidi, Rana Mushtaq, Qazi Mujahid, Zia Naqvi, Imran Ashraf and Sajid Janjua, Tahir tagged as small town boy with not enough bowling speed was unable to breakthrough and finished his career on a bitter note with understandable resentment towards PCB selection criteria, which he only made public in 2020.
He was more than a useful lower batsman and could be relied upon to score quick runs, in a style reminiscent to Pakistan’s Manzoor Elahi, both agricultural and high tempo. Tahir had 14 fifties to his name before in his last season, he brought up his only first-class hundred – an unbeaten 130 (142 balls, 22fours, 1 six) – for United Bank against Quetta at National Ground, Islamabad in the 2011-12 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. He also stood in as captain of United Bank, and in his second last match took his department to a narrow 20-run win against Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), at the LCCA ground with a match haul of 11-123, which he considered one of his best.
Having brilliant all-round presence at Penzance CC in Cornwall, a contract negotiated through Naseer Ahmed (Pakistan u-19) in 1999, Tahir after three years at the club would spend 7-8 English summers in Stoke-on-Trent and then to be called to play for Durham second XI in 2003 and an appearance for the first XI in 2004. He was one of three overseas pacemen, besides Shoaib Akhtar and Shaun Tait, to appear for Durham in County Championship. He was not successful with his trails with Leicestershire and Derbyshire.
His only hundred in List A (limited-overs) category was a memorable innings, when as captain he smashed an unbeaten 118 off 87 balls with 10 fours and 7 sixes, whilst getting Sialkot home with three balls to spare, chasing a stiff target of 343 against a formidable National Bank attack spearheaded by Waqar Younis, Shabbir Ahmed and Mohammad Sami at Saga Cricket Ground, Sialkot. Tahir also captained United Bank, when it won the 50-over National Cup in 2011-12. He was part of the record-breaking Sialkot Stallions which won the domestic T20 tournament in 2005-06, 2006-07, 2008-09 and 2011-12. In 2008-09 Tahir featured with Lahore Badshahs, captained by Inzamam-ul-Haq, in the unofficial T20 Indian Cricket League (ICL).
As a level II coach since 2007, Tahir has had stints in Canada, Dubai and Pakistan. Besides representing Sialkot Veterans, he ran Tahir Mughal Cricket Academy at Faraz Cricket Ground in Sialkot and before his illness had helped both Pakistan u-19 and the Pakistan Super League (PSL) franchise, Lahore Qalandars, in their talent hunt camps, all around the country.
He was a student of Government High School, Daska and later invited by Akhtar Mumtaz Butt to MAO, College, Lahore, when enrolled, purely on his sporting ability. In this period he also played for Ludhiana Gymkhana and came under the influence of Saud Khan, a reputed bowling coach. In 113 first-class matches (1997-98 to 2011-12), Tahir represented nine teams - Gujranwala, ADBP, Sialkot, Allied Bank, Durham, PTCL, National Bank, Pakistan Customs and United Bank, with additional white ball appearances for Sialkot Stallions and Rawalpindi Rams and club cricket for Saga Sports in Sialkot.
Tahir is survived by widow and three children.
The author acknowledges the assistance of Malik Zulfiqar, Shakeel Ahmed Jr. , Asadullah Butt, Umar Rasheed and Naseer Ahmed, for the obituary.