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Ismail Ibrahim - An Obituary

The 1955 Pakistan Eaglets blazer.
The 1955 Pakistan Eaglets blazer.
Appleby Frodingham - First XI - seated first on left.
Appleby Frodingham - First XI - seated first on left.
1959 cricket festival - Lt. Comd Wells XI vs Pakistan Eaglets - standing second from left.
1959 cricket festival - Lt. Comd Wells XI vs Pakistan Eaglets - standing second from left.
1959 Cricket Festival - alongside Sir Garfield Sobers.1959 Cricket Festival - alongside Sir Garfield Sobers - standing first from left.
1959 Cricket Festival - alongside Sir Garfield Sobers - standing first from left.
1955 Pakistan Eaglets - standing extreme left, middle row
1955 Pakistan Eaglets - standing extreme left, middle row
©Abdul Dyer

The passing away of Ismail Ibrahim on June15, 2020 in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, closes the chapter on the life of a first generation of Pakistan cricketer.

In representing Karachi, he rubbed shoulders with the leading players of the time, in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. As a merited all-rounder, Ismail confirmed his talent at club and first-class level and then was picked for the 1955 Pakistan Eaglets tour to England.

Ismail was born in a small coastal town Mangrol, a princely state in Junagadh district of Gujarat, on August 4, 1932, in a Gujrati-speaking farming family that featured a number of fruit merchants. Besides Madrassah High School, he also attended Jehangir (Mangrol) Boarding House, along with older brother Hasan and both enthusiastically participated in cricket and hockey.

It was the brothers’ cricket talent that won them free boarding and the success in High School tournaments won them selection in the squad of 20 players, selected by Nawab Dilwar KhanJee from Manavadar, Mangrol and Junagadh. During this period Ismail also came across - Khawaja Saeed Ahmed, M.S.Baloch, U.R.Chippa, ‘Vinoo’ Mankad, Alim-ud-din, Wazir Mohammad and Raees Mohammad, to name a few.

At the time of the partition of the sub-continent in 1947, Ismail was waiting for his matriculation exam results, and after arriving by sea in Karachi, took up a typing and shorthand course. On the strength of his competent English and typing skills, he was offered a job by Sher Mohammad Ali & Sons – the wholesaler of surgical tools. - based in Laxmi Building, Bandar Road, Karachi, then West Pakistan.

Having been out of cricket for a little over two years, in 1951 Ismail accepted an invitation from Prince Aslam to join Kathiawar Gymkhana, one of the top clubs which besides Pak Moghul and PWD, practised in Jehangir Park, the hub of club cricket in Karachi. One of his new-ball partners, Mohammad Farooq, who went on to play Test for Pakistan, recalls ‘ Ismail Bhai was much senior to me and as medium-pace bowler and lower middle order batsman, was above average club cricketer. We both bowled for Kathiawar Gymkhana and then for Pak Ahmedabad that was captained by M.S.Baloch. After arriving in Lincolnshire, he represented Scunthorpe and also the British steel team, as an amateur.’

Despite a troublesome knee cartilage, Ismail’s all-round skills were acknowledged in inter-club tournaments and not surprisingly, in 1954, he caught the eye of Karachi Cricket Association selectors. Ismail, after his inclusion in the strong Karachi squad, featuring Waqar Hasan, Wazir Mohammad, Raees Mohammad, Anwar Hussain, Mahmood Hussain and Amir Elahi, made his first-class debut in the semi-final of the 1954-55 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy against Bahawalpur, a newly built stadium in the city that only a few months ago had hosted India for a Test match.

Pakistan Eaglets Society was a positive initiative of Justice A.R.Cornelius, for the development of promising and talented youth to experience both coaching and the playing conditions of England. Ismail’s selection for the 1955 squad, the fourth such tour to U.K, was a tremendous boost for the youngster. He like a number of his fellow players would see it as a step closer in representing the senior Pakistan team.

Although the scorecards and individual averages of the 1955 Pakistan Eaglets are sadly not available, captain Khan Mohammad’s report summed up the tour, ‘That summer the Eaglets Society tried a new experiment by engaging a first-class coach, Mr. A. Holt from Hampshire. We played 21 matches in all, out of which we won 16, three were drawn and two were lost. Among the entire team, Wallis Mathias, Mohammad Munaf, Ismail Ibrahim and Ehsan-ul-Haq were very outstanding.'

On his return from Eaglets tour, at Bahawalpur in 1955-56, Ismail coming in at number six, top-scored with 45 in Amir of Bahawalpur’s XI poor first-innings total of 137 against the touring MCC ‘A’. In claiming 2-48 off 23 overs, he was one of the few from the home side who could hold his head up, in an innings defeat, inflicted largely due to the pace of Alan Moss and left-arm spin of Tony Lock.

After being overlooked for international spot, Test all-rounder Maqsood Ahmed took charge of Karachi Blues for the 1956-57 season. As one of the leading centres of cricket, the capital had entered three teams in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Following his maiden fifty, Ismail top scored with an unbeaten 56 enabling Karachi Blues to take a stronger grip against Railways at Karachi Gymkhana matting and eventually a 9-wicket win. A week later, again at Bahawalpur, he improved upon his score with 59 – an innings that required both caution and concentration, for his side had slipped to 112-6 on the opening day of the semi-final against their arch-rivals – Karachi Whites. In doing so, he would share a 121-run stand for the eight wicket with skipper Maqsood, who contributed 90.

In the 1957-58 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Ismail now representing Karachi C, handed the new ball ahead of Antao D’Souza, claimed 4-20 against Hyderabad at Karachi Parsi Institure Ground. He took liking to the ground and produced an innings of 66 after taking guard with his side in crisis. In what turned out to be the highest innings of his brief first-class career, he added 114 for the sixth wicket with Shahid Qureshi (135) followed by 105-run stand for the 7th wicket with 13-year old Mushtaq Mohammad (43 not out). To stand his ground and take the first innings total to 314 was pretty smart for the runs had been scored against an attack featuring – Mahmood Hussain, Ikram Elahi and Mohammad Munaf. Not quite finished, he produced his career-best figures of 5-54 in 42 overs of toil and his scalps included Alim-ud-din and Wallis Mathias.

Ismail at the conclusion of Eaglets’ tour decided to return to Karachi, though kept in touch through regular correspondence with United Steel Companies made up of a number of small steel factories, named after villages of North Lincolnshire, i.e. Appleby Frodingham - who had approached him to stay behind in UK for both work and cricket. With limited opportunities, Ismail decided to leave Karachi for career progression and in UK, Ismail was given the golden opportunity to build a career from scratch in Scunthorpe, an industrial town in Lincolnshire, he had not heard of, before arriving.

Kicking off in 1958, Ismail represented Appleby-Frodingham Works, for four summers, as an opening bowler and useful batsman. He was fondly called ‘Mal’ (short for Ismail) and well regarded and highly respected throughout this time. ‘A History of Appleby – Frodingam Works Cricket Club’ recorded a number of outstanding feats – both with bat and ball - which complimented his excellent skills and outstanding commitment to the sport of cricket.

On the first Sunday of 1958 season, Frod gained a remarkable win against Scunthrope Town. Frod were bowled out for 93 but the strong batting line-up of Town were bowled out for 37, with Mal Ibrahim taking 5 for 13. A magnificent 115 by Mal against English Steel took just 75 minutes and included 90 runs scored in boundaries. Few years later Mal took eight wickets for only 41 runs, in a festival fixture. The publication highlighted Mal’s outstanding cricket playing qualities and achievements, making his family and friends so very proud.

Mushtaq Mohammed, fourth in line of the famous five Mohammed brothers, world-class all-rounder and former Pakistan captain, recalled, ‘Ismail Ibrahim was a big name in Lincolnshire cricket having played for almost 20 years, as a good all-rounder. With his all-round skills, he was all the time in the game. In the 1956-58 period, I was representing Kathiawar Gymkhana in the Naqvi Gold Cup in Karachi alongside Ismail, Mohammad Farooq, Abdul Dyer and a Pakistan paceman Khan Mohammad, as a ‘guest’ player. The match against National Tyre and Rubber (NTR) who had Test bowler, Mahmood Hussain in their line-up, was played on a matting at Sind Madrassah School. In a low-scoring game, Ismail saved our blushes, by first hitting a fifty and then picking up 4-5 wickets. The politics within Pakistan cricket broke his heart and made him move to U.K.’

Salim-ud-din, brother of Test opener Alim-ud-din, who toured with the 1959 Pakistan Eaglets, and would stay back in Scunthorpe, shared his thoughts ‘I had played for Karachi Blues alongside Ismail and beside his medium pace the team would often benefit from his attacking batting. We met whilst Eaglets played a two-day match against Lincolnshire on the 1959 tour.’

‘Ismail Bhai was a very decent and highly respected individual and softly-spoken gentleman, who always provided us youngsters with sound advice. At the time of his death, the family received hundreds of condolence messages from friends, relatives and acquaintances from all walks of life, showing their gratitude and kindness for Ismail for how he had guided them, such as helping to build the first mosque in Scunthorpe and he assisted Muslim community to obtain halal live chickens from farms, after having worked long hours at the steel industry.’

As a committed community figure, Ismail assisted and advised many people in buying homes and businesses. He spent many hours coaching local youths with cricket and hockey just to mention a few of his very many selfless, wonderful and kind qualities that his children and grandchildren are so very proud to possess. Ismail was a very fair and just man who would not stand for any injustices to anyone, regardless of colour or creed. He raised voice on racial equality and will sadly be very much missed by his friends and family.

The writer is indebted to Ismail Ibrhim’s daughter Zubaida Hyder, grand daughter Aneala Norris and cricket colleagues – Mohammad Farooq, Salim-ud-din and Mushtaq Mohammed – for their contribution.