Leading the Way - Mahboob Shah
Mahboob Shah’s standing as one of the leading umpires in world cricket reached a new peak in the year 1987.
He had the honour of officiating, alongside India’s Ram Babu Gupta – as the first two Asians - in the final of the Reliance World Cup, between Australia and England, at Calcutta. His appointment, going forward was a great boost for the umpires in Pakistan.
Only a few weeks down the line, following the infamous finger-waving Mike Gatting-Shakoor Rana argument in the Test at Faisalabad, the host cricket Board (then BCCP) could not have asked for a more calm and astute official than Shah, to steer the ship into calm waters. He stood in the final Test at Karachi, performed his duties to the highest standards amidst media scrutiny. More so, also earning the unwanted distinction of becoming the first Pakistan umpire to adjudge Javed Miandad leg-before wicket (second ball for 4), in a Test match on a home soil. The dismissal of Pakistan captain and its premier batsman, certainly caused a debate in the media.
Karachi, the federal capital of Pakistan till 1960, had good number of families from United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) and Delhi in the British India, to arrive and energize the building of a new Muslim nation, created in August 1947. Given the majority of them had the advantage of higher standard of education and skill level compared to provinces of Punjab and Bengal, they in no time would flourish in all walks of life, be it politics, civil service, education, industry, arts or sports.
One such individual Mahboob Shah, belonging to a family that originated from Delhi, with his love for cricket, would go on to become one of its best known umpires. Inspired by the significant impact on both Karachi and Pakistan cricket, of the three Delhi-born gentlemen: Tajammul Hussain, Idrees Baig and Shuja-ud-din - three Test umpires - Shah too, would earn the right to be spoken in the same breath. It was the good fortune of Pakistan to have Shah, a mild-mannered, articulate and with an analytical eye for all aspects of the game, to represent the country at the highest level in the ‘white coat’.
One of two siblings, Syed Mahboob Ali Shah, was born in Delhi on 13th October, 1938, in a middle-class Syed family, to Syed Ahmed Ali Shah and Maryam Jahan Begum. The family in the post-partition chaos arrived in Krishan Nagar, Lahore and after 18 months would head south to Karachi, where following a three-year period, they finally settled in Quetta.
This scenario led Shah to have his schooling in four different cities and since his matriculation in 1953 from Pitman’s Commercial College in Quetta, his domicile was from Baluchistan Province. During his intermediate studies at Government College, Quetta, in 1955, the family shifted back to Karachi and Shah enrolled at Urdu College, where he would do his B.A. in 1958 and L.L.B in 1962.
Shah took to the game in the 1950s in Quetta as a right-arm medium-fast bowler before his switch to batting in the middle order, by the time he joined City Gymkhana in Karachi. On his first-class debut, Shah chipped in with 39 and 20 in Baluchistan’s 53-run defeat against Sind at Race Course Ground, Quetta in the 1954-55 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. In the same winter he represented Central Zone, made up of players from NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Bahawalpur and Baluchistan, against the touring Indians at Sahiwal.
In the 1956-57 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Shah made it into the strong Karachi Whites, led by Hanif Mohammed. He was in the headlines for an unbeaten 250 (200 before lunch) - a new batting milestone at the time - for Urdu College against Jinnah College in the Karachi University Championship and an unbeaten 167 for Karachi University in the Inter-Varsity Championship. He along with Nasim-ul-Ghani shone brightly in beating Punjab University, led by Javed Burki, in the 1956-57 Inter-Varsity final at Hyderabad, Sind.
Shah attended the 1957 Pakistan Combined Universities (including Dacca and Rajshahi) Camp, along with his lifelong friends – Ghaffar Ali Khan and the late Shahid Mahmood– the two other promising all-rounders in Karachi cricket. This assembly of the best young talent in the country was significant for Pakistan skipper A.H.Kardar and the national selectors, in the process of finalising a squad for the forthcoming maiden tour of the West Indies. In picking Saeed Ahmed, Ijaz Butt, Nasim-ul-Ghani and Haseeb Ahsan amongst the attendees, for the Caribbean, the cricket officials had every right to claim the camp as a huge success.
Shah claimed a match-winning 6-14 for Karachi ‘C’ (Greens) to bowl out Sind ‘A’ for 86, at Karachi Parsi Institute Ground, in the 1957-58 Quaid -e-Azam Trophy. His team, led by Abdul Wahab, that also featured, three future Test men – Antao D’Souza, Mushtaq Mohammed and Intikhab Alam, lost in the final to Bahawalpur. In the 1959-60 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, he represented Quetta. He hit 152, coming in at number seven for Karachi against Sind in the 1959-60 Pakistan Inter-University Championship at Minto Park (now Greater Allama Iqbal Park) Lahore. His knock featured a 144-run 7th wicket stand with Rafat Wahidi (57), enabling his side to recover from 161-5 to 424 all out.
Shah captained Karachi University in the semi-final of the inaugural Ayub Trophy in 1960-61. Not long afterwards a serious knee injury, suffered whilst batting for City Gymkhana, would end his playing career that included 14 first-class matches, whilst studying for his masters, which he would finally obtain from University of Karachi in 1961. Later he would obtain another masters from and University of Sindh, in 1971.
In 1969, Shah’s umpiring ‘debut’ came by accident when as a passer-bye, he was ‘roped’ into a role when requested to stand-in by Shuja-ud-din, his former captain at City Gymkhana, who was anxious for match at Community House Cricket Ground, Lalukhet, Karachi, to take place. The original nominated umpire never turned up, leaving Shah to reluctantly carry on. He had been out of touch with the game since 1961 and with ‘limited knowledge’ of the role had no inclination to stand as an umpire. After the match, Shuja-ud-din, guided him to study Laws of Cricket in order to help Karachi Cricket Association (KCA), who were short of umpires in that particular League tournament.
To Shah’s surprise, his umpiring skills, were appreciated both by players and organizers and soon his name was in the pool of match officials in the senior League tournaments run by KCA. There came a time when he started to enjoy his role, often seen performing in solar hat in the Karachi heat. One evening, after seeing senior umpire Umar Khan being hackled at the end of a match of Dilwar Hussain Memorial Tournament at Muslim Gymkhana, Shah decided to quit and tendered his resignation to KCA. He didn’t think it was worth his while to carry on, at the expense of his family and career and be treated like Test umpire Umar Khan had been.
It was again Shuja-ud-din, who was to take over the matter. He not only rejected Shah’s resignation and advised him not to ‘throw in the towel’. A charter drafted by Shah, incorporating the views of other umpires, made him a villain in the eyes of KCA for inciting the men in white coat against them and received a threat of suspension. When the umpires refused to stand in Sunday League matches, KCA had little choice to invite captains, club secretaries, their officials and umpires, to resolve the issue. Shah had played his role in the ‘The Code of Conduct for players and officials’. It was decided in this meeting that umpires should be paid due respect and umpiring was recognised as an ‘honorary job’ rather than a profession as was commonly considered. Having come this far was now fuelled with added determination to stand up for the honour and dignity of all the umpires in Pakistan, who mostly were simply undertaking an honorary role, for the sheer love of the game.
Now having switched his energies to developing skills to stand regularly as an umpire himself, Shah first officiated at first-class level in a 3-day fixture between National Bank of Pakistan and Lahore Division Cricket Association B at the Karachi Gymkhana in the 1969-70 Ayub Zonal Championship. Tajammul Hussain was at the other end. With only 11 first-class matches under his belt, in April 1973, he was entrusted with duties of FINAL of Sikander Ali Bhutto Trophy and that of Quaid-i-Azam Trophy. In both these matches he stood alongside Shuja-ud-din, his ‘umpiring guru’. The season 1973-74, brought further recognition of his sound judgement as an umpire with two of Pakistan’s international matches at Karachi, against a World XI and Sri Lanka. It was followed by Kardar Summer Shield FINAL at Karachi.
Following his steady rise as a highly competent umpire, in the 1974-75 season, Shah was appointed to stand in the Test between Pakistan and West Indies at Karachi. Shortly afterwards, he also performed his duties in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy FINAL and Kardar Summer Shield FINAL – both in Karachi. He stood at both Lahore and Karachi in Pakistan’s dramatic victories against India in 1978-79. The pressure of standing in such high-profile matches had taken its toll and Shah was happy to take a leave from international cricket in only his second Test Match, but for Shuja-ud-din, who persuaded him, not for the first time, to ‘accept the challenge and not run away from it’.
For many decades, the visiting teams to Pakistan often returned home moaning at the host’s standard of umpiring. With a view to further polishing the skills of the country’s top umpires, the cricket Board, sent Shah and Shakoor Rana, under an International Exchange Programme to stand in the 1981 County Championship and additional limited-overs tournaments, in England.
It was an opportunity for Shah to stand alongside some of the most experienced umpires – A.G.T.Whitehead, W.E.Alley, P.B.Wight, H.D.Bird. W.L.Budd, R.Aspinall and R.Palmer.
During his stay in England, Shah to the surprise of many, insisted on his skill level to undergo a formal test, which he would pass with distinction, under the ‘watchful’ eye of Tom Smith, an ideal choice for his original work on cricket umpiring and scoring, first published in 1980, are now the copyrights of MCC, the custodian of the Code of the Laws of Cricket. Seeing Shah’s strong desire and studious approach, Tom presented him with a copy of his book, which he treasures to this day.
It is to be said it was Shah’s own initiative which he first put forward to Gen Zia-ul-Haq, the President of Pakistan and Patron-in-Chief of the cricket Board in 1979, thus proving to be a keen student of umpiring with an enthusiastic desire to expand his horizon. With a strong educational background and studious mind-set, Shah also qualified as a Full Member of the Association of Cricket Umpires, the first Pakistani to do so while in England. In doing so he remained in touch with developments in umpiring, all around the world, to the benefit of Pakistan cricket.
Shah was also chosen for the first-ever ODI played on Pakistan soil – against New Zealand at Sialkot in 1976. He would go on to officiate, all together in 32 ODIs including two World Cup tournaments – both in the sub-continent plus the Sharjah Cup in 1988. In all he stood in 106 limited-overs matches including finals of the 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989 Wills Cup – the National One-day Championship.
After their total satisfaction with him in 1982-83 and also during the 1987 World Cup, the Australians turned against Shah’s appointment in 1988-89 home series in Pakistan. Perhaps the only time a visiting international team had raised their concerns against his ability.
The seeds of neutral umpires in Test matches were first sown in 1986 during a home series against West Indies through the efforts of captain Imran Khan, which naturally received mixed reaction from Pakistan umpires, except Shah. Following his attendance of the ICC Test Umpires Conference in England, Shah was included in the first batch of ICC umpires for neutral venues in 1993-94 and would thereafter officiate in Test matches in Durban, Harare, Auckland and Hamilton.
At domestic level, in the 1989-96 period, Shah supervised three Patron’s Trophy and two Quaid-e-Azam Trophy FINALS. Time permitting, Shah was also seen to supervise Grade II and u-19 matches in the domestic cricket that included five Pakistan u-19 ‘Test’ matches against Australia, India, England and West Indies. He also had the distinction of standing in the only Test match staged at Defence Housing Authority (DHA), Stadium, Karachi, against Zimbabwe in 1993-94.
BACK IN WHITES
His last appointment by Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) was in March 1998 – six months prior to turning 60.
While still umpiring, with a view to remaining active in the off-season, Shah and his Karachi-based colleagues formed a Karachi Umpires XI. The team was a huge success and had to be renamed as Test and First Class Umpires XI so as to overcome selection problems. The team turned out to be of great publicity value and started receiving invitations mostly from commercial/industrial undertakings from within Karachi and outside. This activity, on the one hand was enough to motivate umpires in other cities and countries to follow suit, while on the other it had good effect on youngsters, who wanted to see their favourite umpires from close quarters.
Their purpose was more than served when the Mayor of Multan, who had invited us to play two one-day matches in Multan, stated that most of the youngsters who had watched the match between Karachi and Lahore where all the famous umpires of the country were present had taken to empty fields. Soon the Pakistan Umpires XI would tour Sri Lanka, India, Singapore, Thailand and Bangladesh and played 25-over matches against their counterparts. Shah had the honour of leading the team all over but India.
Having had the chance to work alongside some of the best officials in the world, primarily from England and Australia, Shah was at the forefront of the efforts to raise the status of umpires and standard of umpiring in Pakistan. He remained an active member and President of Karachi Cricket Umpires Association. As expected Shah had positive input in the 1990s in the three Umpires Refreshers Courses - an initiative of Pakistan Tobacco Company, the official sponsors of domestic and international cricket in the country.
Shah contributed on the subject of umpiring in both English and Urdu in the print media. His pocket-size umpiring manual, based on translation of 1980 Code into Urdu language was a handy companion to umpires at all levels of the game, in both Pakistan and India. His 5th edition of translation was authenticated by MCC, the governing body for cricket laws.
In 2000 Shah was taken in by Asian Cricket Council (ACC) as one of the three Umpiring Resource Persons – one each from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, implementing developing programmes for umpires of Asia. He has conducted ACC Level I and Level II umpiring courses in more than 20 non-Test playing countries of Asia. Over a dozen umpires trained by him and his colleagues are on the present ICC International Panel. In addition he has also conducted refresher courses for Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Pakistan umpires. Shah has also been on the PCB Faculty and Chairman of National Umpiring Council.
At the behest of the MCC Shah has recently completed conversion of ‘The Tom Smith’s Cricket Umpiring and Scoring’ into Urdu. The publication has often been referred as the ‘the Bible of Cricket Umpiring’.
Whilst winning credentials as an outstanding international cricket official, Shah was an employee of Ministry of Industries, Department of Investment Promotion and Supplies -Government of Pakistan, Department of Industries and Mineral Development – Government of Sindh and retired as General Manager Pakistan Steel Mills Corporation, Karachi in 1998. He also had a short stint as Sports Advisor with Pakistan Steel Mills.