< >
CricketWorld.com, Latest Cricket News & Results
 

Once Upon a Time Dr. Aijaz Baig - Islamia College Captain

Pakistan Railways - 1956-57 

Standing :  (L to R): Akhtar Hussain (Umpire), Mohammad Yousuf, Khwaja Aslam, Aijaz Baig, Ghafoor Butt, Mohammad Shafi, Qayyum Butt, Sultan Mahmud, Ghulam Murtaza, 2nd Umpire 
Sitting - Chairs - (L to R)Ehsan Elahi, A Railway Official, Mohammad Amin Billy, Masud Salah-ud-din (Captain), Aslam Khokhar, Mr. Butt (A Railway Official).
Sitting - Floor - (L to R): Sagheer Mirza, S.D.Butt, Ijaz Hussain, Iftikhar Masood.

The notion, ‘world is a global village’, has further strengthened with the social media sources, facebook, whatsapp, twitter, etc. at the tips of our fingers, allowing instant connectivity with people, regardless of their location. It was one’s good fortune to connect with Aijaz Baig, through a common friend Asif Masood, in early 2015 and have access to this delightfully uncomplicated cricket mind.

The anecdotal trail of the first generation of Pakistan players, such as Aijaz, is a priceless asset, for it helps to piece together, the cricketing jigsaw of the nation. It is both nostalgic and educational in terms of learning and appreciating the playing conditions of a bygone era and the impact, this Victorian British sport, had on the lives of people, in the sub-continent. With the games’ infrastructure in Pakistan, still in its infancy in the 1950s, it was a relatively common occurrence, for a club cricketer to find himself, either playing with or indeed against, an icon from the national side. Such was the nature and pace of cricket, it triggered and nurtured mutual respect, leading to lifelong friendships.

 Dr. Mirza Aijaz Anwar Baig- full name - was born in Lahore (Punjab), British India on 1st October, 1935. In Pakistan, he was known as Ijaz Anwar, before arriving in U.K. as Aijaz Baig. As an articulate student of the game, Aijaz, brought up in Lahore, - one of two hubs of cricket, besides Karachi, in the newly-independent state of Pakistan - followed the saying, ‘cricket is played more in the mind than in the middle’ to the letter. In the 1948-49 period, Aijaz alongside Dr. Zafar Altaf, had his first taste of the game. Soon the pair found themselves, scampering sharp singles, as tail-end batsmen, with Cantt Gymkhana. The friendship formed between the two, remained intact until the latter’s death in December 2015. ‘Zafar’s death has really shaken me. He was a very good family friend, who I miss so much. Just like a brother would.’

Islamia College - 1955-56 

Standing: (L to R):K.Shuja-ud-din, Mohammad Zubair, Mohammad Khalid, Salim Qazi, Qayyum Butt, Amin Ashraf, Mirza M.Riaz Baig, Anwar Malik, Ikram-ul-Haq 
Sitting: (L to R):S.F.Rehman, Aijaz Baig (Captain), Prof. Hameed Baig, Sheikh Mohammad Aslam (Principal), Prof. Khwaja Nazir Ahmed, Abdul Aziz, Mohammad Saleem (Sec & Vice Captain)

 Aijaz recalls, ‘Sports was in my genes. My father, Khuda Dad Beg, represented North Western Railways (NWR) to win the All-India Hockey Tournament in 1940. He also officiated for the Railways athletics batch that toured Dhaka (East Pakistan) for the Pakistan Games. I too developed interest in hockey and one day, whilst I was dressed up for a match, I recall some boys - immigrants from Jullundur I found out later - inviting me to the game of cricket. That initial interaction shaped my life. In life things happen. The art is to appreciate the significance of that and learn from it. In one of my first ever matches, I batted for an hour, just defending and showing full face of the bat but remained scoreless. In my  third  game, I managed to get off the mark and reach 20-25 and found run making, not as difficult, as it first looked. A few years down the line, I would join Cantt Gymkhana, the top cricket club in Lahore Cantonment.’

 In my early teens at Islamia HS, Lahore Cantt, I had my first ever experience of Minto Park, situated five miles away from where we lived. Prior to heading off, I used to read in the newspaper which Sunday fixtures, on the three pitches at Minto Park: a vast Maidaan. Over-my-dead body macho tactics and the use of a rather colourful language was the norm, which one reluctantly got accustomed to. One weekend, whilst looking for a new opposition, we approached Crescent, expecting to play against their II or III eleven. I was pushed to become a captain and to our surprise Crescent picked Mohammad Ramzan, an accomplished all-rounder, who would be 12th Man against Australia at Karachi in 1956-57 and then captain the 1958 Pakistan Eaglets to England.’

 ‘Minto Park cricket takes me to the subject of Nazar Mohammad. I used to copy him, by way of shadow batting, for there was no formal coaching in our days. We all learnt in our own way. We used to listen to the experienced players and try to grasp the small details. Nazar had a superb technique - even better than Hanif Mohammed, in my view. Both the opening batsmen had a sense of calmness about them. On the other side Nazar, as an umpire gave me out lbw in a 3-day inter-varsity match in 1959-60. I thought it was an appalling decision and it was the only time in my life, I lost my cool and showed disrespect to a senior cricketer. With 600 hours of research in a year on the back of my mind, I thought that I was wasting time in cricket and should concentrate on my studies. Despite that I never lost respect for Nazar as a batsman. The accident he had in 1953, which cut short his career, made an impact on my approach to cricket. I said to myself, if it can happen to him it can happen to anyone. I simply could not rely on my cricketing prowess, to carry me through life.’

Hitting to the leg-side in a league fixture

 Aijaz’s selection for the 1953-54 Islamia College team, led by S.D.(Shuja-ud-din) Butt , was more or less a formality, following his two knocks of 69 and 29, in a three-day game, the previous year for MAO College against them, This was a significant moment for Aijaz, who in order to guarantee his inclusion in the line-up against a strong Islamia College at the prestigious Punjab University Ground, had volunteered to fill the opening slot. He managed to retain his position throughout the season, in which S.D.Butt named him Aijaz Tillah, for playing on to his stumps, in somewhat casual way, minutes before the close of play. The nickname stuck to him in the cricketing circles.

 A gritty right-hand opening batsman, raised exclusively on matting, Aijaz invariably found himself at the receiving end, of some of the canny new-ball bowlers of his time – the great Fazal Mahmood plus Yawar Saeed, Mohammad Munaf, Ghafoor Butt, Munir Malik, Ikram Elahi, Shaukat Gaadi and Qayyum Butt (the quickest he faced). In the Islamia College nets, it was Pakistan paceman Khan Mohammad, who tipped Aijaz to use the short handle by bringing both hands closer to help him to bat, with more freedom. At Punjab University, two of his opening partners, were Khawar Butt and Khwaja Shuja-ud-din.

 Armed with an analytical mind, Aijaz continued to flourish, without hitting the headlines so frequently, at various grades of the game. Be it school, club, college or domestic first-class cricket for Pakistan Railways and Punjab University, the mind games continued. Representing Mamdot CC, whom he had joined at the invitation of Mohammad Amin ‘Billy’, Aijaz averaged over 100 with the bat in 1958, easily his best year with the bat to that point, helping his side to win the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Summer League. In his last few years in Pakistan, Aijaz also appeared for Ravi Gymkhana, opening the batting with Imtiaz Ahmed and enjoyed a brief spell with Universal CC.

 In the 1954-55 winter Aijaz was both secretary and vice-captain before having the honour of leading Islamia College in 1955-56, when the players were picked from intermediate and degree, i.e. Year 1 to Year 4. In fact he was the last to lead in that old format and felt honoured to be bracketed alongside the impressive list of Islamia College captains – Imtiaz Ahmed, Khan Mohammed, Abdul Hameed and Ajmal Malik - who came before him, in the post-partition period. Amin Ashraf was his opening partner and with a strong bowling attack, at his command, featuring Shaukat Gaadi, Qayyum Butt, S.F.Rehman and Abdul Aziz (the off-spinner and one of the first exponents of the delivery, now referred to as doosra), Islamia College managed to beat Universal CC in the semi-final and Pakistan Railways, at Carson Institute Ground, in a two-innings final, of the M.A.Khan Sardar Rasheed Cricket Tournament.

 The greatest challenge, for Islamia College, though was against their arch rivals, Government College, in the Punjab University Cricket Championship final. The players who withstood the heat of this particular fixture, fought on the Punjab University (Old Campus) Ground, were typically deemed, good enough for international recognition. The fanfare kicked off in the build up to this rivalry and continued with national selectors and former players of both camps scrutinising each and every move of the 22 players. The supporters of both Colleges, spared no one and often the mild banter turned into hooting and exchanges of hostilities, directed at opposition players and their supporters.

 Aijaz recalls, ‘In one of my first games at Lahore Gymkhana in 1953-54, I was somewhat uneasy facing Yawar Saeed’s bouncers, with his father Mian Saeed (first slip), Dr.Jehangir Khan and Justice Cornelius, in the opposition, I quickly realised it was a pre-requisite to be able to execute the hook, to play at that level. The sudden jump in standard of cricket, from my previous experience, was obvious. I had to get better and I asked bowlers in practice to bounce deliveries on a cement seat in the local garden, starting with a shorter distance.’

Aijaz carried on the subject of batting, ‘Certain bowlers could upset your batting rhythm with no obvious reason and it certainly made you think. My first fifty for Islamia College, was against Friends CC, with Munir Malik, taking the new ball. In the same winter, Ghafoor Butt beat me six times in an over. It made me watch him closely and learn of his variation, whilst he practised in the nets, with the aim of avoiding embarrassment in the final match. I had not faced a left-armer, bowling around the wicket before. It was through bloody-mindedness that I survived to score 29 in a 90-plus opening stand with Abdul Aziz, who went on to score a hundred. When I hit 59 against Khalid Qureshi (Universal CC), in the 1954-55 season, I knew I could play and survive against good quality bowling and I followed it up with my first ever hundred, for Islamia College against MAO College. In one of my purple patches, in three consecutive innings, I took 94 off Engineering College, 98 against Lahore Gymkhana and 100 off Free Batters Club.

 Having learnt from the experience of Ghafoor, Aijaz watched, the great Fazal Mahmood, closely, whenever he came to practice at the Islamia College nets. Aijaz recalls. ‘‘take it from me, Fazal could bowl six different varieties. I played with and against him. In an occasional role, I kept wickets to him as well and watched this great craftsman. He could swing both ways with the new ball. He could use the seam to move the ball both ways. A leg-cutter, by holding the ball across the seam. His sixth and final delivery, similar to Sri Lanka’s Malinga, would be a round arm delivery, much quicker that would skid through to you. There would never be another Fazal Mahmood, a master bowler.’’

 Aijaz adds, ‘To my great delight, playing against Lahore Gymkhana, I saw Fazal’s change in action from in-swing to the out-swing and was already in the position to play it with time to spare which surprised Dr. Jehangir Khan and other senior players. Fazal did not allow you to cut and I dare not try that stroke against him for he had so much control. It was a real battle between bat and ball. I took a blow on the thigh, causing a bruise, for I could not recognize his leg-cutter to an off-cutter, playing for Railways in a friendly match. All we both could do was to smile, implying that I did not pick the change. I played against him five or six times and got out to him only once.’

 Aged 21, Aijaz was all set to enter the first-class arena with his inclusion in the Railways squad, which also featured, skipper Masood Salah-ud-din and Aslam Khokhar -for the 1956-57 Quaid-i-Azam Trophy. Against Punjab A, at Railways Stadium, Aijaz reached 22 in his maiden innings, sharing an opening stand worth 60 with Sagheer Mirza (52). His brief first-class career amounted to just 8 matches and his highest innings of 71 came against Punjab at Railways Stadium, Lahore in the 1957-58 Quaid-i-Azam Trophy. Both grit and composure was required as Aijaz and Sultan Mahmud (60) added 134 for the 2nd wicket in the second innings, that eventually went a long way in securing an honourable draw.

 Now having enrolled at Government College for his Masters, there was no time for nets but despite that, in his final year, 1959-60, Aijaz helped his team to a 9th consecutive final win against Islamia College and won a place in the Pakistan Universities squad. In the same winter, he hit 40 (top-score in a total of131) in a losing cause, for Punjab against Karachi, in the final of the Pakistan Inter-University Championship.

 ‘Whilst I was in a pretty good nick, Lahore Division called on 21-22 players but my name was not there. Mian Azhar Hussain (PCA secretary) met me later on and apologized and said I could not help you in any way. Politics in cricket and our history is littered with such incidents. One of the selectors said to me. Aijaz, where were you? I had a blunt answer for him as a selector he should have looked out for me and not the other way around. It is both sad and puzzling. Punjab cricket politics was messy as likes and dislikes did matter a lot and I recall the tension between A.H.Kardar (Crescent) and Gul Mohammad (Mamdot). It was a tense rivalry and so obvious. I personally rate Gul Mohammad as the best captain, I played under, better than Imtiaz Ahmed, Fazal Mahmood or S.F.Rehman.’

 Aijaz arrived in the U.K in October 1963 and successfully combined career and pleasure, till in his 50s. The first club he appeared for was Turnham Green, where his opening partner was Naeem Virk. He broke a club aggregate record of runs at Walton-on-Thames in 1968, with a final tally, in excess of 1800 runs. His colleagues at the club, included Naved Cheema, Zia Burney and Anwar Ahmed, younger brother of Pakistan Test players, Saeed and Younis. Then there was a swapping of ties –his Institute of Physics colours with Arthur Wellard’s Kent CCC - whilst appearing alongside him for Gaietiees CC in London, captained by Harold Pinter, the famous playwright, actor and director.

Winner of the Best Batting Award with Walton CC

 After moving up north in 1972, Aijaz went to Lancaster University for his research and joined Lancaster CC. He also represented Blackpool, a club that had previously signed Hanif Mohammad and Rohan Kanhai, as the overseas professional. In 1974, the middle of his three years, he played a full season and survived a new-ball spell from Gary Sobers in a Knock-out Cup against Littleborough at Blackpool. After his debut in 1977, Aijaz captained Carnforth for five years in the North Lancashire League and was the club Chairman for another three. In the late 1970s he also led Carnforth in the testimonial and benefit matches for David Lloyd and Barry Wood – of Lancashire and England. Finally there were two years at Warton, mostly for the 2nd XI, at his own request.

Carnforth CC skipper, shaking hand with Barry Wood, England all-rounder

 When the family moved down south to Hampshire, Aijaz also served as President for Aldershot (Thames Valley League) for 7 years until 2014. His two sons, Ahran and Naeaman, both played cricket for The Royal Grammar School, Guildford and Naeaman, followed in the footsteps of their father, opening for Aldershot. He also captained the side for three years and guided them to promotion one season, followed by winning the league, the very next year. Aijaz’s younger brother Shahbaz Baig, kept wickets for PWD, wrote a book on cricket coaching and carried on with the game during his lengthy stay in Saudi Arabia. It is a pity that no opportunities were created for Pakistan cricket to benefit, from the wealth of knowledge and expertise of the brothers.

 Aijaz did his MSc in Physics at Punjab University and obtained PhD from Lancaster University. He also did his M.Tech at Brunel University and is a Member Institute of Physics (M.Inst.P) and the professional qualification of Chartered Physicist (CPhys). Aijaz has been, Vice-President and President, one year each, of Aldershot Underwood Bowling Club.

 The author is indebted to both Dr. Aijaz Baig and his son Ahran, in the compilation of this article.

@Cricket World