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Sheikh Sarbuland - Son of the soil

Congratulating Sarfraz Ahmed on his 31st birthday at TKC Southall, West London- May 2018

On the eve of the Lord’s Test, 79-year-old Sheikh Sarbuland, with a life-long association with cricket, emerges as a patriotic Pakistan supporter, in a league of his own, Furnished with home made Aaloo Parathas, in the joyful company of friends, he sat amongst the crowd on the turf, outside the boundary rope, at this very venue during the 1967 Test between England and Pakistan, to witness the great Hanif Mohammed (187 not out), at his stubborn best, compiling a match-saving innings. Not missing any international cricket ever since, he intends to follow the fortunes of the 2018 national side, led by Sarfraz Ahmed, with the same keenness, for sure.

Introduced to Sheikh Sarbuland in 2011, one is amazed by his sharp precise memory of cricket-playing days in Rawalpindi. By sharing his memories, as an eye-witness account of all the major events in the post-partition phase of the Rawalpindi cricket till 1964, Sarbuland adds his fair share in the historic narrative of the game in the city. It is even more remarkable for the fact that the man in question has literally no leaning towards the literature of the game of cricket, either in print format or through electronic media. ‘It is all in my head’, he proclaims. Sarbuland’s name shall rank alongside Sufi Abdul Jalil ‘Chacha-e-Cricket’, as the two of the most fanatical supporters of Pakistan cricket. It is about time the country recognize, the value and significance of such unsung heroes of Pakistan cricket.

Sheikh Muslim Sarbuland, was born on 27th January 1939 in the Eid Gah Mohallah, Rawalpindi, Punjab (British India). A deep sense of passion for Pakistan was nurtured by his father, Sufi Inyaat Mohammad Pasroori, part of a delegate of All India Muslim League conference, alongside Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, in Allahbad in 1921. Sufi Inayat’s anti-British mind set often saw him behind bars. Filled with community welfare, his speech that demanded a more convenient pathway, to the local graveyard, too did not go well. Eventually magistrate did give verdict in his favour and the newly built road was appropriately named, Sufi Road. Sadly he did not live to see the creation of Pakistan, as he passed away in March 1947, just as the ethnic riots began in Rawalpindi.


Standing 2nd (from left) : MAO Cricket Club, Rawalpindi - Winners of Hotweather Cricket Tournament, Rawalpindi, 1957

‘Kaka’ as he was called, was the youngest amongst seven children, raised in ‘Sufi Manzil’. Aged 10, Sarbuland took instant liking to the game of cricket, whilst picking the balls for the net sessions conducted at the Government Degree College, Asghar Mall Road. It was the early days of the newly independent nation of Pakistan, striving for its own identity, following its separation from British India, in August 1947. The city of Rawalpindi, then a mere town with a Pakistan Air Force base, would gain more significance, in the early sixties, following the shifting of the capital of Pakistan, from Karachi to Islamabad.

 By the time he hit his teens, Sarbuland had tasted the competitive nature of both school and club cricket and wanted more of it. The intense rivalry in the Rawalpindi inter-school tournaments, between Muslim HS (Saidpur Road) and Faiz-al-Islam, HS, was an ideal preparation for Sarbuland in his cricketing education. The participant players, including Test off-spinner Mohammed Nazir Jr., is on record, referring to it as intense as Pakistan-India matches, with national pride at stake.

Soon it was local clubs -Victory CC and Universal CC, Satellite Town - that had Sarbuland in their squads, with major fixtures, taking place in Company Bagh, later known as Liaqat Bagh, poignantly the venue at which the 1st Prime Minister of Pakistan Khan Liaqat Ali Khan was shot down in October 1951 and more recently Benazir Bhutto, met a similar fate in December 2007. The loss of Liaqat Bagh as a major venue for school, club and college matches, had a detrimental effect on Rawalpindi cricket, for no other ground could create the same atmosphere, with enthusiastic crowd participation in the city.

A series of anecdotes that one came across from the mental scrapbook of Sarbuland, seeped with nostalgic memories, created a truly warm story of a man, whose humility knows no bounds.


Sitting (first on left) with skipper Javed Akhtar (3rd from left) : CMTSD, Chaklala - Winners of POF Cricket Tournament, 1962

Found memories rushed to his mind of scoring 45 runs for Universal CC, on the opening day of the 1955 Pataudi Summer League, named after All-India captain, Nawab Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi. An announcement was made on Radio Pakistan, Rawalpindi, for he was the highest scorer of the day. In 1958 Sarbuland scored his maiden Pataudi League hundred, a notable bowling feat in time-restricted innings format. He also picked up 45 wickets with medium-pace and was a proud recipient of the best bowling prize of the League, awarded by General Ayub Khan, then a Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan.

In 1957, whilst still at Muslim HS, Sarbuland appeared for MAO (Mohammadan Anglo Oriental) Cricket Club. In what he describes as, ‘my first serious club cricket’, he scored 38 not out, batting at number 8, out of the team’s total of 60 all out. They lost the match easily but as the opposing team was scratched from the tournament on the basis of irregularity, MAO, were pushed in to the next round. By the end of the tournament, Sarbuland had earned promotion to be batting in the middle order. He also featured in MAO winning the 1957 Rawalpindi Hot Weather Cricket Tournament.

A remarkable five-day tussle between arch rivals, Muslim HS and Faiz-al-Islam HS, deserves a mention for its duration and testimony to the dedication of the sports administrators of two respective educational institutions. Sarbuland had sound knowledge of both sides of the camp. Excited at the prospect of his initial selection for Faiz-ul-Islam HS, he decided to play despite being ill, with a runner. Later he found out that he was suffering with double pneumonia and that two pullovers saved him from much serious consequences.

In 1955-56, he was in the losing side when Faiz-ul-Islam HS lost to Muslim HS. In the 1956-57 winter, Sarbuland, switched over from Faiz-ul-Islam HS to Muslim HS, led by Tauqeer-ud-din and it also included Zia-ud-din Burney. He had by now, developed good straight-bat technique, to help him with lengthy crease occupation.  His opponent, Lala Fida, once remarked, ‘Sarbuland, you are a quality batsman for you look comfortable in any position from 1-6. That makes you a difficult player to bowl to.’


With Harriet Harman, Labour Party leader.

For a schoolboy to be handed cash, during the match proceedings, by a keen supporter following a brilliant piece of cricket in either batting, bowling or fielding, during the course of the match was not uncommon, in those days. On a good day, Sarbuland once ‘pocketed’ Rs. 100. In fact it was a practice that continued right up to the 1980s, even in the international matches in Pakistan.

Sarbuland takes us back, ‘Both Tauqeer and Burney had done their matriculation and I was made captain of Muslim HS for the 1957-58 session. We lost our inter-school final to our arch rivals, Faiz-al-Islam HS at Liaqat Bagh Ground in 1958, when I scored 94. It was a special innings for me, as I was batting, lower down the order due to a twisted ankle. Most of my runs were scored with the last man, Khwaja Aslam, who scored 4 not out in our partnership.’

‘In 1959 Muslim HS avenged our defeat. I got out for a duck in the second innings but got Mohammad Bashir, elder brother of Mohammad Nazir, out in both innings. Our opposition Faiz-ul-Islam HS, had a very strong line up, made up of  Abdul Wahab, Mohammad Bashir, Mohammad Nazir, Mohammad Sabir and Iqtidar Haider. These matches were played to finish. The two-innings final final @ GHQ Ground matting was a very exciting affair for all concerned and lasted five days. The drum-beating procession, amidst great celebration, brought us from GHQ Ground in Cantonment, through the Old City to Holy Family Hospital, following our victory. I remember it all for one felt on top of the world. That was my last year in school. Our school team was rewarded with a free entry to the three-day match at Pindi Club Ground, between President’s XI and the 1959-60 Australian team.’


With Rawalpindi Express, Shoaib Akhtar in Southall, West London 

Sarbuland, recalls his schooldays, ‘A mere mention of those days, brings back so many wonderful memories, including awards for twice reaching the mark of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in a calendar year, in 1958 and 1959. Beyond the cricket statistics, it was the human interaction, friendship, values very so different compare to today that stand out for me. The tours we undertook of Sialkot, Gujranwala, Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), Peshawar, Risalpur, Sargodha and Lahore, with school for friendly fixtures, were so much fun.

‘In Rawalpindi, if one top-scored or took the most wickets, one was expected to treat the rest of the team members to a cup of tea and other snacks in Pindi Restuarant in Raja Bazar. The owner of the restaurant was only too happy to play the music at our request. Sultan Rahi, later to enjoy a distinguished career in Pakistan cinema, had begun to attract people with his acting skills. Nazir Muslim Hotel, again in Raja Bazar was another point of meeting, after the match or the practice, when we used to enjoy, ‘Dud Patti’.

Sarbuland continues the same theme, ‘It was simple times and a golden period for Pakistan. People had time and respect for each other. There was no TV and hence going out to the cinema was the most thrilling entertainment in our days. I used to fly to Pakistan, three times a year but so much has changed that I have not been there since 2001. That special feeling and atmosphere in the mohallas, gallees and bazaars that I was brought up, is gone and sadly gone forever. Many people of my generation have passed away.’


Embracing Imran Khan in a fund-raising dinner in London.

A number of Military-based departments i.e. Central Military Transport & Store Depot (CMTSD) Chaklala, COD, ITD, 501 Workshop, 502 Workshop, employed the cricketers on a monthly salary. General Headquarter (GHQ), only appeared in selected tournaments, such as Pataudi League. After briefly appearing for COD, Sarbuland moved to CMTSD where he was made captain. As a captain Sarbuland led CMTSD quite impressively against much stronger opponents. These inter-departmental matches were staged at 501 Workshop Ground, CMTSD Ground, GHQ Ground & Pakistan Ordinance Factories Oval, Wah Cantonment.

Sarbuland takes up the story, ‘I got a job with CMSTD which paid me Rs. 125/month, just to play the game, we loved. Naqvi Sahib, an CMTSD employee, organised and managed our team and he was also Patron of Friends CC. The five major departmental teams of that period were, CMTSD, ITD, COD, 501 Workshop & 502 Workshop. The last named was the best team in the region, led by wicket-keeper Anis Ahmed and it also included Miran Bakhsh and Robert Crosse. Our team’s ranking improved, after I was made captain and a number of players joined our team. Prior to that CMTSD had not done achieved much against departments. At one point we had Javed Akhtar, Khwaja Aslam, Idrees Ahmed, Zia-ud-din Burney, Mohammad Abid & my favourite, leg-spinner Mohammad Sabir. I recall a tournament where based on our spin twin of Khwaja Aslam (off-break) and Sabir’s leg-breaks, we won a tournament which was known as Hot Weather Cricket Tournament. 501 Workshop had their own turf wicket and we succeeded on it through our twin spin attack.’

With Hanif Mohammed (middle) and Asif Iqbal (extreme right) in London, 2013.  

‘Then in 1961-62 season, the management replaced me as captain with Javed Akhtar, taking over, on the basis of seniority. He deserved that position. I was happy to play under him and continued to score runs as before. He was a big name in Rawalpindi having done well at Pindi Club Ground, against the touring Indian Associated Cement Company and then following it up with 7 wickets against Ted Dexter’s MCC team.

‘CMTSD continued with its progress and won the three-day final of the Agha Ahmed Raza Khan Cricket Trophy in Jelhum, by beating PWR (Rawalpindi Division). In the same year I won a batting prize in the Pakistan Ordinance Factories (POF) Cricket Tournament in Wah Cantt. CMTSD were the winners of the Rawalpindi Hot Weather Cricket Tournament in 1963, I scored 52 against Pindi Club.’

After been granted full membership of the ICC in 1952, Pakistan cricket was now ready to test their strength in Test match cricket. Sarbuland recalls his following of the international cricket, ‘The Indian team played Combined Service at Pindi Club Ground. We as schoolboys were very excited to go and watch these matches. I can’t recall the previous two visiting teams, West Indies (1948-49) & Commonwealth (1949-50), to have played in Rawalpindi. The Indian team is very clear in my mind and their spinners, ‘Vinoo’ Mankad and Subash Gupte, taking their side to victory. Both, Polly Umrigar and Imtiaz Ahmed, scored hundreds whereas poor Major S.A.Rehman was clean bowled by Dattu Phadkar, of the first ball of the match. We paid a mere Rs.4 for a ticket, valid for all three days of the match.’

By the time the 1958-59 West Indies team arrived in Pakistan, Sarbuland had a better understanding of the game, ‘The sight of Garfield Sobers, Wes Hall & Conrad Hunte on a cricket field was a special treat. In their three-day match against Commander-in-Chief’s XI at Pindi Club Ground, the touring team won by 9 wickets. I and some of my friends travelled to Lahore and we all stayed for the five-day duration of the Test match at Bagh-i-Jinnah. I have clear recollection of Rohan Kanhai’s double hundred and Ijaz Butt, being hit by Wes Hall. Imtiaz Ahmed was in full flowing with his attacking range of strokes before rain came and the opposition bowlers got on top. Pakistan had won the series already by showing its expertise on matting wickets at Karachi and Dacca. On turf wicket at Lahore, West Indies dominated the match from the word go and won by an innings. It was a great experience for us.’


With Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, 2017

Sarbuland, who unfortunately missed out on both inter-collegiate and first-class cricket, nevertheless has a sound knowledge, as far as the Rawalpindi cricket scene is concerned. ‘Rawalpindi CA entered the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy in 1958-59 for the first time. I missed out the trials as I was engaged in the inter-school final. Bashir Ahmed, captained the team. He was a compromise leader after Khwaja Ahmed Saeed & Miran Bakhsh, could not sort out their differences/position in the team. In fact if you look back Rawalpindi cricketers got the chance to play first-class cricket, prior to 1958-59. The Punjab B team that was picked for the previous two seasons, i.e. 1956-57 and 1957-58, was made up entirely of Rawalpindi-based players.’

Sarbuland won the selection in Rawalpindi squad for the 1962-63 Quaid-i-Azam Trophy. ‘Merry Max’ was the new captain and Sarbuland did not find his name in the playing XI in the four matches but was very pleased to see Mohammad Sabir, excelling in his first season at domestic level. Maqsood went as far to say that’ Sabir was even better than Richie Banaud.’ It was a great compliment but sadly Sabir, who had a fiery temperament, could not compete with Intikhab Alam, who became a permanent member of the Pakistan team and later on also captained. On one occasion when Sabir did win selection for the national side, the tour of Ceylon in 1971-72, was cancelled. It was a shame and he could only wear the green blazer. Sadly he died very young and often remembered as one of the best leg-spinners, not to have played for Pakistan. Sarbuland, continues to support Sabir’s family, to this day.’

In England, Sarbuland’s first contact with Pakistan’s national came in 1967. He watched Test matches at Lord’s and The Oval and was happy to renew his acquaintances with two men from Rawalpindi, writer/journalist Qamar-ud-din Butt and Pakistan team’s assistant manager, Bashir Ahmed. In Pakistan’s two subsequent tours of England in 1971 and 1974, it was his inter school-rival Mohammad Nazir Jr., who made sure ‘Captaan’ Sarbuland, was able to have interaction with the touring squad, often enjoying privilege to watch the play from the pavilion. The friendship he formed with paceman Asif Masood in 1971, is still alive and kicking, after four decades.


With Imran Khan, during the 1989 Sialkot Test against India

In his playing days (1952-64), Sarbuland came up against all the leading players of Rawalpindi region, including, Javed Burki, Ijaz Butt, Miran Bakhsh, Javed Akhtar, Munir Malik, Mohammad Nazir Jr. etc. Having left Pakistan in September 1964, the economic realities soon dashed his hopes of playing cricket in England. It was after twenty-six years that he picked up a cricket bat in 1990, in a friendly fixture and immediately caught the eyes of the opposition with his straight bat. A British Aerospace employee from 1964-82, he ran a grocery shop in Northolt, Middlesex from 1982-88, before putting his feet up. Married in 1966, Sarbuland is blessed with two daughters and a son, Sohail Sarbuland, who is a business associate of Ehsan Mani. Ehsan Mani present on the Rawalindi cricket scene in the early 1960s, later to become ICC president, remains a close family friend.

Following his early retirement at 49, now with more time at his disposal, Sarbuland jetted off to India (1979-80), Canada (1996-97), Sharjah (2000-01) and Sharjah (2002-03), to follow the fortunes of Pakistan cricket team. His residence in Norwood Green, West London, is a focal meeting point for Pakistan cricketers. Sarbuland’s level of passion and support for Pakistan cricket and its players has been appreciated in no uncertain terms by Sadiq Mohammed, Mustaq Mohammed, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Mohammad Yousuf, Abdul Razzaq, Younis Khan, Azhar Mahmood, Saqlain Mushtaq, Mohammad Sami, Faisal Iqbal, Imran Farhat, Saeed Ajmal, to name a few. Never one to mince his words, Sarbuland’s critical eye often forms a part of discussions held on cricket by the ARY TV network team, consisting of Asif Iqbal, Shahid Saadullah & P.J.Mir.

With Prince Charles and India's Rahul Dravid, Scotland 2004

Outside cricket, Sarbuland, philanthropist and a popular community figure in West London, is continuously seen striving for inter-faith harmony, remaining a front runner with generous help in all kinds of social causes, more so in the wake of natural disasters. Moreover he has happily contributed a huge sum in both building and renovation work of local mosques. Both his simplicity and sincerity has never been in question, ensuring his inclusion among the A-List Asian personalities of London.

Seated third (L to R) alongside Saira Bano, Dilip Kumar - two of India's biggest cinema stars - and Imran Khan, at a fund-raising event for Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital in London,1990.

An example of Sarbuland’s philanthropy has been a huge sum of award to Mohammad Yousuf, following his record-breaking year in 2006. It is his love for the cause of Pakistan that has often seen him at the forefront of charitable causes, including the fund-raising campaigns of Shaukat Khanum Hospital, the brainchild of the country’s most honoured sports personality and undoubtedly its greatest cricketing asset, Imran Khan whom he considers a personal friend.  Both Namal College in District Mianwali and Sahara Trust in Narowal too have benefited from handsome donations. The appreciation and respect bestowed to him by Maleeha Lodhi and Syed Ibne Abbas, two of Pakistan High Commissioners in London, speak volume of his standing in the community.

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