Syed Wazir Ali - A champion Muslim cricketer
The brothers Wazir Ali and Nazir Ali, emerged from Jullundur, as the two most talented Muslim cricketers of their time. The present year marks the 70th death anniversary of the senior Ali brother, who as a diabetic, perished at the age of 46, following an operation for appendicitis in Civil Hospital, Karachi, on June 17, 1950.
Born in Jullundur, (Punjab), British India on 15th September, 1903, Syed Wazir Ali’s batting talent was initially spotted aged 10 by Kazi Bashir Hussain, sports incharge of Government High School, Jullundur. He switched over to Islamia High School in 1919 and passed his matric exams, the following year. As a school boy prodigy, he had no less than 15 hundreds to his name in the inter-school and divisional tournaments. By the time, he enrolled at Islamia College, Jullundur, there was enough evidence to suggest that Wazir Ali, was set to make a name for himself, in this most British sporting pursuit.
In 1921, Wazir Ali was admitted in Aligarh Muslim University, further polishing his skills under the guidance of seniors such as Tauqir Mirza, Shafkat Hasan and Salam-ud-din. Wazir’s first-class debut, aged 19, was for Muslims against Sikhs at Lawrence Gardens (now Bagh-e-Jinnah), Lahore in the 1922-23 Lahore Tournament. In six months’ time, he received an invitation from Islam Gymkhana, Bombay, to represent Muslims in the Bombay Quadrangular, the premier cricket tournament in India, played on communal basis.
In no time, he showed his undoubted potential, with a big hundred. In the 1924-25 Bombay Quadrangular final, Muslims, now with both Ali brothers in its line-up, beat Hindus at Bombay Gymkhana by 5 wickets, with Wazir hitting a faultless 197out of 368 all out. His maiden hundred against an attack, lead by the fearsome Ramji, could not have come at a better time. It was a momentous occasion – December 11, 1924 – when Muslims finished as an outright winner for the first time, of this prestigious tournament dating back to 1892-93, when known as Bombay Presidency and competed initially by just Europeans and Parsees.
Tall with broad shoulders and strong physique, he had a presence and charm that didn’t go unnoticed. Wazir Ali would win selection for India against Arthur Gilligan-led MCC in 1926-27 in the two unofficial ‘Test’ matches and following-on hit an unbeaten 113 for Northern India at Delhi and as an opening batsman 149 for Patiala at Patiala, in two spate encounters against the touring side.
On his first visit to England with India in 1932, he scored 1229 first-class runs at 32.34, with an unbeaten 108 against Glamorgan at Cardiff and 132 against Oxford University at Oxford, in the first two games of the tour. The highest of his four hundreds in the summer – 178 was off Leicestershire at Leicester, once again as an opening batsman. He would have ended with much better figure had it not been for a blow he took on the head facing Bill Bowes, with a new ball for MCC at Lord’s.
His 156 for Patiala was the highest individual innings played against the 1933-34 MCC touring side, led by Douglas Jardine, who commented, ‘ Wazir Ali was as pleasant to meet off the field, as he was pleasant to watch on the field.’ On the 1936 tour of England, he was bit off colour and only managed 603 runs with only one hundred - 155 not out taken against England XI at Folkestone.
His highest first-class innings was an unbeaten 268, which he scored as a captain and opening batsman on the first day for the Indian University Occasionals against Viceroy’s XI at Calcutta in 1935-36. In that winter he ended with 1072 first-class runs at 71.60 and had the honour of leading India. Named captain of India against Jack Ryder’s Australians, Wazir Ali top scored twice with 77 and 92, to earn a 68-run win at Lahore. It was followed by another victory at Madras to level the four-match series at 2-2, with the skipper inspiring a great comeback for his team.
Wazir Ali was one of the leading Muslims players and often produced great inspirational knocks. On his way to an unbeaten 153, he shared an unfinished 246-run stand for against Europeans in the 1928-29 final of the Lahore Tournament. Taking guard with the score on 18-4, he smashed 181 whilst sharing a sixth-wicket stand worth 224 with Fida Hassan (88) and taking the final to 348 against Punjab Governor’s XI at Lahore. After taking guard at 18 for 4, he stroked a superb 181 for Muslims against Punjab Governor’s XI at Lawrence Gardens, Lahore in the Lahore Tournament in 1929-30. In the final of the 1931-32 Moin-ud-Dowlah Gold Cup in Scunderabad whilst representing Aligarh Muslim University –Past and Present against Freelooters.
In the first seven Test matches played by India, Wazir Ali featured in all but did not quite meet the expectations of all, including himself, with a rather modest aggregate of 237 runs @ 16.92. Coming in at number four, though the scores of 31 & 39 against England bowling attack featuring Bill Bowes and Bill Voce, at Lord’s in 1932, was far from being a failure. His 150-minute innings of 42 was his highest in Tests, he scored against England at Manchester in 1936.
He took over Muslims’ captaincy in the 1934-35 Bombay Quadrangular and his side won the tournament by beating Hindus in the final. In the 1935-36 edition, he scored an unbeaten 148 against Europeans and followed it up with 64 and 108 against Hindus in the final, which Muslims won by 221 runs. He continued to lead Muslims till 1940-41 winter, ending on a winning note by beating The Rest in the final by seven wickets.
In the inaugural Ranji Trophy in 1934-35, Wazir Ali represented Central India and would go on to captain them for two seasons. He also captained Southern Punjab for a season and his unbeaten 222 (284minutes, 33 fours) remained his highest in Ranji Trophy competition, scored in the 1938-39 final against Bengal at Calcutta. It was one of his best knocks at this level for it came in a first innings total of 328 and played in a losing cause. The Southern Punjab team included ‘Lala’ Amarnath and Mohammad Nissar, besides Mian Mohammad Saeed, Murawwat Hussain and Amir Elahi, with the last three going on to represent Pakistan. Not surprisingly, Wazir Ali was acknowledged as one of the most respected captains in the Indian domestic cricket.
With no first-class cricket since leading Muslims in the 1940-41 Amritsar tournament and now settled in Karachi, Wazir Ali led Sind against Punjab, in the first ever first-class match on Pakistan soil – at Bagh-e-Jinnah, Lahore in 1947-48.
In a distinguished first-class career (1922-23 to 1947-48), as a sound batsman, medium pace bowler and a capable fielder, Wazir Ali represented Muslims, Southern Punjab, Northern India, Patiala, Central India and Sind in 121 matches, scoring 7212 runs @ 38.77 with 22 hundreds and 21 fifties. In addition he held 59 catches and also picked up 34 wickets @ 30.67. His only five-wicket haul (5-22) was achieved for India against Ceylon at Lawrence Garden, Lahore (now Bagh-e-Jinnah) in 1932-33.
In 1924 Wazir Ali joined the Bhopal State Services as Lieutenant in the State Forces and remained in the State Army till 1943, when he retired as Major. A few months prior to the partition of the sub-continent in 1947, he took up an appointment as an ADC to the Heir Apparent of Junagadh, where he lost all his belongings and took shelter in a small quarter in Soldier Bazar, Karachi. In February 1950, under the chief patronage of Governor General of Pakistan, a benefit match was organised by some of his friends and admirers at Karachi Gymkhana. As a result of this match Major Wazir Ali was given a purse of Rs. 7,000.
His death left his widow to cater for two sons and five daughters. Sadly he did not live to see his eldest son, Khalid Wazir, represent Pakistan in two Test matches in England in 1954.