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Tahir Shah - battling against heavy odds

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

One has to admire the tenacity of 65-year old Tahir Shah, who having taken the brunt of the stress, both physically and mentally, for the last few decades, remains determined to soldier on.

A much under-valued advocate of the grassroots of Lahore cricket in numerous roles, he now faces serious health challenges. He need not be ignored, in the hour of great need.

Whilst currently fighting with multiple cancer of prostrate and stomach, Tahir could very much do with the kind attention of the cricket authorities, both regional and national. Even in these stressful times, Tahir continues to pick up the case for Lahore club cricket and is never short of an opinion on the subject, as a journalist with Khabrain, an Urdu daily newspaper or in his appearance on Googly – a sports programme on Channel Five Pakistan.

A caring and an emotional being himself, Tahir few months back was moved by the death of Pakistan u-19 wrist-spinner Haroon Rasheed, for he had supported the cricketer, through thick and thin. Besides Haroon, he has chosen to fight for the promotion of many other talented cricketers, often arriving with meagre resources and opposition of the family, from small clubs.

Family

Syed Hussain Tahir Shah, was born in Lahore (Punjab), Pakistan, on June 30, 1955, with high expectations, from a young age. Hailing from a family with strong educational base, where his grandfather – Syed Zafar Yab Ali was a traditional herbalist and a well-known name in his field in the city. His father Syed Mohammad Maqsood, whilst gaining his B.A. degree from Islamia College, Lahore in 1938, also took to sports, captaining the hockey team and also featuring in rowing. Tahir himself in 1976, did his masters in Economics from Islamia College (Civil Lines), amidst taking strides as a steady wicket-keeper batsman.

Cricket

Initially Tahir joined Universal CC, which had its nets in Carson Institute Ground, and previously had some of the biggest names in Pakistan cricket associated with it, such as Fazal Mahmood, Waqar Hasan, Duncan Sharpe, Saeed Ahmed, Pervez Sajjad, Asif Masood, etc. Soon though he switched over to Dharampura CC. Tahir captained Islamia College (Civil Lines), Lahore and later in the 1974-75 winter, was the only player from his college to gain selection in the Punjab University team featuring no less than nine players from Government College, Lahore.

Tahir was picked as a wicket-keeper cum opening batsman for Lahore B, led by Mubarak Ali, for the 1975-76 Patron’s Trophy. He responded in a splendid fashion by compiling 64 & 69 on his debut against Hyderabad at Mirpurkhas. His brief first-class career consisting of four matches, though could not go beyond 1978-79 winter, following his appearance for WAPDA.

In the 1974-75 period, he left Sui Gas which was in its embryonic stage in reference to a cricket team. A decision he would later regret. Tahir is a founding member and President of Shaheen CC in the East Zone of Lahore since 1978 - the year due to the rapid growth of club cricket, Lahore was divided into three zones. Forty-three years on and he remains steadfast. In this period, Tahir with a few umpiring courses under his belt, was one of five men alongside Mahboob Shah, Khizer Hayat Agha Saadat Ali and Arif Butt, to share duties in a single first-class fixture – perhaps a unique occurrence at this level of the game.

Tahir also served as a selector for eight consecutive years for both intermediate and degree teams of Islamia College (Civil Lines), Lahore. In this period he backed the talent of Saadat Ali, Mohsin Kamal, Zulqarnain, Wasim Akram, Asad Rauf and Tariq Javed (TJ). He was also one of the selectors for Pakistan Universities, for a season.

Servis Industries

After briefly managing Lahore City Cricket Association (LCCA), Tahir was appointed manager/coach for Servis Industries, owned by Chaudhry Mohammad Hussain and his son-in-law, Ijaz Butt, as one of the senior executives. Within two years, the department, moved out from Grade II to Grade I (first-class cricket) and participated in the 1986-87 BCCP President’s Cup. The Servis Industries was demoted back into Grade II and would remain there for ten years and in the 1998-99 season, had both Imran Nazir and Misbah-ul-Haq in its squad for the PCB Patron’s Trophy.

The high point of Tahir’s 32-years (1976-2008), as a cricket manager with the Servis Industries, was to twice drag it back into Grade I to play first-class cricket - 2002-03 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and 2005-06 PCB Patron’s Trophy.

LCCA Dispute

Tahir also had an unenviable task to fight the corner of Ijaz Butt & Hafiz Manzoor group against its LCCA rivals headed by Khalid Mahmood and Aamir Hayat Rokri, when the dispute was taken to High Court in Lahore. Sensing the bitterness of the dispute, Shahbaz Sharif, an office bearer of LCCA, acting as an arbitrator had suggested that each group should put forward a name for President and serve for the first 18 months and then leave the office for the other group, in a three-year tenure.

The bitter rivalry created unease, particularly amongst the players for they could not stay neutral, after their club’s management had chosen to support one group. It also caused acute embarrassment when two LCCA teams would arrive at a venue, for their first-class fixtures.

Tahir was most disappointed at the ill treatment of Servis Industries for after a lengthy association he was ‘forced’ out by the management without any financial compensation, which he full deserved having taken up a number of challenges front on, on behalf of his employers. Looking back he is convinced that he was used as a buffer by the management, when things got really ugly between the two factions of LCCA. In one of LCCA’s fixture at Bohranwala Ground in Faisalabad, it required police presence to keep the two groups apart. A match at KRL Ground in Islamabad, kicked off before the scheduled time after the group arriving first at the ground, swayed the local team and officials to do so.

In this period, Tahir as an employee also used his journalist skills to support Ijaz Butt group’s viewpoint His meetings with the lawyers would often go into midnight but shockingly Tahir was often made to feel ‘a surplus’ once their rivals won the case and held the office for a three-year tenure in the early 1990s. The interference of two individuals -Abu Bakar and Muzammal Shah – further aggravated the situation, particularly when it came to a minor issue of auditing of expenses on Servis Industries matches, outside Lahore. Few years after he parted company with Servis Indusries, Ijaz Butt became PCB Chairman, but he in his wise counsel opted not to take Tahir for any suitable position in the cricket Board.

Khawaja Nadeem ‘’Chooni’, elected unopposed for his second tenure as President LCCA in 2014, has valued Tahir’s experience and sacrifices and has been a great help in keeping him afloat, more so after a depressing period in 2016 when he lost his both parents and a sister – all three to cancer, with a month. Both Usman Sherazi, a former cricket journalist and Azhar Zaidi of P&T Gymkhana, too have appreciated his contribution to cricket in Lahore, and stood by his side in hour of distress. Now with Khabrain, Tahir previously has also contributed in a number of daily publications including Amrose, Mashriq, Nawai Waqt, Pakistan, Frontier Post, The Nation, besides stints as a commentator with Radio Pakistan and FM105.

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Tahir’s role in Lahore cricket could not have been summed up more eloquently than Usman Sherazi, former sports journalist and a close friend.

‘We all come across some characters during our lifetimes that are not only unique but also unforgettable in more than one way. Syed Hussain Tahir, popularly known as Tahir Shah, happens to be one of those remarkable characters of Lahore cricket that I have had the pleasure to interact with since 1989 during my days as a Sports Editor and cricket writer for The Frontier Post.’

‘Extremely vocal, super active, well versed and highly knowledgeable, Tahir used to be, probably the only voice of dissent against the injustice committed against deserving cricketers at the Lahore cricket scene back in the 1990s. For that, one felt he was often looked down upon, punished and penalized by those in office. But being a fighter, a fearless person by nature, nothing could ever deter him from raising his voice.’

‘Despite battling cancer with extraordinary resilience for the last several years, Tahir refuses to give up his passion. Although he cannot spend time at the grounds, he gathers his energy to write on cricket in Urdu newspapers and regularly appears on TV talk shows. He, therefore, remains the potent voice he has always been.’

‘Every society needs people like this lesser known, unsung hero. During the power tussle of the Lahore City Cricket Association (LCCA) back in the 1990s, Tahir was a blunt supporter of former PCB chief Ijaz Butt and Hafiz Manzoor against the then powerful president, Aamir Hayat Rokri. He often used to lead the protest against unfair selection and favouritism in cricket, going to the extreme of hunger strikes and protest rallies.’

‘As a result, he was literally treated as a persona non-grata at the Lahore cricket association scene, often resulting in frustration for him as none of his deserving club members would ever get a chance at any level. But as happens so frequently in Pakistan, the ones he fought for so vigorously, never bothered to extend a helping hand after gaining power, and left him in the lurch during tough times.’

‘Few people know of Tahir valuable contribution to the national cricket team. Pakistan’s most successful Test captain and the current head coach of the national squad Misbah-ul-Haq was his prodigy. When Misbah was nobody, and no one had ever heard of him, Tahir was patronizing him, providing him opportunities at the Servis and Shaheen Club nets and promoting him in the media through a barrage of match reports and media releases. It’s such a terrible shame, however, that after gaining the status, fame and everything else that comes along with it, Misbah, too, seems to have completely forgotten his mentor and never sought to reach out to him during times of distress.’

‘Despite some initial disappointment, Tahir has moved on with a bigger heart. He also helped nurture many other talented players through his clubs. Former first-class cricketer, leg spinner Haroon Rasheed, who recently passed away, was also his second in command at Shaheen and Servis Clubs. Test cricketer Imran Nazir and fast bowler Jaffer Nazir also flourished under him and went on to make their mark at national and international scene’

Senior Urdu commentator, Tariq Saeed was more than happy to share his views.

‘Tahir Shah has made tremendous contribution to Lahore cricket, in a number of roles stretching half a century now. I consider him to be part of the same chain of traditional cricket gurus in our city, alongside the likes of Khawaja Abdu Rab, Q.D.Butt, Taya Aslam and Mian Aslam, in terms of their knowledge and outstanding service to the game.’

‘I have had the privilege to see how proactive he has been over the years in providing a refuge and shelter to cricketers – either arriving from outside Lahore and those who were not very resourceful – and that list of cricketers include Pakistan’s former captain and present head coach, Misbah-ul-Haq. He is both caring and sincere for he would provide the players with competitive cricket and also take care of all of their essential expenses. Not surprisingly, the fortunes of Servis CC, has nosedived since Tahir was removed from the role he had performed so well as organizer/coach/manager – an old fashioned role in club cricket.’

‘I do feel, we must value Tahir’s dedication to the game of cricket, more so when he has not enjoyed the best of health. At times you can see he loses his cool and becomes very emotional but that is primarily due to his failing health and sheer frustration at the way he has been ill treated by the authorities in the past. Whilst at Servis Industries, he was taking on the rival LCCA group led by the powerful and influential figure of Aamer Hayat Rokri, in the period Lahore cricket was embroiled in a bitter dispute between two factions. No one can doubt his hard struggle for over the years he has stood up for cricketers’ rights and that has meant ruffling the feathers of some of the office bearers of both LCCA and PCB.’

‘Presently he is not well but still very brave and the columns he has produced in the last 6-8 months in an Urdu Daily have brought back the memories of the golden era of Lahore club cricket. And when it comes to his knowhow on the subject, very few could match Tahir Shah. His views on the modern cricket might be viewed as a touch drastic but at the heart of it, it is his earnest desire for the game of cricket to flourish at all levels.’

Senior editor Zahid Maqsood, too shared his views.

‘I entered the field as sports journalist in 1994 and have seen Tahir Shah as cricket coach and organizer, in this period. Basically a tough character, who works extremely hard and is known as ‘Encyclopedia of Lahore Cricket’ and his recent columns are just a snapshot of the vast knowledge he has on the subject.’

‘In the days he was part of Servis Industries and was asked to stand up against Aamer Hayat Rokri, head of the rival group in Lahore Cricket, Tahir, despite being asked to tone down, carried on leading anti-establishment processions and even hunger strikes. I don’t know anyone in my experience in the cricket circle to have gone to that extent.’

‘He was both manager and coach of the Servis Industries team that would twice win promotion in Grade I first-class cricket. The cricketers that come to my mind that have flourished due to his keen interest and patronage include Imran Nazir, Jaffer Nazir, Imran Tahir and Mohammad Irshad, the fast bowler who Tahir picked from the walled city of Lahore and whose promise landed him in the MRF pace cricket academy, at the time also featuring Australia’s Dennis Lillee.’

‘Since he has always enjoyed writing, he had formed friendship with a number of journalists and it seems they have shown more sympathy and understanding to his illness. We all feel strongly of his sorry plight and would like someone to reach out to him, God forbid before it is too late.’

ShahNawaz Rana, an Urdu journalist, pointed out,

‘A successive PCB administration teams have chosen to give Tahir a cold shoulder and showing very little appreciation of his role in the game. In the days when players and PCB employees are enjoying lavish lifestyles, it will be nice for someone to take account of Tahir’s multiple health issues. Whilst at Servis Industries, he was actively taking care of the management of their cricket team. He has always had strong organisational skills and now we see him on TV as an analyst. He was amongst the pioneer cricket writers in Urdu language and it is good to see him back with his columns.’

The writer is indebted to the contribution made by Usman Sherazi, Tariq Saeed, Zahid Maqsood and ShahNawaz Rana.