Dilawar Hussain © Getty Images
Dilawar Hussain © Getty Images

Dr Dilawar Hussain was born March 19, 1907. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the man who looked clumsy but could be deceptively efficient both in front of and behind the stumps.

Nothing about Dr Dilawar Hussain suggested that he was a cricketer. Mihir Bose quoted Cota (or Cotah, or Cotar) Ramaswami in A History of Indian Cricket: “He was a tall and bulky person with a prominent stomach and invariably played with a clean shaven head without any hat or cap or any kind of head gear. He always wore very loose pants and after batting for a while or keeping wicket for sometime, his shirt will be hanging out of the trousers and somebody must tuck it in, now and then.”

Dilawar had a penchant for hogging the strike — a tendency that led to Ramaswami refer to him as “the most selfish batsman” he has ever seen. He had “a rather ugly and uncouth stance”. Ramaswami added: “he held his bat very low and bent his body forward so much that his head was practically in line with the top of the wickets. Those who watched him from the on-side could only see his prominent hind portion of the body sticking up while the head, bat and the rest of Dilawar Hussain were hardly visible.”

It is almost impossible to imagine someone with such a stance to survive for long, but Dilawar managed to survive because of his unusual yet effective technique and seemingly infallible temperament. Wisden mentioned that he had “an ungainly crouching style but possessed unwearying patience coupled with admirable determination”.

The other aspect that made Dilawar stand out among his peers was his indomitable courage against pace. He was especially strong off the front-foot, with his booming drives making it to the boundary more often than not. Despite his gait he was efficient, if not elegant, and seldom missed a chance behind the stumps.

Dilawar’s 57 First-Class matches fetched him 2,394 runs at 28.16 with 4 hundreds and 13 fifties. He also finished with 69 catches and 33 stumpings. From the 3 Tests he played, he amassed 254 runs at an impressive 42.33 (the highest among Indians with a 200-run cut-off before World War II) with 3 fifties alongside 6 catches and a stumping.

Early days

Born in Lahore, Dilawar grew up with his brother Jamaluddin, who had played for Muslims in the Bombay Pentangular. Dilawar’s First-Class debut also came in the Pentangular. Playing against the Europeans he scored 64 and 112 on debut. Thereafter followed a series of ups-and-downs before he was selected to play against Arthur Gilligan’s MCC.

It was Dilawar’s first taste of world-class bowling: pitted against the likes of Maurice Tate and George Geary, Dilawar struggled at the start, but when Northern India followed-on, he scored 85 and added 133 with Wazir Ali to save the match at Delhi.

Dilawar was selected by Maharajkumar of Alirajpur for his team Freelooters for the Moin-ud-Dowlah Gold Cup Tournament in 1932-33. The team consisted of champions like Mushtaq Ali, LP Jai, Amar Singh, Ladha Ramji, Sorabji Colah; they went past Rawalpindi in the semifinal and Karachi in the final (Dilawar scoring 43 and 110* in the 2 matches) to clinch the title. Dilawar’s next First-Class match (not before the season after) was the second Test of the 1933-34 series at Eden Gardens.

Test debut

Despite Lala Amarnath’s hundred on debut India had gone on to lose the first Test (the first on Indian soil) at Bombay Gymkhana. Dilawar made his debut in the second Test alongside MJ Gopalan, CS Nayudu, and Mushtaq Ali. Douglas Jardine elected to bat, and though no Englishman crossed 70 they managed to pile up 403. Dilawar caught Leslie Townsend off Amar Singh: it was his first Test dismissal.

Dilawar opened batting with the exotically named Naoomal Jaoomal and was hit on the back of his head (a clean-shaven one without any headgear, one must remember) by a Morris Nichols bouncer. He had to retire hurt immediately, and at stumps on Day Two (of the 4-day Test) India were reeling at 90 for 4 with Wazir Ali falling in the last ball of the day.

When play resumed the third morning Dilawar went out with Vijay Merchant with a bandaged head. Thus resumed a partnership paralleled by few in contrast: while Merchant was the epitome of classic batsmanship straight out of the MCC manual, Dilawar was clumsy and awkward in his approach. And yet, between them, they managed to keep out the attack including Nichols, ‘Nobby’ Clark, James Langridge, and Hedley Verity (no less).

Dilawar lost both Merchant and Mushtaq, but kept on batting in that inimitable style of his. He even hit a six before Clark hit him on his thumb; he eventually holed out to Jardine off Clark for 59, constructed over 3 hours. Nayudu, who had provided commendable support to Dilawar, fell soon, and India were bowled out for 247. Jardine enforced the follow-on.

This time, CK Nayudu sent Mushtaq to open with Naoomal but despite a 57-run opening sand Dilawar found himself coming out to bat at 129 for 5. With CK also falling shortly afterwards, it was left to Dilawar to save the Test with his old ally CS, with whom he had added a valuable 53 in the first innings.

Dilawar’s effort was a brief one, lasting for a mere 85 minutes, but he managed to score 57 with 9 fours and a six. Dilawar thus became the seventh batsman (and the second wicket-keeper, after Edmund Tylecote) to top-score in each innings on Test debut. This time the pair added 52, and though England had to chase only 82 they had merely half-an-hour to bat. There was, however, enough time left for Dilawar to effect his only Test stumping — that of Bryan Valentine off Naoomal. India thus secured their first draw.

England piled up 335 in the first innings at Chepauk (despite Amar Singh’s 7 for 86) but India collapsed in front of Verity, who picked up 7 for 49. Merchant top-scored with 26 as India were bowled out for 145 (opening batting, Dilawar scored 13). England then set India a target of 452.

India lost Mushtaq and Wazir Ali early, but Dilawar hung around with Amar Singh to add 74 for the third wicket. Once Dilawar fell for 36 Amar Singh followed suit, and barring the Yuvraj of Patiala (who top-scored with 60) no one resisted, and India lost the Test by 202 runs.

The England tour

Thanks to his tenure at Cambridge University, Dilawar missed out on a few seasons in Indian domestic circuit. However, he was a part of the Indian team which went to England for the 1936 tour, and announced himself on English soil against Warwickshire: not only did he take 4 catches, but he also carried bat for 101 where nobody else crossed 35.

Despite being left out for the first 2 Tests, Dilawar was recalled for the third Test at The Oval in the place of Khershed Meherhomji. Walter Hammond scored 217, Stan Worthington 122, and England piled up 471. Merchant and Mushtaq added 81 for the first wicket, and Dilawar, coming in at No. 3, helped Merchant add 44 more, and at 185 for 3 it seemed India might even save the follow-on.

But then Jim Sims removed Ramaswami and Verity had Dilawar (who had scored a 135-minute 36) stumped in quick succession, and the pair ran through the rest: India collapsed to 222. Following on, India were up against ‘Gubby’ Allen, who ran through them with figures of 7 for 80. Once again Dilawar scored a 150-minute 54 before Sims trapped him leg-before.

India were bowled out for 312 and England won by 9 wickets. Dilawar never played a Test again. A few days later he scored 122 (his career-best) and 50 against Sussex. Dilawar got only 9 matches on that disputed tour, scoring 620 runs at 44.28 with 2 hundreds.

Back to domestic cricket

Dilawar played only 8 First-Class matches after his return from Cambridge, though his career lasted till 1940-41. He never really lost form, scoring 70 and 41 for Central India against United Provinces as he led the former on his Ranji Trophy debut. In the final, however, Central India lost to Bengal, who clinched their maiden title.

His last season saw him score a crucial 54 in the Pentangular match against The Rest. In his last match, for Bengal Governor’s XI against Viceroy’s XI for a relief fund, Dilawar scored 31 and ten and finished with 4 catches.

Post-retirement

Having earned a Doctorate in Philosophy and having done a double-MA, Dilawar was considered one of the more erudite men of the cricket fraternity. In his book Patrons, Players and the Crowd: The Phenomenon of Indian Cricket, Richard Cashman has mentioned him having an “encyclopaedic memory”: he could recall cricket scorecards at will.

Dilawar moved to Pakistan after partition and became the Principal of Government Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College, Lahore. He was one of the leading cricket administrators of Pakistan and one of the founder-members of the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan. He also went on to become a National Selector.

Cashman wrote that Dilawar was a “great eater and talker”; he added that Dilawar “could liven the passing hour with an unbroken monologue on any subject from philosophy… to the art of seasoning a good curry.” His sense of humour made him one of the most sought after-dinner speakers.

Dilawar’s sons Waqar Ahmed and Nadeem Ahmed both played First-Class cricket. Waqar was selected for Pakistan’s tour of England, but had to come back midway when he had heard of his father’s demise on August 26, 1967 at an age of 60 years 160 days.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)