The Indian team for the 1952-53 tour of the West Indies. Standing (from left): Subhash Gupte, Ebrahim Maka, Dattajirao Gaekwad, Chandu Gadkari, Jayasinghrao Ghorpade, Deepak Shodhan, N Kannayiram, Vijay Manjrekar, PG (Nana) Joshi, Pankaj Roy and Madhav Apte. Sitting (from left): Polly Umrigar, Dattu Phadkar, Ramaswamy (manager), Vijay Hazare (captain), Vinoo Mankad and Gulabrai Ramchand. ( Photo courtesy: Deepak Shodhan)
Ebrahim Maka was born March 5, 1922. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a man with tidy glovework whose lack of batting skills held him back.
The dilemma that hampered the career of Ebrahim Suleman Maka was the one almost all cricket-playing nations have faced at some point of time: should an excellent wicket-keeper be considered even if he was not a quality batsman? The earlier days of Maka’s career had already coincided with World War I. Things did not change a lot after the War with champions like Probir Sen, ‘Nana’ Joshi, Madhav Mantri, and Naren Tamhane ruling the national side.
It became impossible for Maka to break through to the national side. His wicket-keeping skills were not far behind the others, but it was his ordinary batting that set him back. It did not help that Maka played for Gujarat, one of the “lesser” sides in the Indian domestic circuit.
Maka played 34 First-Class matches in a career spanning 21 seasons. The matches fetched him 58 catches and 27 stumpings. His glovework was neat and reliable, he hardly grassed a chance, and his nimble footwork made him a fast mover behind the stumps. Not much of a batsman, Maka scored only 607 runs at 15.56 with two fifties.
Maka was born in Daman, which made him the oldest (and the first debutant) among all Test cricketers born in Portuguese territory. Just for the sake of records, the others are Dick Westcott (born in Lisbon), Dilip Sardesai (born in Margao, then under Portuguese rule), Antao D’Souza (Nalgaon), and Moises Henriques (born in Funchal).
He was brought up in poverty: his father was a cargo ship captain who earned a meagre INR 150 a month to support a family of ten. By that time, the family had shifted to near Crawford Market in Bombay, and young Ebrahim had taken to cricket.
Maka’s First-Class debut came in the Bombay Pentangular at the young age of 19. Playing against the Hindus, he got to see Vijay Merchant score a classic 243, but that was about it. He did not have a dismissal against his name, and scored eight batting at eleven.
It took two years for the next match to happen, and playing for Gujarat against Sind at Karachi, Maka stumped VK Samtani off Shamsher Baloch; it was his maiden First-Class victim. The next season he returned a haul of eight catches and six stumpings from five matches and impressed the critics with his efficiency behind the stumps.
Keen on finding a spot at a higher level, Maka found a new role: when Gujarat had to follow-on against Bombay in their den, Pheroze Cambhata sent Maka to open batting; he launched an amazing counterattack against Dattu Phadkar, Ramesh Divecha, and Ranga Sohoni, scoring 45 before he got out with the score on 61.
When Pakistan came on their maiden tour of India, Maka was selected for their tour match for West Zone at Ahmedabad. The hosts led by 40, and Vijay Hazare, keen on giving everyone a chance, promoted Maka as opener. Once again he impressed with 56, and suddenly became one of the contenders for the national side with three catches and a stumping. Later that month, he made his Test debut.
The selectors had been experimenting with wicket-keepers throughout the series: Sen had played the first Test at Kotla; Joshi had replaced him at Lucknow; and Vijay Rajindernath had come in at Brabourne Stadium. Now, with India 2-1 up in the series, it was Maka’s turn to don the cap in the fourth Test at Chepauk.
Pakistan batted first and scored 344; Maka conceded nine byes but caught Imtiaz Ahmed and stumped Waqar Hasan off Vinoo Mankad and Fazal Mahmood off Dattu Phadkar. Rain washed away the Test after two days of play as India finished on 175 for 6 — poor Maka did not get a chance to bat, and was (without any apparent reason) dropped — for the final Test at Eden Gardens the selectors turned to Sen, the local boy.
Nevertheless, Maka was selected for the West Indies tour that followed as a reserve for Joshi. He played two tour matches — against Trinidad at Queen’s Park Oval and against Barbados at Kensington Oval — and did not do too badly. However, he replaced Joshi in the third Test at Queen’s Park Oval following a defeat in the previous Test.
Hazare opted to bat, and India were 225 for 8 when Maka walked out to join Jayasinghrao Ghorpade. He had replaced Polly Umrigar, who had just become the fifth wicket of Lester King. King was certainly not express, but he was accurate and could make the ball take off at a brisk pace.
Maka managed two runs before a ball from King took off and broke two small bones of Maka’s left hand. He did not take any further part in the Test; in fact, not another match on the tour — or even another Test.
Back to domestic cricket
Maka resumed his career later that year for Indian XI against Commonwealth XI at Ahmedabad. He continued to play on, carrying on with the dual role of wicket-keeper and an opening batsman restricted to flashy cameos, and scored a career-best 66 not out against Saurashtra at Rajkot in 1955-56. It was also his last First-Class match.
Seven years later, he made a comeback to play two Defence Fund Matches for Andhra Chief Minister’s XI. Interestingly, on both occasions, Maka’s side was led by Madhav Mantri, himself an opening batsman-cum-wicket-keeper, but Maka opened and kept wickets in both matches. What made things even more unusual was the fact that the opposition wicket-keepers also opened batting — Imtiaz Ahmed for his own XI at Rawalpindi and Budhi Kunderan for Associated Cement Company at Anantapur.
Maka shifted to Daman after his retirement. He passed away in relative obscurity on November 7, 1994 at the age of 74 years 247 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)