Israr Ali. Photo courtesy: PakPassion
Israr Ali. Photo courtesy: PakPassion

Israr Ali, born May 1, 1927, will forever be remembered as one of those eleven men who took field in Pakistan’s first ever Test. A left-arm seamer who could also bat well, Israr was drafted into the tour side because on the insistence of Abdul Hafeez Kardar, who insisted on the inclusion of a left-armer. Unfortunately, the outspoken Israr fell out with Kardar on several occasions, which led to a huge 7-year chasm in his career. He played two Tests on either side of the gap, taking 6 wickets at 27.50. There was no doubt that he was under-bowled, for he got only 13 overs a Test.

At domestic cricket, however, he had an excellent career, taking 114 wickets in 40 matches at 22.63. He was also handy with the bat, with 1,130 runs at 20.54 and 6 fifties. In all recorded matches he scored 2,383 runs at 28.03 and claimed 195 wickets at 21.42. He was one of many famous cricketers produced by Islamia University, and later became a prominent face for Crescent Cricket Club in Lahore.

Israr’s most famous performance came in a 1957-58 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy match for Bahawalpur against Punjab A. The opposition was weak, and followed-on after trailing by 172 runs. Then Israr took the first 9 wickets, and was set for all 10, before Farooq Kardar was bowled by the off-breaks Zulfiqar Ahmed. Ironically, Zulfiqar was Kardar’s brother-in-law.

The nonet included some major names, like Duncan Sharpe, Abdul Aziz, and a certain Shakoor Rana. Israr was the second bowler to take nine wickets in an innings on Pakistan soil, after Fazal (9 for 43 in 1956-57).

In the semi-final that season, he scored 75 against Dacca University. After Bahawalpur scored 405, Israr scythed through the tourists, returning near-ridiculous figures of 11-10-1-6 (five bowled, one LBW). Dacca University were bowled out for 39 (this included 10 extras). Only two others, Samuel Cosstick (1868-69) and Vivian Ian Smith (1947) have emulated his record for the cheapest six-wicket haul.

He followed this with 2 for 83 and 4 for 18 in the final against Karachi C. Bahawalpur won the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy that season. Israr finished with 244 runs at 27.11 and 35 wickets at 12.45. Nobody else took more than 26 wickets, and he was sixth on the runs chart as well.

Before the India tour, Israr stamped his arrival with a match for Bahawalpur against the touring MCC. He opened batting, scored 19, and added 65 with Hanif Mohammad. Then he led the rout, removing Tom Graveney cheaply, following with the wicket of Donald Carr. He finished with 3 for 40, helping bowl out MCC for 123; the tourists followed-on, but saved the match.

Israr Ali was thus back to Amritsar, a two-hour drive from his birthplace Jullundur. He announced his arrival in India with a resounding 73, and was picked for Pakistan’s first Test at Kotla as a specialist batsman.

He never to bowl got an over. Batting at No. 3 he scored 1 and 9, falling to Vinoo Mankad in each innings. He was dropped for Lucknow, where Fazal Mahmood routed, and was brought back again for the third Test at Brabourne Stadium, probably due to his 55 against West Zone.

This time he was pushed down to No. 9, and Subhash Gupte snared him for 10 and 5. India piled up 387 for 4, but Israr got to bowl only 3 overs. One must remember it was Kardar who had picked him, and he remained under-bowled despite a 183-run stand between Vijay Hazare and Polly Umrigar.

He rounded off the tour with 35 and 48 against East Zone, and once back, he resumed with 66. From 8 matches he scored 251 at 22.81, but astonishingly, he got to bowl a mere 13 overs per match.

He continued to play domestic cricket. Thanks to his Eaglets trip of 1957, he got a contract for Bacup, and had an excellent season for them in Lancashire League in 1959 (912 runs at 50.67, 47 wickets at 22.95). He resurfaced that winter, seven years after his previous Test appearance, in a home series against Australia. By then Fazal had replaced Kardar at the helm.

The curious case of Favell and Davidson

He shared new ball with Fazal at Dacca, removing Les Favell and Alan Davidson. In the second innings he got Favell again, and finished with 2 for 85 and 1 for 20. In the next Test he had 2 for 29 (Favell and Davidson) and 1 for 20 (Favell).

He never played another Test. In other words, four of his six wickets were Favell’s, and the other two, Davidson’s. It had to be one of the most bizarre Test careers.

The biggest applause came during the first of the Favell wickets. He told Umar Farooq of ESPNCricinfo: “A remarkable day in my career was when I bowled Favell in Dacca and a crowd of 50,000 spectators was on its toes, cheering for the dismissal. For a while I was stunned.”

His last Favell wicket was also bowled (three of four were bowled, the other caught-and-bowled). He actually managed to break the stump. The stump, signed by Israr and President Ayub Khan, was given to Lahore Museum. Unfortunately, it no longer exists there.

He played for another season. In his last match, for Bahawalpur and Multan against Railways and Quetta, he sent down 34 overs out of 76.2, taking 5 for 72.

Israr was a beneficiary of the Cricketers Benefit Series (CBFS) in Sharjah in 1997. By then he had retired to Okara, close to Lahore (Okara also goes by the name Mini Lahore). He also helped found the Okara Gymkhana.

At the time of his death, at 88 years 276 days, Israr Ali was the oldest Pakistani Test cricketer.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)