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Mushtaq Ali: A dazzling, flamboyant cricketer who essayed India’s first Test century overseas

 

Mushtaq Ali © Getty Images
Mushtaq Ali © Getty Images

The flamboyant Mushtaq Ali was born on December 17, 1914. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the first Indian batsman to score an overseas Test hundred.

In the 1930s and 1940s, in an era when the world was dominated by World Wars and Don Bradman, Indian batsmanship had reached its first great phase. As the War went on, so did Indian domestic cricket — with the likes of Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare carrying out a two-way Sergei Bubka and taking Indian First-Class batting records beyond mortals.

Amidst all that arose a man from Indore: the son of a police-inspector who drew crowds to the ground by his sheer genius of stroke-play; who made an entire protest when he was dropped; who captured the imagination of the press and public alike; who lit up the dull days of accumulation with the dazzling display of his willow; and who should have had a longer run at Test level had he not been at the receiving end of the bloated ego of the organisers.

Few Indians of his era have captured the imagination of critics to the extent Mushtaq had. On watching Mushtaq in his pomp, Ray Robinson called him (in Between Wickets) “the most daringly original of international batsmen.” Even Keith Miller — while writing the foreword to Mushtaq’s autobiography Cricket Delightful — called the Indian “one of the greatest cricketers of all time.”

He was one of the pioneers of moving in the crease, both down the pitch and sideways. As Robinson wrote, “The only time he [Mushtaq] is still is while he takes guard from the umpire. Why he goes through the formality is one of the mysteries of the Orient because, after making his mark, he takes no notice of it.”

Let us not forget that Mushtaq was perhaps the fastest runner between the wickets — making even Denis Compton, notorious for his running between the wickets — run hard; an astute and athletic fielder (at any place), Mushtaq was also a more than handy left-arm-spinner, especially at domestic level.

From 226 First-Class (for 46 teams, no less!) matches Mushtaq had scored 13,213 runs at 35.90 with 30 hundreds. It’s a shame that his batting strike-rate cannot be obtained. He also picked up 162 wickets at 29.34 with six five-fors and two ten-fors and held 160 catches. His Test numbers read 612 runs at 32.21 with two hundreds, which was decent given the era.

These are certainly not bad numbers for someone who had once said: “I still believe that cricket played with joie de vivre, tempered with skill and caution, can normally lead to victory. Stoic resistance can avert defeat, but seldom contribute to a win. You can say, fortune favours the brave or attack is the best means of defence – it all adds to the same thing.”

Early days

Mushtaq was born in Indore. His father Khan Saheb Sayed Yacub Ali was an Inspector in the Central India Agency Police — and a great cricket enthusiast. Mushtaq’s brother Altaf Ali (who was significantly elder to Mushtaq) and uncle Bashir Ali were both popular sportsmen, having represented Indore in the Aga Khan Hockey Tournament.

The Alis stayed in the Police Lines of Indore. Mushtaq soon found a group of cricket enthusiasts of his age, and played using kerosene cans as wickets. However, his school focused more on football and hockey than cricket, which made Mushtaq and three of his friends to approach the Headmaster with the request for appropriate facilities.

In a couple of months, the facilities were granted. The quartet was even asked to accompany the Headmaster to the market when he went out gear-shopping; cricket got going in the school, albeit without a proper cricket pitch: Mushtaq recalled: “We were extremely happy and felt like soldiers, who, after storming a citadel, were returning home in triumph, carrying the spoils.” Muhstaq later became the first cricket captain of his school, and his younger brother Ishtiaq (who later played First-Class cricket) played for them as well.

Cricket in Indore took a serious turn when Maharaja Sir Tukaji Rao Holkar, the then ruler, brought CK Nayudu to the city. Like most youngsters in the city Mushtaq, too, yearned to join him and the likes of CK Nayudu, Janardan Navle, and Laila Joshi as a member of the Yeswant Cricket Club [YCC].

About this time, CS Nayudu played alongside Mushtaq for the Loyal Cricket Club [LCC]. Surprisingly, during their LCC days CS was a batsman who could bowl some leg-spinners and Mushtaq was a slow left-arm bowler who could bat. Their roles would switch with time.

It took some time, but Mushtaq eventually made it to YCC along with CS Nayudu. It was under CK Nayudu’s mentorship (“I want fieldsmen first and then batsmen”) that the ground-fielding of Mushtaq thrived. CK Nayudu’s reign at various levels also gave birth to other outstanding fielders like CS Nayudu, Gul Mohammad, and Lall Singh.

While fielding as a substitute in a match, Mushtaq had caught the eyes of Maharajkumar of Vizianagram. Vizzy was impressed with what he saw, and he assured CK Nayudu that he would sponsor the youngster. CK Nayudu had a discussion with Mushtaq’s father, and Mushtaq’s education — both academic and sport — was taken care of in Banaras by Vizzy.

The surreal First-Class debut

Mushtaq was selected for Vizzy’s own team (Maharaj Kumar of Vizianagram’s XI, to give the full name). He made his debut against a very strong Rest of India side at Roshanara Club. Few people have been the part of a batting order as surreal: opening the batting were Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe; the contrasting first-down was Vizzy himself; and at four was the mercurial CK Nayudu.

Batting at five in each innings, Mushtaq scored 15 and one; he picked up two wickets, and was selected for the match against Bengal Governor’s XI at Eden Gardens – a match that he virtually won on his own. He first picked up six for 36 to rout the hosts for 173, who, in order, struck back to bowl out Vizzy’s XI for a mere 78.

Coming on second-change, Mushtaq finished with 12.5-7-18-5, finishing with a match haul of 11 for 54. The hosts were bowled out for 46, and the target was chased easily, Hobbs and Sutcliffe added 93. It remained Mushtaq’s best match figures.

Mushtaq the spinner, thrived as the seasons went on. Two seasons later he almost won a match for India against Ceylon at Kotla with figures of six for 97 and four for 32, and in the very next innings he bowled in, he had six for 84 against India (the Test side) for Rest of India at Kotla. “India need not search for any other slow left-arm bowler,” wrote Frank Tarrant.

He missed out on the first Test against the tourists at Bombay, but was eventually selected to make his debut in the next Test at Eden Gardens along with Dilawar Hussain, MJ Gopalan, and his old friend — CS Nayudu.

Test debut

Mushtaq was introduced by CK Nayudu as the fourth bowler after Douglas Jardine had decided to bat. An anxious Mushtaq bowled two maidens to begin with. He finished with the wicket of Jardine himself – in a rather unusual fashion. In Mushtaq’s own words: “I used to wear a shola toupee while bowling and at the point of time my hand touched the hat by accident. The ball pitched short, [Douglas] Jardine played forward, and CS Nayudu held it at cover.”

After England scored 403, Mushtaq found himself joining Dilawar (who had retired-hurt before) at 131 for five. Both batsmen stepped out and succeeded in hitting James Langridge out of the firing line, but with ‘Stan’ Nichols back with his pace things became difficult.

Eventually, Nichols bowled one straight and fast, and Mushtaq committed what was almost sacrilege for the era; he shuffled across the stumps, trying to flick Nichols past square-leg, and was given leg-before for nine. India folded for 247 and had to follow-on.

The second innings was a defining moment in Mushtaq’s career: to provide the injured Dilawar with some time to recover. CK Nayudu asked Mushtaq to open batting with Naoomal Jaoomal. Mushtaq batted, and how!

He started in the most bizarre of fashions, calling for a run without looking behind him, and securing a bye. He then succeeded to flick Nichols to square-leg and then edged Leslie Townsend to Arthur Mitchell at slip. The catch was grassed. “Instead of curbing me, the ‘life’ I had emboldened me to open out,” Mushtaq later recalled.

He responded by blasting Townsend through the leg for a brace, and then hit him over his head. When Jardine brought on Hedley Verity, the champion spinner was hit for four more. India finished the day on 30 without loss – still trailing by 126 runs but coming back into the match.

The next morning, Mushtaq leg-glanced Nichols, and when ‘Nobby’ Clark mis-fielded, he set out for a run. However, Langridge gathered the ball and threw it straight to the anticipating gloves of ‘Hopper’ Levett. It was then that Mushtaq did that something the Eden Gardens crowd of the early 1930s was not used to watching: Mushtaq dived full-length to save his wicket.

It did not help, though, as Nichols had him caught by Charlie Barnett at second slip in the same over for 18. India batted out long enough to achieve a draw — their first in Test cricket.

Mushtaq was relegated to a reserve for the third Test at Chepauk, but found his way into the team when Mohammad Nissar was declared unfit. Mushtaq batted at ten in the first innings and scored an unbeaten seven; he was asked to open in the second innings (again) after Naoomal was hit on his eye in the first innings by Clark. He had the consolation of trapping Verity leg-before, but India ended up losing by 202 runs.

The subsequent years saw Mushtaq slowly evolve from a spinner-who-could-bat to a batsman-who-could-bowl-spin. He was used only sporadically with the ball in the subsequent seasons, though it was eventually as a bowling all-rounder that he made it to the boat for England in 1936.

Leaving the shores

It was serious dilemma for Mushtaq, for his mother had suddenly been taken ill. As the time for departure approached her health deteriorated. He later wrote: “I was in a fix. I could neither afford to leave my ailing mother behind, nor lose the chance of playing in England.”

It was on the insistence of his mother that he eventually decided to take The Viceroy of India for England. At 22, he was easily the youngest member of the side; keeping true to his reputation Vizzy ensured the side had net practice (albeit in coir balls) on the deck every morning.

The Indians got off to a terrible start on the tour, losing five of the first eight tour matches. Vizzy’s dictatorial attitude, the formation of several small “camps” in the side, the “exile” of Lala Amarnath (later in the tour), and a general sour mood did not do a lot to build the confidence of the side. Though a few of the Indian batsmen did well — that too sporadically — the bowling failed miserably.

The match against Minor Counties at Lord’s turned out to be a historic one for Mushtaq. He scored 135 — his maiden First-Class hundred. “Mushtaq drove very hard and pulled and hit to leg with such effect that this almost perfect innings included eighteen 4s,” wrote the local press. Nissar and Amar Singh then bowled out the hosts (that included Bill Edrich and FC de Saram) for 42, helping India to an innings victory.

The next match was against Surrey at The Oval, where Alf Gover and Freddie Brown provided the hosts with a 226-run lead. The Indians lost Merchant early before Mushtaq walked out to join, Dattaram Hindlekar. He had a cautious start, but what followed was an indication of what was to follow at Old Trafford later the season.

The Times later wrote: “Mushtaq Ali attacked the bowling, always with imagination and often with power or an attractive combination of footwork and placing. He reached his 50 in a little over an hour and was playing havoc with [Alf] Gover’s and others’ reputations when the day’s cricket came to an end.”

He eventually scored 141, adding 217 with Hindlekar — which turned out to be a new record for the tourists. Mushtaq really broke loose after reaching his hundred. The Times added: “Once he [Mushtaq] had achieved the feat [hundred], he reverted to his lithe footwork and stroke-play that had made him such a pleasure to watch on the previous day. some of his off-drives were models of timing, and with the ball always coming to him as easy and regular angles, he was able to do much as he liked when playing to the on.”

He was an obvious choice for the first Test at Lord’s after that. However, he scored only a duck and eight, as England won by nine wickets. The result probably flattered England a bit, given that they were bowled out by Nissar and Amar Singh for 134 in the first innings and had conceded a 13-run lead.

A star is born

In his autobiography, Mushtaq had dedicated an entire chapter to the second day’s play in the Old Trafford Test. Of course, the day has also gone down in Test history as the one with the most runs scored: the two teams combined to put up a staggering 588 runs.

Vizzy won the toss. For the first time in Test cricket, Merchant and Mushtaq – India’s first “star” opening stand – had gone out to bat together. It was not a great start: Merchant hit a straight drive off Gover that hit Mushtaq’s bat at the other end and bounced to Arthur Fagg at short mid-wicket; Fagg showed excellent reflexes, and ran Mushtaq out for 13.

India were eventually bowled out for 203, and by the end of the day, Wally Hammond had taken the hosts to 173 for two. Mushtaq, however, had his revenge when he had the debutant Fagg bowled.

England declared on Day Two after reaching 571 for eight. The batsmen had batted at 91 runs an hour, and had provided the bowlers with ample time to win the three-day Test. “To wipe out a deficit of 368 was like scaling Mt Everest,” Mushtaq later wrote.

Merchant’s performance and stature had been making him popular among the team. Obviously, this had not gone down too well with Vizzy, who had ordered Mushtaq to run Merchant out. Unfortunately for Vizzy, Mushtaq tipped Merchant off; his illustrious partner responded with a smile: “Try it if you can.”

Mushtaq took off with a picturesque cover-drive off Gover. The media wrote that he “sent the ball over the grass so swiftly that it might have been a ray of light.” India reached 25 in 20 minutes, and 50 took them 45 minutes. It was then that Mushtaq stepped out to hit ‘Gubby’ Allen out of the ground and missed. Merchant went down the pitch and cautioned his partner.

The message, however, had been sent clearly to the English camp. Allen brought on Hammond, who bowled a tight line and length to choke the Indians; an unperturbed Mushtaq hit Verity at the other end for two boundaries in an over to bring up his fifty. Eventually, Merchant opened up as well, and runs came from both ends.

When Mushtaq reached the 90s, Hammond walked up to him and said: “My boy, be steady, get your hundred first.” Mushtaq obliged, and became the first Indian to score an overseas hundred. India were 190 without loss at stumps with Merchant on 79 and Mushtaq on 106.

Accolades began to pour in. “We could understand how a Ranji [KS Ranjitsinhji] flowered from this field of play. The batting has paid rare tribute to cricket’s loveliness, its art and originality,” wrote Neville Cardus. He added: “Mushtaq Ali gave one of the most beautiful and spirited exhibitions of batsmanship ever seen at Old Trafford for years. He opened the magic casement and let us see a light cast from their own land.”

Ranji’s illustrious teammate CB Fry was all in praise as well: “[KS Ranjitsinhji] would have been the happiest man to witness your innings.” Vizzy, having to swallow his pride, gifted him a gold wristwatch on his return to the pavilion. Hobbs (he was, one must remember, Mushtaq’s ex-teammate) joined in as well: “The best present I can make to you for your batting today is my genuine appreciation.”

A much-coveted appreciation came from his ex-captain and mentor as well. “The happiest man in the gathering that day, was CK Naydu, whose face conveyed to me his feelings, as if to say ‘I knew you could do it.’” For the uninitiated, CK Nayudu was renowned as a miser when it came to showering praises.

When Mushtaq left Old Trafford that day he was stopped by an ancient gatekeeper. The man gave Mushtaq a sixpence, confessing that it was a token of his appreciation. He added that he had made the gesture only twice before — to Bradman and KS Duleepsinhji.

“The Cricketer” wrote on Manchester Guardian: “His [Mushtaq’s] cricket at times was touched with genius and imagination. There was suppleness and a loose, easy grace which concealed power, as the feline silkiness conceals the strength of some jungle beauty of gleaming eyes and sharp fangs.”

After an overnight drizzle the pitch changed, and Verity and Walter Robins extracted some life out of the pitch. Merchant and Mushtaq played cautiously, and became the first pair to put up a 200-run opening stand against England in England. Then Mushtaq fell when Robins caught his full-blooded drive off his own bowling.

He had scored 112 in 150 minutes with 17 fours. The pair had added 203; it remained the highest opening stand against England in England for 43 years. Merchant scored 114 as well, and crucial innings from Cotah (or Cota, or Cotar) Ramaswami, CK Nayudu, and Amar Singh saw India finish with 390 for five and draw the Test.

The star shines brightly

Allen batted at The Oval, and the hapless tourists ran into batting of the kind they had seldom encountered before. They simply did not have the firepower to contain Hammond at his best; the great man scored 217, Stan Worthington got 128, and Allen declared at 471for eight.

Allen started with three slips, and Mushtaq steered the last ball of the first over through them for four. He began with ridiculous ease against Allen and Bill Voce, and his first 26 — including six hits to the fence — came up in 20 minutes. Merchant, on the other hand, held up the other hand, and when fifty came up it seemed that an encore of Old Trafford was on the cards.

A startled Allen had to fall back on Verity and Jim Sims, which brought the scoring rate down. Mushtaq, who had attracted a lot of fanfare among the English by now, received a huge ovation when he reached his fifty. Perhaps getting a bit carried away, he stepped out to hoick Verity over the fence, only to be stumped by George Duckworth.

Mushtaq had scored 52, and the pair had added 81. Merchant scored 52 as well, but some excellent bowling from Verity and Sims led to an Indian collapse; from 125 for one (and later 185 for three) they were bowled out for 222 and were asked to bat again.

Mushtaq began in the same fashion again. He wrote: “I made full use of my forcing strokes to the on-side. [Bill] Voce, bowling with plenty of fire, looked slow to me and I gave [Gubby] Allen no chance to settle his field.” However, Allen had the last laugh when he was caught by Hammond off Allen for 17. India were bowled out for 312 by Allen despite their captain’s outrageous 81, and lost by nine wickets.

Mushtaq shone again the last match of the tour at Scarborough: after HDG Leveson-Gower’s XI had scored 225, Mushtaq bludgeoned his way to 140 (against Gover, Nichols, Townsend, and Brown) and gave his side a lead of 108. Set to chase 222 Mushtaq scored 74, but a collapse meant that the tourists had to bat out time.

He ended the tour with 1,078 runs at 25.06 with four hundreds, eight wickets, and 11 catches. He was one of the three batsmen to have crossed the four-figure mark on the tour, the others being Merchant and CK Nayudu.

Back home

Unfortunately, the England tour turned out to be India’s last exposure to Test cricket for a decade. By now a specialist opener, Mushtaq scored 135 against Europeans in the Pentangular Final; other than Qamaruddin Sheikh (50) nobody else had crossed 30. In his very next innings — against a very strong Lord Tennyson’s XI at Eden Gardens — he scored 101.

Though not in the same league as Merchant and Hazare in terms of accumulation, Mushtaq kept on scoring runs at a consistent rate; he scored 109 and 130 against Bombay at Brabourne Stadium in the marathon Ranji Trophy final of 1944-45. This was also the match where Mushtaq had forged his famous partnership with yet another legend — Denis Compton.

Seth Hiralal, a local businessman, had promised Compton INR 100 (about £7.50) for every run he had scored after reaching 100. Mushtaq was promised INR 50 per run after 100. Set to score 867 in a timeless match a victory was out of question, especially after they found themselves at 12 for two. Mushtaq and Compton decided to take the bowling on.

Mushtaq eventually fell for 130 and claimed the money. However, Compton batted on, and scored 249 not out as Holkar were eventually bowled out for 492. When he returned to collect his £1,300, he found that the Seth had left with a note “Sorry, have been called to Calcutta on very urgent business.”

However, Mushtaq wrote in his autobiography that he had actually been given INR 450 for his first-innings of 109. He added: “I wish to remind Denis [Compton] that the Seth’s offer was made specifically for the first innings only.” Compton had scored only 20 in the first innings.

“No Mushtaq, no Test”

When Lindsay Hassett brought the Australian Services XI they were met with eager anticipation. Mushtaq began on a high: after the tourists declared at 424 for eight, Mushtaq and Amarnath tore into the bowling attack; they added 172 for the third wicket, before Mushtaq fell for a 120-ball 108 with 15 fours.

Mushtaq was an obvious choice for the first ‘Test’ at Brabourne Stadium. However, a severe cold and chest congestion made him pull out, and he sent a letter to the Chairman of the Selection Committee in Delhi. Then the shock came when he got to know that  he had been dropped for the next ‘Test’ at Eden Gardens. “To my utter surprise newspaper reports stated that Mushtaq Ali, who had been invited to play, did not turn up,” he recalled.

He went to Calcutta anyway for the match for East Zone against the tourists. The match took place in a politically disturbed Calcutta, and in the end, the hosts won a humdinger by a slender two-wicket margin. Mushtaq scored 46 and 53 in the match. Immediately after the match was over, a group of agitated youths gathered in front of the pavilion and shouted “We want Mushtaq. No Mushtaq, no Test.”

Things went to the extent that Duleep, then the Chairman of Selectors, was manhandled by the crowd. Eventually, Mushtaq had to be included for the Calcutta ‘Test’. It turned out to be anticlimactic as he scored 31 and three.

Looking back at the incident, Mushtaq recalled: “While I fully appreciate the love for my cricket which had incited the demonstrators to demand by inclusion in the ‘Test’ team, I was really ashamed and extremely aggrieved at the way they behaved with that great cricketer and a fine gentleman [Duleep] too.”

Back to England

Mushtaq made it to the 1946 tour of England, but was left out of first Test at Lord’s due to low-key performances in the first half of the summer. Merchant opened with a debutant called Vinoo Mankad, and India lost by ten wickets. Mankad later achieved the 1,000 run-100 wicket ‘double’ on the tour.

He was brought back for the second Test — perhaps because it was at Old Trafford. The Nawab of Pataudi (senior) elected to bowl, and Amarnath and Mankad bowled England out for 294; they lost their last six wickets for 44 runs. The wet pitch was doing things, and though, Merchant was possessed with the technique to handle Voce and Alec Bedser, the same could not be expected of Mushtaq.

And yet Mushtaq hung on, playing a completely uncharacteristic innings. He saw the new ball off, and suddenly he cut Voce for a stunning boundary. Learie Constantine later reported: “the crowd gasped at the brilliance and the daring of the shot.” The Indian hundred came up in 120 minutes before Dick Pollard’s in-swinger took Mushtaq’s inner edge and bowled him for 46.

The opening stand had added 124 in 135 minutes. Though Merchant scored 78, India were bowled out for 170 by Pollard who had a spell of 5-2-7-4. Hammond then set India a target of 278 in three hours, and soon India were reeling at 87 for six. It took some gutsy batting from Abdul Hafeez (later Kardar) and a nail-biting 13-minute last wicket stand between ‘Ranga’ Sohoni and Hindlekar to save the Test.

In the third Test at The Oval, Merchant and Mushtaq were at it again. On a rain-affected day, Merchant and Mushtaq returned unvanquished with 79 runs on the board. Early on Day Two, Mushtaq was run out for 59, and the pair had once again added a 110-minute 94. Though Compton later kicked to run Merchant out for 128, India still managed to score 331; England finished on 95 for three, and the match was drawn without any play on Day Three.

It wasn’t the best of tours for Mushtaq — especially when compared to the one a decade back. He finished with 673 runs at 24.03, his highest being the match-winning 93 against Glamorgan at Swansea.

Calypso Cricket

Mushtaq was named vice-captain to Amarnath for India’s first tour to Australia in 1947-48; however, he had to pull out because one of his brothers had passed away. He had declared himself available after the mourning, but the selectors had refused to budge. The Maharaja of Holkar then promised to sponsor the trip for Mushtaq, but the selectors were adamant.

A disgruntled Mushtaq picked out United Province. He scored a career-best 233, adding 215 with CK Nayudu at Indore. Holkar scored 485 and bowled out the tourists for 164 and 88.

He was also dropped for the first two Tests against West Indies at Kotla and Brabourne Stadium. Merchant had pulled out of the Tests as well due to his deteriorating health. “I am certain that [Vijay] Merchant, had he been captain, would have had different views about me in advising the Selection Committee.”

After Everton Weekes’ customary hundred got the tourists to 366, India lost KC Ibrahim early. Mushtaq scored a brisk 54, adding 84 with Rusi Modi; India conceded a lead of 94, and yet another Weekes hundred (and another from Clyde Walcott) helped John Goddard set India 431 in 415 minutes. To the surprise of everyone, India accepted the challenge, finishing the day on 66 without loss; India now required 365 in 330 minutes.

Mushtaq lost Ibrahim early next morning, but went on with the onslaught with Modi for company. It was one of the most destructive shows of batsmanship Eden Gardens has seen. Prior Jones, the West Indian spearhead, later wrote that he was clueless on where to land the ball when Mushtaq batted. “If ever Mushtaq [Ali] came to the West Indies he would be adored and idolised,” he added. Mushtaq later mentioned his innings in his autobiography in a chapter called For the Calcuttans’ Sake.

Once again the across-the-line-flick caused Mushtaq’s downfall as he fell to Denis Atkison for a furious 106, scored out of 154 India managed during his stay. Modi, Hazare, and Amarnath all batted well, but they simply lacked the ability to race the clock and India finished with 325 for three.

Mushtaq did not do anything special in the last two Tests. India lost at Cheapauk and drew at Brabourne Stadium, and as a result conceded the series 0-1.

The final outing

Mushtaq fittingly became a part of India’s first Test victory against England at Cheapauk. England scored 266 and 183, submitting to Mankad’s match haul of 12 wickets. Hundreds from Pankaj Roy and Polly Umrigar helped as well; Mushtaq scored 22 and helped Roy add 53 for the opening stand. It turned out to be his last Test.

Surprisingly, despite his form at domestic level (he scored 874 at 43.70 with three hundreds in 1949-50 and 948 more at 47.40 with four hundreds in 1950-51) Mushtaq was not considered for the home series against Kardar’s Pakistanis. His was a surprising exclusion, given Mushtaq’s performance against pace, and the fact that Pakistan had the likes of Khan Mohammad and Mahmood Hussain in their line-up.

Even then, he top-scored with 73 in the first innings of the tour match against the tourists at Nagpur, as CK Nayudu’s Central Zone held them at bay. The next season he was excluded from the tour to England. “Even at 37 he [Mushtaq] might have been useful because, unlike most who toured that year, he relished fast bowling,” Wisden later wrote. In between all this he was named an Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year.

Later days

Mushtaq continued to play till 1963-64. He was almost 49 when he played his last First-Class match in a relief fund match for Bombay Chief Minister’s XI against Bombay Governor’s XI at Thane. He still seemed at ease against an attack that consisted of Ramakant Desai, Sohoni, GS Ramchand, Subhash Gupte, and Mankad, scoring 41.

He led Holkar to consecutive Ranji Trophy finals in 1953-54 where he lost to Bombay and Madras respectively. Towards the end of his career, he was invited by Vizzy to play for Uttar Pradesh alongside the Nayudus. Vizzy had promised Mushtaq a benefit match from UPCA in return.

Mushtaq scored a dazzling 101 against Rajasthan at Banaras, dominating an attack consisting of Ramchand, Mankad, and Salim Durani. He played two more matches, but the benefit match never happened. He shifted to Madhya Pradesh, for whom he finished his career.

Post-retirement

Mushtaq Ali was named a Life Member of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), and in 1964 he was awarded a Padma Shri. Wisden wrote that he “was a slim, graceful, elder statesman at many of the multifarious awards nights that punctuate India’s cricket seasons.” In The Wisden Cricketer Suresh Menon called him “one of cricket’s most beloved gentlemen.”

His son Gulrez Ali was a left-arm bowler who played with distinction for Madhya Pradesh, but it was really Gulrez’s son Abbas who reminded the old-timers of Mushtaq’s panache with the bat. After having a fine career for Madhya Pradesh, the left-handed Abbas now plays for Tripura.

Mushtaq passed away in his sleep on June 18, 2005 at an age of 90 years 314 days in his hometown. The national Twenty20 (T20)  tournament has been appropriately named after him. After all, Miller had once called him “the Errol Flynn of cricket – dashing, flamboyant, swashbuckling and immensely popular wherever he played.”

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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