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Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was passionate about cricket

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Zulfikar Ali Bhutto wanted to be a cricketer in his young days, but then got busy with politics © Getty Images

January 5, 2014 marked the 86th birth anniversary of Zulifkar Ali Bhutto, the former President of Pakistan. Sarmad Hussain brings out the cricketing links of the former President.

Two of Pakistan’s political stalwarts have cricketing connections — Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and, of course, the de facto leader of the opposition, Imran Khan. While Imran reached the pinnacle of the sport in 1992, Sharif had to be content with a forgettable First-Class debut for the Railways in 1972.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), winners of the first elections in the country, is not far behind. Though it is not as well known, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, PPP’s supreme leader, was an ardent follower of the game. Bhutto’s biography by Stanley Wolpert mentions the memoirs of another enigmatic ‘civilian dictator’ albeit on the cricket field — AH Kardar.

Anwar Hussain, the Bombay-bred cricketer, who later faced the first ball in Pakistani First-Class cricket, was the captain of the Sunder Club in Bombay, where a teenaged boy named Zulfi played under the tutelage of legends like Mushtaq Ali and Vinoo Mankad. It was Anwar who made possible the meeting of the two charismatic leaders from different fields — Bhutto and Kardar. Kardar writes that had Bhutto managed to go to Christ Church before Berkeley, one could have seen him harbor ambition of becoming a First-Class cricketer.

Bhutto’s fascination for cricket wasn’t just restricted to the field of play; he was a historian as well. Though he had little time for cricket, he used to meet the visiting team and share anecdotes with them. He was especially fond of Keith Miller, the poster boy of cricket in the post-War decade, and developed a good friendship with the handsome Australian. Again, lack of time meant that Bhutto could not himself do much for cricket as a premier. But, to his credit, he gave that task to the ‘best man for the job’ — Kardar, who proved to be a formidable administrator in the 1970s.

Had things gone according to young Bhutto’s wishes, Pakistan could have had a Prime Minister who played First-Class cricket much earlier. Bhutto focused on politics after the creation of Pakistan. After his move to Radcliffe, he was too busy trying to rebuild the country.

(Sarmad Hussain is currently a student of History and Literature at the Forman Christian College, Lahore. He has been a cricket aficionado since the age of six when he watched the 1999 Chennai Test between, India and Pakistan. His long term plan is to be a researcher, and cricket is right up there in his list. He can be followed on twitter @SarmadXIV.)

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