Ninety-one years ago Gul Mohammad, who played cricket for both India and Pakistan, was born on this day. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the career of the one-time world record holder for the highest partnership.
In an era when poor, sluggish fielding was the order of the day, Gul Mohammad was considered by many as the best fielder to have taken field in the subcontinent. He would perhaps have fitted in the modern era of limited overs cricket more than most of his contemporaries: for a 5’5” tall person he was a surprisingly aggressive batsman, a lively left-arm seamer and a top-quality fielder, mostly in the covers: he scored 7,295 First-class runs at 33.81 and took 107 wickets at 27.20.
Gul was a student of Islamia College of Lahore in undivided India. At that point of time Islamia College had a fabulous team, consisting of later Test stars like Nazar Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood and Imtiaz Ahmed, and the side tormented many college sides in Punjab and North India. His performances in college cricket soon ensured that he was picked for both Northern India (in Ranji Trophy) at 17, and then for Muslims (in the Bombay Pentangular Tournament), and was an instant success with his 95 and four for 30 on Pentangular debut. Despite being a talented athlete, swimmer and kabaddi player, Gul decided to adhere to cricket.
As the Second World War ensured that no international cricket would be played, domestic cricket thrived in India. As the two Vijays – Merchant and Hazare - competed against each other in a healthy competition of high scores, Gul Mohammad made steady progress as one of the leading all-rounders of India.
In 1943 he was picked to play for Bengal Cyclone XI against Bijapur Famine XI in a fund-raiser. Coming out to bat at 102 for three, Gul helped Hazare add 302 for the fourth wicket, helping his side to reach a humongous 703. As Hazare scored 264 and Gul 144, people assumed that the two of them could not get any better.
Four years later, the Maharaja of Baroda had hand-picked Gul to represent his state. Baroda shot out the star-studded Holkar side folded for 202, with Vijay Hazare taking six for 85. The legendary CK Nayudu struck back, and with the score on 91 for three, Gul joined Hazare.
As Hazare set up tent and seemed immovable, Gul hit with panache; he played every stroke in the book, never hesitated to loft the ball, and yet seemed immovable. They soon went past the Indian record – Lala Amarnath and Rusi Modi’s 410 set three months earlier – and ended the third day’s play with their partnership on 483.
As the news went out, people started pouring in on the fourth day in the small Central College Ground of Baroda. Soon the unthinkable happened – Hazare and Gul went past Clyde Walcott and Frank Worrell’s world record unbeaten stand of 574, set a year back. They eventually ended on 577, Hazare scoring 288 and Gul a career-best 319. The stand has been bettered only once – by Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene in 2006.
In the previous year Gul had an ordinary Test debut at Lord’s in 1946; he went on to tour Australia in 1947 to play Don Bradman’s side and ended up with relatively average performances, though his spectacular fielding in the covers impressed all and sundry. When Pakistan toured India in 1952-53, Gul had the option to play for either country, but he chose to represent India. He continued to play Ranji Trophy in India till 1955 before settling down in Pakistan, along with playing for Ramsbottom in the Lancashire League.
After earning the right to represent Pakistan, Gul became the third cricketer after Abdul Hafez Kardar and Amir Elahi to play Tests for both India and Pakistan (earlier, when Kardar and Elahi had made their debut for Pakistan, Gul had played for India against them). He played the Australians at Karachi, and eventually hit the winning runs as Pakistan won the one-off Test.
Later on, Gul became an accomplished coach, and was a member of the Board of Directors of Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore. He died of liver cancer in 1992 at the age of 70.