Abbas Ali Baig. Photo courtesy: H Natarajan.
Abbas Ali Baig. Photo courtesy: H Natarajan.

On July 27, 1959, Abbas Ali Baig became the fourth Indian to score a century on his debut and was the then youngest Indian to achieve this stupendous feat. Sarang Bhalerao goes into the rewind mode to recite one of the finest tales in Indian cricket history.

Abbas Ali Baig was a student at Oxford University student when he got a call to represent his country.  Baig got the SOS to play the Old Trafford Test after an injury to Vijay Manjrekar. Just 20 years 131 days, Baig then got into his elements as the transition from Oxford University to the hallowed portals of Test cricket wasn’t taxing on the young man.

Baig was considered a prodigy. He started playing First-Class cricket for Hyderabad in 1954, when still just 15. The season of 1959 for Oxford was quite phenomenal for Baig. Against Free Foresters his runs aggregated to 308 (221 not out and 87) to go past Derrick de Saram’s record of 283 runs. Baig’s aggregate is still an Oxford record. Baig’s efforts earned him a call from the national team, who were steamrolled in each of the previous 3 Tests.

Colin Cowdrey opted to take first strike on the Old Trafford track. England posted 490, thanks to centuries from opener Geoff Pullar (131) and Mike Smith (100). India were dismissed for 208 in their first innings with Chandu Borde (75) top-scoring. Baig scored only 26 in the first innings. England batted again and scored 265 for 8 and set India an improbable target of 548.

India lost Pankaj Roy (21) early in the second innings when Baig walked out to join Nari Contractor. Baig’s footwork was brilliant and his strokes were way too mature for his age. After three dour days, Old Trafford was rejuvenated by the 20-year-old Baig’s baptism by fire.

Baig had added 109 for the second wicket with Contractor when the latter fell for a well-compiled 56. India lost captain Datta Gaekwad soon after for a duck. Dusty Rhodes took both the wickets to peg India back considerably. Polly Umrigar joined Baig and the two looked comfortable. By that time, Baig was well-set and had held Indian innings together.

When Baig was batting on 85 Rhodes bowled a vicious bouncer which hit the Indian youngster on his head. Baig was forced to retire and India finished the fourth day at 236 for 4.

On Day five when Fred Trueman dismissed Bapu Nadkarni, Baig came out to bat again, resuming his innings of 85. Cowdrey brought Rhodes, the Derbyshire fast bowler, immediately into the attack to rattle Baig. But the Hyderabadi youngster didn’t flinch against the bouncer barrage bowled by Rhodes. Baig looked comfortable as he pulled, hooked and cut without any trouble and deservedly — the youngest Indian to achieve this record beating Madhav Apte’s then record by 11 days.

Baig’s dismissal for 112 triggered a batting collapse as India went on to lose the Test by 171 runs. India were whitewashed 0-5.

Baig, however, did not live up to the early promise. He went on to play only 9 more Tests.

Brief scores:

England 490 (Geoff Pullar 131, Mike Smith 100; Raman Surendranath 5 for 115) and 265 for 8 decl (Ray Illingworth 47*, Ken Barrington 46; Subhash Gupte 4 for 76) beat India 208 (Chandu Borde 75; Ken Barrington 3 for 36, Dusty Rhodes 3 for 72) and 376 (Polly Umrigar 118, Abbas Ali Baig 112; Fred Trueman 2 for 75, Ken Barrington 2 for 75) by 171 runs.

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)