Ghulam Guard. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Born December 12, 1925, Ghulam Guard  was the first left-arm seamer to open bowling for India. Despite an excellent First-Class career, Guard got to play a mere two Tests. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a police sub-inspector-turned Superintendent, who could have been India’s answer to the seamers of his era.

At 6’3”, Ghulam Mustafa Guard stood tall — literally — among contemporary Indians. It was fitting that he would work in the police. It must have been quite a sight, watching him strolling on streets in his uniform. He also took to cricket, and bowled at a lively pace, but relied more on movement of the ball.

Sujit Mukherjee, in Playing for India, wrote that Guard was “a tall, high-shouldered man, who shuffled up to the wicket in twelve steps and ran the ball away from the right-handed batsmen at distinctly above medium pace, especially when fresh.” Ramachandra Guha, in Wickets in the East, called Guard “tall and rangy”; however, Mihir Bose, in A History of Indian Cricket, added that he lacked “energy” and “skill”.

It is believed that Guard was the tallest cricketer to play for India in the 65-year period between Ladha Ramji (6’4”) and Abey Kuruvilla (6’5”). Guard was also a left-arm bowler: for a generation used to Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Irfan Pathan, and RP Singh, it is difficult to believe that India seldom had a left-arm seamer of quality in the 20th century barring Rusi Surti and Karsan Ghavri.

In a career spanning 16 seasons, Guard played 41 First-Class matches, mostly for Bombay — though he started and finished his career with stints for Gujarat. His career numbers read 124 wickets at a phenomenal 20.53; 93 of these, at 19.33, came after he turned 30.

Unfortunately, he never got a Test cap until he was well in his thirties, and was sidelined after his first failure.

Early days

Born in Surat, Guard stood out among his contemporaries at an early age, thanks to his remarkable frame. He continued with his studies alongside cricket, and eventually did an Intermediate Level BA before taking up a job in Gujarat police.

Guard’s debut came under confusing circumstances, in the turbulent winter of 1946-47. As geographical boundaries of India were about to be rewritten, the definitions of Ranji Trophy sides turned blurry.

Thus, when Kathiawar included Gogumal Kishenchand of Sind in their side, they had to seek permission from BCCI. Unfortunately, the approval came only after Pradyumansinhji Lakhajirajsinhji, the Thakore Saheb of Rajkot, won the toss, and despite Gujarat’s protests, the match went on.

Gujarat boasted of Alimuddin and Jasu Patel in addition to their captain, Vinoo Mankad. Guard, brought on first-change, removed Vajubha (full name not known), and came back to wrap up the tail. He finished with 4 for 50, but Akbar Khan bowled Kathiawar to a 6-run win.

However, BCCI upheld Gujarat’s protests, and the match was replayed two weeks later. Gujarat won by an innings, but Guard did not play. His next appearance also came against Kathiawar — the following season — but for Bombay.

Guard had a quiet debut, but came to his elements in the semi-final against Hyderabad. Making use of the early morning Bombay conditions, Guard clean bowled the first three Hyderabad batsmen, reducing them to 15 for 3. He finished the match with 3 for 53 and 6 for 46, and Bombay romped to the final. Unfortunately, they were thwarted by CK Nayudu’s Holkar in the final, where Guard went wicketless.

Guard found it difficult to break through to the Bombay team thereafter. He had a season for Gujarat in 1953-54, but was back for Bombay the season after; his profession involved more transfers than he would probably have liked. Even then, he did not have a guaranteed spot in the side. A Test cap seemed an almost impossible ask. Then came 1957-58.

Rising through the ranks

Guard started the season with 2 for 42 and 2 for 20 against Baroda, but more significantly, all four were clean bowled. Spells of 5 for 48 (three bowled, two caught-behind) and 3 for 40 against Saurashtra followed.

However, the haul that took Guard to limelight was against Baroda — he had 5 for 63 in the first innings — when he clean-bowled both Datta Gaekwad and Vijay Hazare. Bombay conceded a 48-run lead, but Guard, bowling first over, reduced Baroda to 1 for 2.

Guard’s 20 wickets in the tournament came at 14.65. He topped the charts for Bombay. The selectors liked what they saw, and Guard was given a Test cap the following season against West Indies. Guard was 33 at this stage.

Guard took first over, and in the process became the first left-arm seamer to take new ball for India (he could well have been the first left-arm bowler, but Vinoo Mankad opened bowling when England needed 76 at Green Park, 1951-52).

Conrad Hunte fell for a duck before John Holt and Garry Sobers steadied ship before Holt fell. The score read 50 for 2 when Guard bounced at Sobers. The great man hooked, but the ball was probably quicker than the man thought: the bat was knocked out of Sobers’ hands, and Guard took the catch himself. Mukherjee would later write that Guard “made the most famous arrest of his career.”

He did not get another wicket (the bulk of the bowling was done by Subhash Gupte and Bapu Nadkarni), but finished with figures of 15-7-19-1. West Indies were bowled out for 227 but hit back, skittling out India for 152. Batting at No. 10 Guard was cleaned up by Roy Gilchrist.

India were already on the back-foot, but Guard gave them hope: Hunte and Holt took the score to 37 before the latter fell hit one high to Nadkarni, and Holt followed without the addition of another run, caught by Manohar Hardikar. But though Rohan Kanhai failed, Sobers went on a rampage, adding 119 with Collie Smith and an unbroken 134 with Basil Butcher before setting India 399 in a little short of 10 hours.

The match was saved by a heroic effort from Pankaj Roy, who batted 444 minutes for his 90, and a gutsy fifth-wicket partnership between Gulabrai Ramchand and Hardikar. For some reason Guard was dropped despite his match figures of 3 for 88; no Indian took more wickets in the Test barring Gupte (6 for 197).

Guard did not feature for the rest of the series — one that featured four Indian captains in five Tests and India being thrashed 0-3. Guard was also not a part of the England tour of 1959, where India were whitewashed 0-5. He would, in all probability, have been more effective in England than at home.

The next season he took 3 for 37 and 5 for 14 to rout Gujarat for 96 and 63. Once again he was recalled for a Test, this time against Australia; once again it was at Brabourne Stadium, just after Jasu Patel won them a Test with his 9-wicket haul at Green Park. By this time he had been promoted to sub-inspector.

Note: Coincidentally, when Guard was dropped after the West Indies Test, the next Test was played at Green Park. On that occasion Subhash Gupte had taken a 9-for.

India put up 289 this time. Guard, batting at No. 11, was claimed by Alan Davidson for 7. He met with little success thereafter, as Neil Harvey and Norman O’Neill thrashed the Indians around, adding 207 for the third wicket. Nadkarni (6 for 105) was the only one to put up any resistance, and Richie Benaud declared with a 98-run lead.

India batted well, with four men scoring between 43 and 58. Australia were eventually left with 25 minutes worth of batting, during which Guard bowled his last over in Test cricket. He finished his career with 3 wickets at 60.67.

That final hurrah

Back to domestic cricket, Guard found success in that season’s Ranji Trophy. He took 5 for 47 (four bowled, one LBW) against Baroda and 5 for 37 against Services in the semi-final, in consecutive matches. Bombay met Mysore in the final.

Mysore began strongly after Bombay piled up 504 (Hardikar and Ramchand scored hundreds), adding 63 for the opening stand. Then a spell from Guard left them reeling at 70 for 3. They never recovered, and were bowled out for 221. Guard finished with 5 for 66 (three bowled, one LBW).

Polly Umrigar enforced the follow-on, and this time Mysore were bowled out for 261. Guard claimed 4 for 69 (three bowled, one LBW). He finished the season with 31 wickets at 15. He won accolades, including a mention in The Indian Police Journal (Volume 5): “Ghulam Guard, Sub-Inspector in the Bombay State Police Force, hit newspaper headlines with his fine spell of bowling in the Ranji Trophy Cricket Final between Bombay and Mysore.”

Not many cricketers can boast of this.

The Bombay Ranji Trophy winning side of 1959-60. Photo courtesy: H Natarajan.
Front, from left: Manohar Hardikar, Vishwanath Lele, HD Amroliwala, NK Tantra (12th man), Sharad Diwadkar, Sudhakar Adhikari.
Back, from left: Naren Tamhane, Madhav Apte, Polly Umrigar (c), Gulabrai Ramchand, Ramnath Kenny, Ghulam Guard.

Guard’s form spilled over to the Irani Cup, where his 3 for 69 and 1 for 18 were instrumental in the win.

Bombay continued with their run the next season, retaining the Trophy, beating Rajasthan thanks to Ramakant Desai’s 11 for 90. Guard played his role: in the quarter-final against Saurashtra he had 1 for 15 and 2 for 5; and in the semi-final, he knocked out Delhi with 5 for 47 and 1 for 13.

Thereafter, Guard’s profession took him away from Bombay. He went on to become Superintendent of Police in Gujarat. He had one final season, for Gujarat, in 1962-63, and finished the season with 10 wickets at 18.80.

Ghulam Guard passed away on March 13, 1978 at Ahmedabad. He was 52.

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