KCIbrahim
KC Ibrahim. Photo courtesy: The Gulu Ezekiel collection

Few have matched Khanmohammad Cassumbhoy ‘KC’ Ibrahim, born January 26, 1919 when it came to scoring runs. A member of the elite club who averaged over 60 at First-Class level, Ibrahim scored runs with relentless consistency for over a decade in domestic cricket. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at an epitome of consistent batsmanship.

It was a tense morning at Brabourne Stadium. The Muslims, chasing 298 in the 1944-45 Bombay Pentangular final, had lost Anwar Hussain before stumps. When Ebrahim Maka fell next morning, the score read 19 for 2.

Before that, however, there was a small bit of drama. There were a ‘hollow pit’ at one end, caused (in all probability) by footmarks. It was almost impossible for fast bowlers to operate from the Churchgate End.

Hindus captain Vijay Merchant asked for the pit to be filled. The umpires asked Mushtaq Ali, captain of the Muslims. Mushtaq relented: he wanted to play it the proper way.

Gul Mohammad fought gamely with 42, but Mohammad Ghazali and Inayat Khan followed in quick succession.

Captain Mushtaq walked out. He had been hit on the ribcage by Shute Banerjee in the first innings. He was not expected to bat, and was seated in the gallery, next to his mentor CK Nayudu.

Nayudu, who lived and forced others to live life the Spartan way, insisted Mushtaq batted: “Go you must, Mushtaq, and play your natural game.” And Mushtaq strode out. He scored a brisk 36, but Saeed Ahmed fell soon; at 164 for 7 it seemed a lost battle.

KC Ibrahim, who had opened batting the evening before, was still there. He was joined by Abdul Hafeez, who would play 3 Tests for India before adding ‘Kardar’ to his name and becoming the first captain of Pakistan.

They needed 134 with 3 wickets in hand. Hafeez did not think it was likely.

They had a conversation in the middle, following which Kardar curbed his natural aggressive instinct. He held one end up, scoring 35 as Ibrahim paraded on, unperturbed, as if there was nothing at stake.

The first fifty had taken him 142 minutes; the second took 143. He refused to flinch.

Then Hafeez was run out. Then Amir Elahi (who, like Gul Mohammad and Hafeez, would later play for Pakistan) walked out and scored a brisk 30.

When he fell, Muslims still needed another four. Mohammad Baloch, father of Aftab, missed the first ball but managed three off the next. When Ibrahim sealed the match with a stroke past mid-wicket, there were a mere 5 minutes left. Ibrahim had batted 349 minutes for his 137 not out.

Hafeez (Kardar) later wrote in his autobiography: “Whenever things went against me as a captain, I took inspiration from this great match. It inspired me to fight until the last ball was bowled.”

Mushtaq later reminisced in his autobiography Cricket Delightful: “Ibrahim was playing the match of his life. He was solid as the Rock of Gibraltar.”

These were generous compliments, but it was just another day at work for Ibrahim: in a career spanning a decade, Ibrahim scored 4,716 runs at a near-unbelievable 61.24. Indeed, as Madhav Mantri told ESPNCricinfo, “In the ’50 and ’60s young boys used to be told, ‘Bat like KC. Stay at the wicket and the runs will definitely come.’”

The meaning of the word ‘consistent’ has been devalued with time. It is common practice these days to evaluate a cricketer as consistent based on performances over a few weeks. Decades back it was not easy, maintaining records across years, decades, purple patches, loss of form. A string of high performances was often followed by an abyss, and the numbers evened out over time.

It was not the same with Ibrahim, one of the champions of Indian cricket in the 1940s. He was a glutton for runs, and that is an understatement. Short (he was not even 5’7”) and spunky, he could play all around the wicket, both off front-foot and back, but his real strength lay in his superlative concentration levels. He simply refused to get out, willing to grind out for as long as possible to get those runs.

Highest averages in First-Class cricket (50 or more innings)

Player

M

R

HS

Ave

100s

50s

Don Bradman

234

28,067

452*

95.14

117

69

Vijay Merchant

150

13,470

359*

71.64

45

52

George Headley

103

9,921

344*

69.86

33

44

Ajay Sharma

129

10,120

259*

67.46

38

36

Bill Ponsford

162

13,819

437

65.18

47

43

Bill Woodfull

174

13,388

284

64.99

49

58

Shantanu Sugwekar

85

6,563

299*

63.10

19

26

KC Ibrahim

60

4,716

250

61.24

14

22

Cricket, Indian or otherwise, has seldom witnessed an accumulator of this stature. And yet, despite an excellent debut, he played a mere 4 Tests. He probably deserved a longer rope.

Runs and runs and runs

Ibrahim was the eldest of four sons of a landlord belonging to a Bombay Khoja community. He went to St Xavier’s, and was, among other things, an excellent student, with particular aptitude in mathematics.

Makarand Waingankar wrote in A Million Broken Windows: The Magic and Mystique of Bombay Cricket: “As a teenager, Ibrahim was known to be supremely intelligent … he would solve complicated problems in a jiffy and scored brilliant marks in mathematics.”

Ibrahim failed on made his Pentangular debut. In fact, his first 7 matches, played over three seasons, yielded a mere 174 runs and a solitary fifty. He was getting runs at University level, but he needed to succeed at First-Class level.

He found his groove in the Rohinton Baria Trophy of 1939-40, scoring 30, 120*, 51, 53, and 74 in the consecutive innings. Do note this tendency of getting runs in a bunch. He finished the tournament with 430 runs at 86, way ahead of Hemu Adhikari (292), the next on the list.

The St Xavier's College team of 1942. In the middle row, the first four from left are Rusi Modi, Anwar Sheikh, KC Ibrahim, and Russi Cooper. Behind Ibrahim is Jimmy Wadia. Photo courtesy: The Gulu Ezekiel collection
The St Xavier’s College team of 1942.
In the middle row, the first four from left are Rusi Modi, Anwar Sheikh, KC Ibrahim, Russi Cooper. Behind Ibrahim is Jimmy Wadia. Photo courtesy: The Gulu Ezekiel collection

It was roughly at this stage that he adopted the two-eyed stance, as his classmate Russi Cooper later told Waingankar. It made him a better back-foot player, as per Cooper, but also more defensive. It also played a crucial role in those gargantuan knocks.

Selected for the Ranji Trophy the following year, he started with 61. The next season he slammed 230 not out against Western India. Merchant and Ibrahim competed with each other throughout the tournament as Bombay reached the final against Mysore. At this stage Merchant led Ibrahim by 56.

It turned out to be a one-sided affair. Mysore were no match for the off-breaks of Jehangir Khot, who took 6 for 19 and 5 for 40. Between the two innings, however, Merchant and Ibrahim went about their business. They came together at 209 for 3 and added 126 in 92 minutes before Merchant fell for 60.

This meant that Ibrahim needed 117 to become the top-scorer. He did exactly that, and was stumped without adding another run, finishing on 469 to Merchant’s 468.

No documentation is available for Ibrahim’s scores for another year, and on return to competitive cricket he slammed 186 not out in the Rohinton Baria Trophy final.

In a relief fund match next month (this was given First-Class status) Vijay Hazare scored an emphatic 264, taking Bengal Cyclone XI to 703. In response, Bijapur Famine XI were reduced to 128 for 5; then Ibrahim responded to Hazare with 250, while DB Deodhar and Khandu Rangnekar both scored hundreds. It would remain Ibrahim’s highest First-Class score.

Despite this level of consistency, Ibrahim did not make it to the Indian tour of England in 1946. Once the tourists were back, they played two matches under the curious name ‘India to England Touring Team’, against Rest of India. Playing for the latter, Ibrahim scored 56, 34, 39, and 145.

He followed this with three more fifties in the next four innings before deciding to have mercy on the bowlers: his last three innings of the season were 2, 4, and 2.

The golden winter

Whatever be the reason, Ibrahim was omitted again, this time for the tour of Australia in 1947-48. He decided to take it out on the hapless bowlers, and as a result, ended up setting a world record that still stands.

It started with the Bombay Festival Tournament, where Ibrahim led one of the four sides (for the record, Madhav Mantri, Madan Raiji, and Maneck Engineer led the other three.

It went like this: Raiji’s XI scored 351; Ibrahim, in response, carried his bat with 218. The rest of the side did not do well, succumbing to 380. Chasing 261 they finished on 240 for 5, winning on first-innings lead. Ibrahim remained unbeaten on 36 from No. 5.

By this time the bowlers realised Ibrahim’s was the wicket to take, but they were simply not good enough. He carried his bat again, this time with 234, taking his side to 398. Mantri declared with his side 27 ahead.

Ibrahim went for a quick declaration, setting 114. He remained unbeaten on 77 himself. Unfortunately, that could not ensure a victory for his side.

Ibrahim finished the tournament with 565 runs from two matches without being dismissed. He carried his bat twice, and scored double-hundreds every time. But he was not through, for there was a world record to be claimed.

Back in 1929-30, on MCC’s tour of West Indies, Patsy Hendren had amassed 205*, 254*, and 171 in consecutive innings — a tally of 630 runs between dismissals.

In 1941-42 Merchant went past him, with 634. Once again Ibrahim found himself chasing Merchant. This time he needed a ‘mere’ 70 to better his record.

So Ibrahim responded with 144 in the next match, for Bombay against Sind, before hitting one back to leg-spinner Bras D’Cunha off his bowling. He still holds the world record for most First-Class runs between dismissals. As per Bill Frindall, Graeme Hick is the only one to have scored 600 runs between dismissals (though Hick has surpassed both Hendren and Merchant, he is way short of Ibrahim’s tally).

More than 600 First-Class runs between dismissals

Player

Runs

Sequence

Team

Against

Season

KC Ibrahim

709

218*

KC Ibrahim’s XI

Madan Raiji’s XI

1947-48

36*

234*

KC Ibrahim’s XI

Madhav Mantri’s XI

77*

144

Bombay

Sind

Graeme Hick

645

171*

Worcestershire

Somerset

1990

69*

252*

Worcestershire

Glamorgan

100*

53

Worcestershire

Derbyshire

Vijay Merchant

634

170

Bombay

Nawanagar

1941-42

243

Hindus

Muslims

221

Hindus

Parsees

Patsy Hendren

630

205

England

West Indies

1929-30

254

MCC

British Guiana

171

MCC

British Guiana

Stopping after a world record, however, would have been too commonplace. So Ibrahim decided to follow it up with 159. Though there was no more hundred in the 7 innings that followed, he crossed 30 every time, and averaged 62.

Of course, he had a reason to be spurred on, for he was leading Bombay this time. He scored 49 and 52 in the final, but could not prevent CK’s Holkar from winning the Trophy with a 9-wicket win. He finished the tournament with 606 runs at 87, way clear of Mushtaq’s 406. The season fetched him 1,171 runs at 167. He was an obvious recipient of an Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year.

They could not keep him out anymore. When West Indies came over the following winter, Ibrahim made his Test debut alongside Keki Tarapore.

Test cricket

For a few minutes into the Test, it seemed John Goddard had erred in batting first. Bowling with reasonable pace for an Indian, Commandur Rangachari reduced the tourists to 27 for 3. Then Clyde Walcott, Gerry Gomez, Everton Weekes, and Robert Christiani all got hundreds, and West Indies put up 631.

Ibrahim began shakily, edging one through the slip cordon off Prior Jones for two and surviving an LBW appeal from Gomez. Then Jones trapped Vinoo Mankad leg-before. The score read 8 for 1. It was only the third morning.

Rusi Modi took the situation in his own hands as Ibrahim grew in confidence. He started middling the ball more and more, and even “late cut Jones through four slips” (The Indian Express).

Jones retaliated by hitting Ibrahim on his chest, but the debutant carried on, unperturbed. His job was to see the new ball off, which he did, with a single here and a two there, hitting the occasional boundary, letting Modi score the bulk of the runs. Modi reached his fifty, and the hundred of the stand came up in 163 minutes.

Ibrahim lofted Jeffrey Stollmeyer over mid-wicket for six to bring up his fifty, from 144 minutes. Then Modi holed out, making way for Lala Amarnath. Ibrahim carried on, batting for 213 minutes “without a blemish”. Of his 9 fours, the most spectacular was probably the last, a rollicking straight-drive off Goddard.

Then, just as it seemed he would become the second Indian to score a hundred on Test debut (after Amarnath), he was leg-before to one from Gomez that kept low.

India folded for 454 the next evening. Goddard enforced the follow-on, which meant India had to bat out a day. Defence was the only possible way out. And defence was something Ibrahim was good at.

Mankad lasted longer this time, scoring 17, before Goddard pegged his middle-stump back. Meanwhile, Ibrahim had taken charge, with a pulled four off Jones.

Once again Modi joined Ibrahim, and once again they batted brilliantly in tandem. This time Ibrahim did not hold himself back. The West Indians fielded were outstanding on the field, but the Indians still managed to steal singles.

Then Ibrahim played one to Christiani at cover and set off. There was probably a run in it, but Modi noticed Weekes swooping down from cover-point, and sent Ibrahim back. Walcott whipped the bails off, and Ibrahim was left short of his crease. His 44 had come off 130 minutes.

The Indian Express was generous in his appreciation: “Ibrahim was playing grand cricket and did not look like getting out. The bowling well-handled by Goddard never troubled him in the least and he had fully justified the claim that at the present moment he is the best batsman in the opening country.”

India saved the Test, but it went all wrong for Ibrahim thereafter. He scored 9 and 0 in the second Test at Bombay, and 1 and 25 in the third at Calcutta. The last performance was not too bad: chasing 431, Mushtaq and Ibrahim added 84 for the opening stand, and India finished on 325 for 3.

Ibrahim was dropped for the fourth Test at Madras. Debutant Madhusudan Rege was used as Mushtaq’s partner. Unfortunately, India were bowled out for 245 and 144, and lost by an innings.

Recalled for the fifth Test at Bombay (presumably because of his 113 against Bengal in the interim), Ibrahim failed again — inexplicably — with 4 and 1. This was the historic match where umpire Bapu Joshi’s miscalculation and overexcitement cost India their first Test win.

Mopping up

Ibrahim never played another Test, but there was a mission to be accomplished, for he was captain of Bombay. In the final, and Ibrahim scored a resounding 219, and Bombay put up 620. He did not enforce the follow-on despite a 352-run lead, and set Baroda 714. The poor tourists collapsed to 245.

Surprisingly, he played only two matches after that, both against the Commonwealth XI next season. As always, scored 128 in one of the two innings he batted in. His First-Class career came to an end a fortnight after his 31st birthday — and the day when India became a Republic.

As Cooper told Waingankar, Ibrahim married a close relative of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and moved to Pakistan soon afterwards. There is some ambiguity over the year: while some sources say 1950, others mention 1952.

A matriculate, Ibrahim worked as an income tax officer before delving into his own business of importing piece goods.

He settled down in Karachi, and his health deteriorated with age. As per renowned sports journalist and memorabilia collector Gulu Ezekiel, Ibrahim — at that point the oldest-living Indian Test cricketer — agreed to interviews but refused to be photographed as he was bedridden. He was, after all, a heartthrob in Bombay in his prime.

Khanmohammad Cassumbhoy Ibrahim passed away on November 12, 2007. He was 88. He was survived by his wife, two sons, a daughter, and his grandchildren.

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