This feature is part of Dawn.com's ongoing Pakistan Cricket History series:
- Pakistan cricket: A class, ethnic & sectarian history
- Reverse sweeps: Pakistan’s crazy cricket controversies
- Great Pakistan Captains (and then some)
- Pakistani balls!
|Richie Benaud: One of the most respected voices in cricket since 1964. (Picture courtesy: Daily Telegraph).|
Famous Australian cricket commentator, Richie Benaud, will turn 84 this October. Not only is he one of the most famous and respected voices in world cricket, he has been designated as an ‘Australian treasure’ by the government of Australia.
Benaud had had a successful Test career (as player and then captain of the Australian cricket side) prior to becoming one of the first former cricketers to take up commentary.
He retired as a cricketer in 1964 and almost immediately joined BBC Radio as a cricket commentator. He also happens to be the only cricket commentator to have survived and thrived across the many trends and changes that swept across international cricket — and along with it, the dynamics of cricket commentary — in the last 40 years.
For example, he began his career as a commentator in an era when commentators were largely cricket enthusiasts (mostly journalists and non-cricketing professionals) with little or no experience as Test or even first-class players.
Though most of them were highly articulate and knowledgeable about the game and many became almost as famous as the players, it was Benaud who (from the early 1970s onwards) began to add a new dimension to the art of cricket commentary by not only commentating on what was going on the field during a game, but also what was (possibly) going on in the players’ heads.
Richie Benaud pioneers new style
Being a former player, Benaud began to comment on the strategic and technical aspects of teams, players and individual matches. This was immediately picked up by the batch of Australian commentators who joined the profession from the late 1970s and were all former cricketers.
Former Australian captains, Ian Chappell, Keith Stackpole and Bill Lawry further upped the bar set by Benaud.
But even by the early 1990s, when cricket commentators were almost always former Test stars discussing the strategies and technical dimensions of bowling, batting and fielding; Benaud kept pace with the evolving ways of cricket commentary and till this day remains to be one of the most popular and respected commentators.
It's interesting to note that though Benaud has survived the many changes and tides that have swept across the vocation of professional cricket commentary, many of his contemporaries who were equally famous at one time or the other, have largely faded away.
The changes witnessed in how one commentated on a cricket game (for TV and radio) were most detrimental to commentators who (unlike Benaud) had not been professional cricketers.
Many famous voices in this respect eventually faded away once (by the late 1980s) cricket commentary started to become the sole domain of former cricket stars.
One of the most famous voices was that of England’s John Arllot (whose career as a commentator began in 1946 and lasted till 1981). He exited the arena in the early 1980s, around the time when former Test stars had begun entering this profession.
The only non-player commentators who have successfully survived the trend are the veteran West Indian, Tony Cosier (who’s been commentating since 1958), and India’s Harsha Bhogle (who arrived in the early 1990s).
English was and remains to be the universal language of cricket commentary, even though from the late 1970s onwards, it had begun to be provided in local languages in India (Hindi), Pakistan (Urdu), Bangladesh (Bangla), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese) and South Africa (Afrikaan).
The early years of Omar Kureishi and Jamsheed Markear
Cricket commentary in Pakistan has evolved the same way as it has in other cricket-playing nations. Two of the earliest well known commentators in the country were Omar Kureishi and Jamsheed Markear (a Pakistani Zoroastrian).
Both began commentating in Pakistan’s Test and first-class matches in Pakistan for Radio Pakistan in the early 1950s and both of them soon became mentors and friends of a number of leading Pakistani players of the era.
|A young Jamsheed Markear playing club cricket in Lahore in 1940s (Picture Credit: The Citizens Archives).|
Kureishi and Markear were close friends and came from impressive educational backgrounds in a country where a majority of people were still illiterate.
Kureishi was also a friend and former college and university classmate of then Pakistani foreign minister and future prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
By the mid-1950s, the Pakistan cricket team’s first (and one of the most influential) captains, AH Kardar, was often seen sharing drinks with Kureishi and Markear in various posh clubs of Lahore and Karachi.
Kardar would often take Kureishi’s advice on various cricketing matters and later when Kardar retired and wanted to enter politics, it was through Kureishi that he got to meet ZA Bhutto when the latter formed his own party — the populist left-liberal, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 1967. Kardar joined the party in 1970.
Though both Kureishi and Markear were already engaged in more well-paying professions and treated commentary as a hobby, Markear finally bowed out when he decided to become a full-time diplomat in 1965. In the following decades he would go on to represent Pakistan as an ambassador in various countries.
Markear’s departure left Kureishi to become the sole known cricket commentator in Pakistan. He was partnered by a few other aspirants very of whom lasted as long as he did.
|Omar Kureishi in his office in 1974 (Picture courtesy: The Pakistan Cricketer - February 1974 issue).|
However there was one who was first introduced by Radio Pakistan in 1968 who did last. He was a 23-year-old bespectacled Cambridge graduate from Karachi, Chishti Muhajid.
By 1970, when Pakistan’s then sole (state-owned) television channel, PTV, began to telecast Test matches live (in Pakistan), Mujahid became one of the country’s first cricket commentators on TV along with, of course, Kureishi.
Kureishi soon took Mujahid under his wings because by the early 1970s Kureishi’s influence on cricketing affairs had grown even more when his friend, ZA Bhutto, became the country’s prime minister and another friend, AH Kardar, was selected (by Bhutto) to head the Pakistan cricket board.
Consequently in 1974 Kureishi was made the manager of the Pakistan team that toured England that year. Meanwhile back home another commentator had emerged. Also from Karachi and as articulate and refined as Kureishi and Mujahid, Iftikhar Ahmed too became a Kureishi disciple.
By 1975 all three were commenting in tandem for PTV and Radio Pakistan, but during Pakistan’s home series against West Indies (1975) and New Zealand (1976), it was Kuresihi’s voice that remained prominent and he now became a close confidant of Pakistan’s new captain, Mushtaq Mohammad.
Kureishi also became famous for throwing lavish parties for the Pakistan team and for other teams visiting Pakistan. Mushtaq, Sadiq Mohammad and the team’s two flamboyant youngsters — Imran Khan and Wasim Raja — and the hot-headed fast bowler, Sarfraz Nawaz, would often visit Kureishi’s bungalow in Karachi.
|Sarfarz Nawaz at a party held at Omar Kureishi’s house in 1979. Kureishi can be seen sitting on a sofa.|
When (in 1977) five Pakistani players were banned by the government for joining the ‘rebel cricket league’ of Australian media tycoon, Kerry Packer, Kureishi intervened to get the bans lifted.
Despite the fact that Bhutto was toppled in July 1977 in a reactionary military coup by General Ziaul Haq and Kardar resigned as chief of the cricket board, Kureishi’s influence remained strong enough to make the new government and the new head of the cricket board consider recalling the banned players (Imran, Mushtaq, Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas and Asif Iqbal).
According to Mushtaq’s autobiography, after the banned players had missed the first two Tests of Pakistan’s home series against England (December 1977), the government agreed to recall the players for the third and last Test.
Mushtaq adds that they (the recalled players) did not know what transpired between the government and the England team while they were on their way from Australia to Karachi, but when they reached Karachi, they were ignored after being asked to join the rest of the team for practice sessions at Karachi’s National Stadium.
Mushtaq soon approached Kureishi and asked him what was going on. According to Mushtaq, Kureishi told him, ‘I have a few chilled bottles of beer in my fridge. Why don’t we go to our place and talk this over.’
The five banned players accompanied Kureishi to his house where they finally realised that Kureishi’s attempts to get them reinstated had been sabotaged by the English team who refused to play the last Test if the banned players were selected by Pakistan. The English side too had banned a number of their stars for joining Packer, as had the West Indies and Australia.
Even a one-on-one meeting between Zia and Mushtaq could not resolve the issue and the banned players flew back to Australia.
However, they were finally reinstated for the home series against India in late 1978. Mushtaq was once again made captain and Pakistan won the series 2-0.
|Chisty Mujahid in 1980.|
It was during this series that Kureishi’s two apprentices managed to actually upstage their mentor. During the last two Tests in which Pakistan needed quick runs to win, Iftikhar Ahmed found himself commentating at the peak moments of Pakistan’s two run-chases.
Compared to the more measured commentating styles of Kureishi and Mujahid, Ahmed’s commentary usually featured fluctuating emotions and overtly excitable surges. These may have sounded irritating when Pakistan, but it eventually turned Iftikhar into a commentating sensation after he accompanied the team’s two thrilling victories with shouts and jumps in the commentary box.
The famous duo of Chishty Mujahid and Iftikhar Ahmed
Ahmed and Mujahid become the new Kureishi and Markear of cricket commentary. Ahmed would continue to hone his excitable style and Mujahid would compliment him with his dryer, calmer and wittier ways of commentating.
In 1978, journalist and publisher, Munir Hussain, introduced Urdu commentary. He became the first Pakistani Urdu cricket commentator when he was given short slots on PTV and Radio Pakistan in between the longer slots reserved for Kureishi, Ahmed and Mujahid during the series against India.
Also introduced during the said series as an Urdu commentator was former Pakistan seam bowler, captain and heartthrob, Fazal Mahmood. Kureishi was not happy with the proceedings and suggested that ‘English language lends itself to cricket commentary like no other language.’ His protest was overruled.
Just as Hindi cricket commentary had had some rather odd and funny teething problems in India, Urdu commentary too came out sounding rather odd at first, when the commentators actually tried to translate each and every cricketing term into Urdu.
|Fazal during his short commentating stint in 1978 (Picture from DAWN Archives).|
For example, during the second Test in the India series in Lahore, this is how Fazal explained a ball bowled by Imran Khan to Mohindar Amernath:
‘Imran bhaagtey hooay aye (Imran comes running in), gaind karaai (he bowls), tapa gaind (a bouncer), Mohinder nein bala chalaya (Mohinder hooks/swings the bat), khilari gaind kay peechey (fielder chasing the ball) par chaar ranzain … (but it’s four runs)!’ Runs were curiously called ‘ranzain.’
According to Peter Obroune’s book ‘Cornered Tiger,’ Munir Hussain even tried to translate the googly delivery as ‘dhokay-baz gaind’ (deceitful ball). Eventually, things smoothened out and Urdu commentators began to use more and more English terms.
But it was Ahmed and Mujahid who became stars in their own right and could now be seen signing autographs, whereas Munir was joined by Hassan Jaleel and Bashir Khan as Urdu commentary began being given more time on the air. Another English commentator who joined the ranks was Shahzad Humayun. But he faded away after a brief impact in the early 1980s.
Though Mujahid became as famous as Ahmed, he remained to be a very private person. Ahmed on the other hand, who was an extrovert, became the new Kureishi, socializing with the players and befriending them. He particularly became a very good friend and confidant of Imran Khan and often advised him on a number of cricketing matters. Muneer too befriended leading Pakistani players (especially Javed Miandad).
By the late 1970s Radio Pakistan was sending Kureishi, Mujahid, Ahmed and Munir to cover Pakistan’s foreign tours. And in 1981 Ahmed became the first Pakistani cricket commentator to appear on Australia’s Channel 9 (alongside Richie Benaud, Tony Grieg, Keith Stackpole, Tony Cozier and Bill Lawry) to do commentary during Pakistan’s 1981 tour of Australia.
In the mid-1980s Mujahid, Ahmed and Munir reached the peak of their fame when they began to do commentary during the various ODI tournaments in Sharjah. It was Iftikhar who was commentating when Miandad hit that famous winning six against India in Sharjah in 1986.
|Munir Hussain (left) and Iftikhar Ahmed (right) with Imran Khan in the mid-1980s. (Picture courtesy: Akhbar-e-Watan).|
Perhaps it was their stint during the 1987 World Cup (in India and Pakistan) that turned out to be these commentators’ last hurrah.
The voices fade away...
As the trend of former players becoming full-time commentators began to take hold, Kureishi all but retired from the field and new cricket fans began to increasingly compare Ahmed and Mujahid with men like Benaud, Grieg, Ian Chappell, Lawry, Henry Blofeld, Ray Illingworth and Tony Lewis; whose commentary was now available more widely due to the expanding TV coverage of cricket matches.
It is interesting to note that whereas Mujahid and Ahmed had risen with a bang (in 1978) they departed from the field with a whimper. It is now hard to point out a particular year in which their once popular and loved voices suddenly vanished from TV and radio, but one won’t be too off the mark to suggest 1993 as the year when their popularity (if not careers) began to rapidly wither away.
When Pakistan toured the West Indies in 1993 (under Wasim Akram), Britain’s new TV network, SkyTV, and India’s equally new StarTV, were covering the series. The channels invited just one Pakistani commentator to join their panel of commentators, which was packed with former West Indian, Australian and English cricketers (except the veteran Tony Cozier).
The Pakistani who happened to be invited was not Ahmed or Mujahid, who had been dominating English commentary in Pakistan ever since the late 1970s and across 1980s; it was the former Pakistan fast bowler and captain, Imran Khan, who had retired from cricket in 1992.
Though Mujahid, Ahmed, Munir, Hassan Jaleel and a few other new (Urdu) commentators would continue to do commentating stints on radio, they were almost entirely overshadowed by international commentary panels formed and hired by various new private TV networks. These panels (that largely included former players), would travel to the countries where the networks were contracted to cover cricket series.
Very rarely were local commentators invited to join the panels and many (once famous commentators) faded away in countries like Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.
|In retirement: Iftikhar Ahmed and Omar Kureishi enjoying a cup of tea in 2003.|
In the late 1990s, former Pakistan opening batsman, Ramiz Raja, was offered a stint on an international commentators’ panel that now required the commentators to go through rigorous training.
Ramiz has gone on to become perhaps the most well-known Pakistani commentator in international cricket. His example was soon followed by other players such as Wasim Akram, Aamir Sohail and Waqar Younis.
In 2011, almost a decade and a half after their presence and fame began to wither away, Ahmed and Mujahid were invited (by PTV) to do a post-match discussion show.
After that, Mujahid was somewhat successful in reviving his career as a commentator as he got hired by Tensports to commentate on Pakistan’s matches in the UAE. But Ahmed retired again after the short 2011 stint. He migrated to Canada where he still lives.
Kureishi, who had also made a name for himself as an author and a popular columnist (for DAWN), passed away in 2005. Munir Hussain passed away in 2013.
Hassan Jaleel still does commentary for radio and TV, mostly during Pakistan’s domestic cricket tournaments.
• During Pakistan’s home series against India in 1978, PTV had invited former Indian captain, Lala Amarnath, to accompany Pakistani commentators as an expert. Lala, who was an old man by then, had a habit of going into non-stop, stream-of-conscience monologues when asked about his views on a particular aspect of the on-going match.
During the third day of the Test match in Karachi, Iftikhar Ahmed asked him a question during a drinks break. Lala kept on talking throughout the break and was still talking when play resumed. Iftikhar continued to politely interrupt: ‘okay, okay, thank you, okay, okay, thank you ..’
But when he realized that the former Indian skipper would just not stop, he cut him off and began to comment on the game. Lala reacted angrily and almost shouted: ‘Quiet, let me finish!’ After an awkward silence, he added: ‘What’s the hurry, no?’
• In the same series, when Mushtaq Mohammad (who was also a leg-break bowler) bowled a googly to an Indian batsman, Munir Hussain, in his first major stint as an Urdu commentator fished for an Urdu translation of the googly ball and came up with ‘dhokay-baaz gaind’ (treacherous ball). He said this with a completely straight face.
|The enterprising Munir Hussain.|
• Munir Hussain was also a successful publisher and owned a famous Urdu sport’s monthly, Akbar-e-Watan. He was in India as a commentator for Radio Pakistan during Pakistan’s disastrous tour of India in late 1979. His magazine would publish some fantastic and exclusive photos of Pakistani players visiting parties thrown by Bollywood actors and actresses.
But when Pakistan began to lose Test matches and Pakistani and Indian tabloids began to whisper about many of the Pakistani players’ romantic, sexual and alcohol-drenched escapades on the tour; Hussain, who was close to Pakistan captain Asif Iqbal, suddenly started to publish heart-felt bits about how nice the players actually were.
In a January 1980 issue of Akhbar-e-Jehan (after Pakistan were 1-down in the series), Munir sent a report on how Pakistan’s left-arm spinner, Iqbal Qasim, had ‘been like a mother’ to the squad’s other left-arm spinner, Abdul Raqueeb, during the latter’s brief illness ion the tour. The headline of the report read: ‘Qasim nein Raqueeb ki maan ka role ada keeya.’ Again, all done with a straight face.
• During the first Test in Pakistan’s home series against Australia in 1980, Omar Kureishi was commentating when he suddenly stopped after a crashing sound was heard in the background. The sound was soon followed by a burst of giggling.
According to Iftikhar Ahmed (many years later), a commentator (Ahmed didn’t take his name) was sitting and looking bored in a chair in the commentary box when the chair suddenly broke and the commentator landed hard on his backside. This triggered an uncontrollable fit of giggling among the other commentators. The funny commotion was heard live on TV by the audiences.
• In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Pakistani commentators had a strange habit of asking a guest (a cricketer or an expert) a question but then looking elsewhere, as if they were not interested at all in what the guest had to say.
Some players like Miandad would continue to answer without bothering to see whether the commentator was exhibiting any interest or not, while others would get a tad perplexed and stop mid-sentence only to be asked to continue by the commentator, who would again begin to look elsewhere, prompting the guest to stop again.
PTV’s famous satire show, Fifty-Fifty brilliantly parodied this habit in 1981. During a match in an ODI tournament in Sharjah in 1985, Iftikhar Ahmed asked former Pakistan captain, Asif Iqbal, a question. Just as Asif began to answer, Ahmed turned the other way and began to look towards a spectators’ stand. Asif stopped. He looked confused. Iftikhar turned his attention back towards Asif again, asking him to go on. As Asif began from the top again, Ahmed now almost got up to see the scene underneath the commentary box. This again confused Asif and he stopped. Iftikhar pulled himself back on his seat, looked at Asif and then told the viewers it was time for a break.
• An embarrassing episode took place live on PTV at the end of the second Test (in Hyderabad) during Pakistan’s home series against New Zealand.
New Zealand lost the match and its captain, Jeremy Coney, was invited by Iftikhar Ahmed for a post-match interview. Iftikhar began praising Pakistani bowling and asked Coney whether he thought Pakistan had the best spinners. Coney immediately flew off the handle and began to angrily crib about the umpiring.
Ahmed as usual had started to look elsewhere after asking the question, but suddenly became extremely interested and tried hard to change the subject. But Coney refused to stop badmouthing the umpires. He concluded by saying that his team was now thinking of abandoning the tour. Saying this, he got up and left. Ahmed turned to the camera and said: ‘Well … thank you, Coney, we wish you and your team best of luck.’
No, he wasn’t being sarcastic. Just shell-shocked.
• Iftikhar Ahmed was a much loved commentator. But sometimes his excitability used to get the better of him. As a result, he became famous for certain exaggerations. One of his most famous phrases were ‘It’s up in the aaaiirrr …!’
He used to shout that phrase every single time the ball was hit in the air and there was a chance for a catch. But it got quite funny when some shots that saw the ball whiz across a mere few inches above the ground would trigger the ‘it’s up in the aiirrrr …!’ chant from Ahmed. Viewers would be left baffled, thinking a player needed to be not more than two inches tall to catch that one.
• Former Pakistan captain, AH Kardar, was invited by PTV to do commentary during Pakistan’s tour of India in 1987.
Kardar, who loved his drink, would often arrive in the commentary box all tipsy. But he did a pretty good job until the moment when Pakistan (under Imran Khan), won a nail-biting Test (and with it the series).
Kardar was partnering Urdu commentator, Bashir Ahmed, at the time, and when Pakistan took the last Indian wicket, Kardar erupted: ‘We have done it, Bashir! We have defeated the Hindus! We have defeated the Hindus!’
Kardar was a staunch nationalist and patriot but in no way was he ever a bigot or overtly religious. That’s why after Bashir Khan noticed that Kardar may have just tripped over himself, he quite diplomatically and quietly pushed the microphone away from Kardar, nervously commenting: 'Kardar sahib bohat khush haien. Khushi achi cheez hoti hai …' (Mr. Kardar is very happy. And it's good to be happy).