KARACHI: Pakistan cricket is mourning the passing away of former Test batsman Azmat Rana, who died of cardiac arrest in his hometown of Lahore on Saturday at age of 63.
During Sunday’s final One-day International of the three-match series, the Pakistan players and match officials wore black armbands as a mark of respect for the late cricketer, who played at the domestic level for Punjab, Bahawalpur, PIA and Muslim Commercial Bank in a career which spanned from 1969-70 until 1985-86.
Hailing from the famous Rana family, Azmat was a fine left-handed middle-order batsman who appeared in just a solitary Test and two One-day Internationals during a golden period when Pakistan were blessed with a host of world-class players.
Generally regarded as a fine batsman, Azmat’s playing career coincided with that of Wasim Raja — the former Pakistan all-rounder and ex-ICC match referee who collapsed and died in August 2006 at Marlow (Buckinghamshire) while playing in a veteran cricket game for Surrey.
Ironically, both Azmat and Wasim were sent for the second leg of Pakistan’s visit to Australia and New Zealand in 1972-73 as replacements for Mohammad Ilyas and Saeed Ahmed respectively who were asked to return home from Australia for disciplinary reasons.
Azmat was a also member of the national team which went to England in 1971 but didn’t make his international debut until October 1978 when India toured Pakistan for the first time in more than 17 years. Opening the innings in the second One-day International at Sialkot, Azmat hit an unbeaten 22 as Pakistan sealed an eight-wicket win.
Azmat scored 20 at Sahiwal in what proved to be his last ODI, a game Pakistan won in unusual circumstances when India skipper Bishen Singh Bedi conceded the match in protest against the bowling tactics employed by the home side.
Azmat’s last appearance at the international level was his Test debut in the third and final match against Australia at Lahore in March 1980. He scored 49 from 94 balls with eight boundaries before being caught by Australian captain Greg Chappell off spinner Graeme Beard in Pakistan’s only innings. In that same Test, Azhar Khan, a current selector, made his solitary appearance in international cricket.
In 94 first-class matches, Azmat scored 6001 runs at 47.62 with 16 centuries — highest being 206 not out for Punjab Greens against the NWFP (now known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) in a Quaid-i-Azam Trophy fixture at Peshawar in September 1977.
In 17 List ‘A’ (limited-overs) matches, Azmat scored 442 runs ave 40.18 with a best of 96 for PIA against Pakistan Universities in the final of the Servis Cup at Lahore in December 1974.
Later on, he was a regular in veterans cricket and for the national teams against the Indian veterans, notably when golden oldies of Pakistan went across the border for a series of matches in December 2003.
Azmat, who left behind two sons and two daughters besides his wife, later served as a PCB match referee in 31 first-class and 25 List ‘A’ fixtures between November 1994 and March 2004.
His eldest brother Shakoor Rana, who died in April 2001 aged 65, was an experienced cricket umpire who officiated in 18 Tests and 22 One-day Internationals. Shakoor was involved in the notorious finger-wagging incident with the then England captain Mike Gatting during the Faisalabad Test of the incident-packed series in 1987 which resulted in an entire’s day play being lost — the game resumed on day four after Gatting wrote an apology to the colourful Pakistan umpire.
Two of Shakoor’s sons, Mansoor and Maqsood, have also played briefly for Pakistan with batsman Mansoor playing two One-day Internationals and paceman Maqsood one ODI in 1990 without much success. Mansoor, at presently is working at the National Cricket Academy and was the Pakistan ‘A’ batting coach during their recent tour of Sri Lanka.
Another of Azmat’s elder brothers Shafqat Rana, now 71, appeared in five Tests between 1964 and 1969 before serving Pakistan cricket in various capacities including a national selector twice. One of Shafqat’s sons, Moammar Rana, is a well-known film and TV actor.
Third among the Rana brothers is Sultan Rana, a former first-class player who later became a cricket administrator. A former first-class player who later became a cricket administrator, Sultan shares the same date and year of birth as the late Azmat with both born on Nov 3, 1951.
However, according to sources in the Rana family, Sultan — currently associated with Asian Cricket Council — is not Azmat’s twin as many believe them to be because Sultan’s actual date of birth is different to the one mentioned in the official data.
Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2015