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Pakistan's only cricket museum — Guarding the wicket for the Gentleman's Game

The timeline of the museum extends from cricket in colonial India to the game’s dominance in Pakistani consciousness.
Updated 11 Jun, 2016 01:54pm

I’ve always believed Lahore is the cultural capital of Pakistan. Famed for its architecture, one of its lesser-known marvels is the Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Ground, the second oldest cricket ground in the South Asian subcontinent.

The cricket ground is nestled in the Bagh-e-Jinnah. Because I live near the garden, it was my morning routine to walk through the park. Sometimes I approached the boundary of the ground and watched the golden hours of the morning illuminate the lofty colonial architecture. But it had just never occurred to me to cross inside and enter the building.

Until one pleasant spring day, I relented to my curiosity and crossed the boundary with a camera in hand.

Nestled within the Bagh-e-Jinnah, is one of the most picturesque cricket arenas of the world.
Nestled within the Bagh-e-Jinnah, is one of the most picturesque cricket arenas of the world.

I discovered a vast ground and a magnificent pavilion. The pavilion is in log-house style and built of imported oak. It was designed by G. Stone and Bahi Ram Singh, a great architect reputed for his designs in the British Raj.

In its style, the pavilion closely resembles the Punjab Exhibition Hall (Tollinton Market) on the Mall Road next to Anarkali Bazaar.

Established in 1880, Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Ground is the second oldest cricket ground in the Indian subcontinent.
Established in 1880, Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Ground is the second oldest cricket ground in the Indian subcontinent.

The first to greet me was a plaque on the central door, which narrated 130 years of cricket in the subcontinent and provided some useful information about the Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Ground itself.

Apparently, the ground used to be a balloon ascent site in the early 19th century. In 1880, the site became a cricket ground and the phenomenal pavilion was erected around the same time to service the new found sports complex.

The field was originally a balloon ascent site later converted to a cricket ground in 1880.
The field was originally a balloon ascent site later converted to a cricket ground in 1880.

A plaque mounted in the pavilion provides the history of some 130 years of cricket.
A plaque mounted in the pavilion provides the history of some 130 years of cricket.

When I saw the inscription “Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Museum & Archives” on the front of the pavilion, a thrill of excitement coursed through me. It was the first time I’d ever heard of a cricket museum in Pakistan, even though it is the most popular sport in the country.

I tried to enter the building, but it was too early and the offices were closed. Spotting a worker on the pitch, I asked him about the timings of the building and he told me to come back tomorrow.

The Gymkhana Ground is addressed as a nursery of the cricket in this region.
The Gymkhana Ground is addressed as a nursery of the cricket in this region.

I came back the next day in the late morning at 11 am, keen to learn more about the history of Pakistan’s most popular sport. Najam Latif and Javed Zaman Khan awaited me at the pavilion.

Mr. Latif founded Pakistan’s first cricket museum at Lahore Gymkhana in 2010. He is a cricket historian, curator and archivist, who worked with Fazal Mahmood, one of Pakistan’s early cricketers and ‘the Oval Hero’, on his autobiography, From Dusk to Dawn. Javed Zaman Khan was a first-class cricketer of the 1960s, and he now serves as the secretary of the Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Club.

Cricket historian Najam Latif established the Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Museum, the first of its kind in Pakistan.
Cricket historian Najam Latif established the Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Museum, the first of its kind in Pakistan.

As I sat down next to these gentlemen, they began to tell me the history of the Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Ground and the story of cricket in the subcontinent.

I found out two years after the establishment of the cricket ground in 1880, the first turf wickets were laid in soil directly imported from Worcestershire, England. From then until 1910, the cricket ground was used to host weekly matches among the staff of Governor House in Lahore, which is near the ground on the other side of the Mall Road.

Till 1910 the ground used to host weekly matches of the staff of Governor House Lahore.
Till 1910 the ground used to host weekly matches of the staff of Governor House Lahore.

I learned that from its very inception, the cricket ground played host to the defining games of the colonial era. The British Army and World XI played their first official match here. Most of World XI’s players were from Gloucestershire and Lancashire and the Army team was made up of 87 Punjab, 15 Sikh and King’s Regiment.

In 1923, Muslim and Sikh teams played each other for the first time in a first-class match, and three years later the cricket ground hosted India’s first international cricket match when Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and the British Army played against each other.

In 1923 a first-class match between MCC and British Army was played here. Three years later in 1926 the teams competed in an international match.
In 1923 a first-class match between MCC and British Army was played here. Three years later in 1926 the teams competed in an international match.

The more Mr. Latif and Mr. Khan told me, the more I was astounded by the significance of the ground and pavilion.

The Ranji Trophy championship, one of India’s first cricket championships, started on this cricket ground. In 1934, the Northern India team under the captaincy of George Abell played against the Indian army in the first season of Ranji Trophy.

Three years later, the Indian team under the captaincy of Syed Wazir Ali competed with Australia and won. This was the first Indian victory in an international Test match — the start of a legacy.

Then in 1945, Northern India played against Southern Punjab in the final and seventh season of Ranji Trophy, marking the bittersweet end of the oldest domestic cricket tournament in India.

In time, Mr. Latif helped turn the dusty cricket ground into a museum.
In time, Mr. Latif helped turn the dusty cricket ground into a museum.

As I processed this information, I couldn’t help but wonder, how I had managed to miss all this before, and who else was strolling by this ground without realising what they were missing?

As Mr. Latif and Mr. Khan continued, it became clear to me that this ground was, in fact, one of the most important places in Pakistan. After Partition, the cricket ground became part of Pakistan and witnessed the fraught early history of the nation.

In December 1947, the Quaid-e-Azam Relief Fund cricket sponsored matches to raise funds to help Partition refugees. Western Punjab and Sindh teams played against each other to help citizens of the new nation. It was also the first recorded first-class match on the soil of Pakistan.

Score sheet of Quaid-e-Azam Relief Fund matches played at Lahore Gymkhana in December 1947. The event was held to raise donations for Partition refugees.
Score sheet of Quaid-e-Azam Relief Fund matches played at Lahore Gymkhana in December 1947. The event was held to raise donations for Partition refugees.

The cricket ground became the first witness to the glory days of cricket in Pakistan. In 1948, it became the first headquarters of Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan. Likewise, the Pakistan Eaglet Society, a squad of promising young cricketers who trained in England and played against the clubs there, found a home on the ground in 1951.

The Eaglets blazer of 1959.
The Eaglets blazer of 1959.

Pakistani captain Muhammad Saeed with West Indies captain J.D.C. Goddard in November 1948 at the Lahore Gymkhana.
Pakistani captain Muhammad Saeed with West Indies captain J.D.C. Goddard in November 1948 at the Lahore Gymkhana.

I discovered the relevance of this ground not just to Pakistan but also to the rest of the world. In January 1955, Lahore Gymkhana obtained international caliber by becoming the 35th official cricket Test centre of the world. Pakistan played against India here, in the first official Test match.

After that, Pakistan competed with New Zealand in October of that same year. Pakistan and West Indies played the third and last official Test match in March 1959.

Pakistan’s squad for first unofficial Test match in November 1948, which was played at the Lahore Gymkhana.
Pakistan’s squad for first unofficial Test match in November 1948, which was played at the Lahore Gymkhana.

Pakistan and West Indies teams with Governor Punjab Francis in November 1948.
Pakistan and West Indies teams with Governor Punjab Francis in November 1948.

Pakistan and West Indies teams with Ayub Khan, then president of Pakistan, during third Test match at the Lahore Gymkhana in March 1959.
Pakistan and West Indies teams with Ayub Khan, then president of Pakistan, during third Test match at the Lahore Gymkhana in March 1959.

Unfortunately, the ground did not maintain its status as an international cricket host after that. Rival stadiums such as the newly-built Gaddafi Stadium and the historic Eden Gardens in Kolkata, India, diverted the use and attention that the Lahore cricket ground had received earlier.

The brand new, state-of-the-art Gaddafi Stadium dwarfed the Lahore Gymkhana in prominence. Similarly, the Eden Gardens, the biggest cricket ground in South Asia, far exceeded Bagh-e-Jinnah in size and capacity. The Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Ground grew emptier, losing itself in the act of recalling its past.

From the 1960s to '80s the monumental pavilion suffered from neglect, but the opening of the cricket museum has preserved it from further damage.
From the 1960s to '80s the monumental pavilion suffered from neglect, but the opening of the cricket museum has preserved it from further damage.

I was saddened to learn the cricket ground fell into ravage and disrepair in the 1960s to ‘80s, which irrevocably damaged the historic cricket centre. I walked into the central hall of the pavilion, where I saw group photos of 18th and early 19th century cricketers. Here Mr. Latif told me these photographs and the rest of the historical record had succumbed to neglect until some of it was recovered in 2000.

The record and artifacts of the glory days of cricket were lost to termite, rain and theft.

Two years later, he found historical records wasting away in the pavilion. He told me that if these records had been preserved, they would have been a valuable resource for the cricket culture before Partition.

Najam Latif, the curator of Gymkhana cricket museum, is working passionately to make the place a hall of fame for Pakistani cricket.
Najam Latif, the curator of Gymkhana cricket museum, is working passionately to make the place a hall of fame for Pakistani cricket.

Luckily, Mr. Latif was determined to preserve this era and the rest of cricket history from the dustbin of time. He strived to take away some of the gloom from the cricket pavilion by transforming it into Pakistan’s first ever cricket museum.

Thanks to Mr. Latif's efforts, the museum’s walls exhibit photographs of legendary cricketers and score records.
Thanks to Mr. Latif's efforts, the museum’s walls exhibit photographs of legendary cricketers and score records.

The process was not easy and required a colossal amount of effort on part of Mr. Latif, who became a the hands-on curator and archivist at the museum.

Mr. Latif recalled how he knocked on the doors of veteran cricketers and avid cricket fans, whom he knew collected and possessed objects like photographs, newspaper clippings, magazines, uniforms and anything else relating to cricket.

Once the management of the cricket pavilion approved his project, he initiated the collection in 2003, and his original findings came to constitute the library section of the cricket museum.

Mr. Latif collected sports magazines too. Seen here are titles of the ‘Sportes Times’, Pakistan’s premier sports magazine
Mr. Latif collected sports magazines too. Seen here are titles of the ‘Sportes Times’, Pakistan’s premier sports magazine

In the next few years, Mr. Latif managed to collect hundreds of objects, such as score books, autographed bats and balls, and the personal belongings of legendary cricketers. These artifacts enhanced the museum and initiated the long and formidable task of documenting Pakistan’s cricket history.

For cricket enthusiasts, collecting the objects of the museum is an undying quest.
For cricket enthusiasts, collecting the objects of the museum is an undying quest.

I resonated with the history of the museum when I saw bats signed by national players like Fazal Mahmood, Imtiaz Ahmad, Hanif Muhammad, Shujauddin, Khalid Qureshi, Saeed Ahmed, Khalid Hassan and S.F. Rehman.

There was also a ball signed by Don Bradman, the Australian cricketer, widely acknowledged as one of the best batsmen of all time.

Visitors to the place can see bats signed by veteran cricketers like Fazal Mahmood, Imtiaz Ahmad, Hanif Muhammad, Shujauddin, Khalid Qureshi, Saeed Ahmad, Khalid Hassan, S. F. Rahman
Visitors to the place can see bats signed by veteran cricketers like Fazal Mahmood, Imtiaz Ahmad, Hanif Muhammad, Shujauddin, Khalid Qureshi, Saeed Ahmad, Khalid Hassan, S. F. Rahman

The personal belongings of cricketers were also on display, such as an Eaglets badge donated by former cricketer Sultan Mahmood, a Lord’s necktie of A. H. Kardar, a MCC necktie of Fazal Mahmood, and a Cambridge cap and blazer used by Majid Khan in the ‘70s, which had originally belonged to A. S. Block, who used it from 1928 to 1929.

Finding myself in the presence of objects famous cricketers had touched, worn and used made me feel closer, more bonded to the games, teams and stars of bygone eras.

The Eaglets blazer, MCC necktie and cap of Government College, Lahore and Punjab University shown in the cricket museum.
The Eaglets blazer, MCC necktie and cap of Government College, Lahore and Punjab University shown in the cricket museum.

But I knew the artifacts in the museum went beyond individual players, I fully understood the team effort and international cooperation cricket has always represented to its fans and followers.

I saw rare images of games, such as the 1886 Ambala vs Lahore game, which took place at the Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Ground. A group photo of the Indian and Australian teams in 1936 struck me because it was India’s first international victory in cricket. The photo came to life when I saw it had been signed by the cricketers themselves.

A group photo of Lahore and Ambala at the cricket ground in 1886.
A group photo of Lahore and Ambala at the cricket ground in 1886.

The timeline of the museum extended from cricket in colonial India to the game’s dominance in the Pakistani national consciousness.

I saw here a slip fielding cradle, over a hundred years old, which players had once used for fielding practice. At the same time, I saw through the modern camera lens of F.E. Chaudhry, Pakistan’s most celebrated press photographer, who used to take first-action photographs in the MCC vs Pakistan match in 1951.

Every object represented a person, an era, and an aspect of cricket unrivaled by the players who came before or after it.

Over a hundred years old slip fielding cradle, a masterpiece of the cricket museum.
Over a hundred years old slip fielding cradle, a masterpiece of the cricket museum.

But the artifact that caught my attention the most was a 1945 photograph at Islamia College Lahore. In the photograph, Nazar Muhammad, Pakistan’s first opening batsman, is seen with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the country.

It is believed to be Jinnah’s only picture with a cricketer in Pakistan — the museum's masterpiece.

Quaid-e-Azam with opening batsman Nazar Muhammad at Islamia College Lahore in 1945.
Quaid-e-Azam with opening batsman Nazar Muhammad at Islamia College Lahore in 1945.

I would never happened upon this magnificent historical archive, had it not been for the dedication of Mr. Latif and other contributors. To think the memory of this great sport could have so easily been reduced to rotting wood and termite dust; lost forever.

For now, Mr. Latif is focused on constructing memories to make a hall of fame for cricket enthusiasts in Pakistan.

A vast array of the objects at the museum is a testament to the passion and effort of the curator and contributors.
A vast array of the objects at the museum is a testament to the passion and effort of the curator and contributors.

—All photos by author.