Post-victory banquet at Cambridge by the University and its students from Pakistan (including Aslam Azhar, extreme right) honouring the Pakistani cricket team in 1954. —Photo from Anjum Niaz’s family archives
Post-victory banquet at Cambridge by the University and its students from Pakistan (including Aslam Azhar, extreme right) honouring the Pakistani cricket team in 1954. —Photo from Anjum Niaz’s family archives

Confined for 20 days on the high seas, the best pastime for a precocious girl in her pre-teens is to observe fellow travellers. The Pakistan cricket team headed for England to play its first tour in 1954 sailed on the ocean liner Batory, run and operated by P&O Lines. On entering the Arabian Sea, the rough waves jerked the passengers around sending everyone in retreat to their cabins. The calm waters of the Mediterranean Sea brought them out on the decks at last, including Pakistan cricketers whose movements were keenly followed by yours truly, enjoying a ringside view of the goings on as daughter of the team’s manager.

Imtiaz, the wicket-keeper, kept good cheer and clean company along with M.E.Z. Ghazali, Khan Mohammad and Shujauddin. They stayed away from the ‘happy hour’ held every evening where the star would always be the dashing Fazal Mahmood. Mother and my two elder brothers watched with interest as a bevy of beautiful women circled the blue-eyed cricketing hero with a love-lock carelessly placed on his forehead. We would be fascinated by him blowing smoke rings with his cigarette. He would always come around to our sofa to exchange a few words with us kids. Every morning the players would be seen practicing in the nets set up on the ship’s deck away from prying eyes. Pakistan, as we know, won its first-ever Test match against England on this tour. History was made. No country before had won a Test in their first series in England! To quote the illustrious cricket archive, Wisden: “In the cricket history of Pakistan the date, Tuesday, August 17, [1954] will live long. On that day at the Oval, Pakistan became the only side to win a Test match on a first visit to England.”

Imtiaz Ahmed was one of the four pillars of Pakistan’s early cricket. The other three being Hafeez Kardar, Fazal Mahmood, and Hanif Mohammad. He survived all three, living a full life surrounded by friends and family. But he was not destined to see the first sunrise of 2017. He died on the last day of 2016. His friend and admirer Najum Latif would often drop in at Imtiaz’s house in Lahore to talk about cricket. “I met Imtiaz for the last time on November 20, 2016, before I went to India,” Najum wrote in an email when I asked for his comments on the death of his friend and hero. At their last meeting, he says, Imtiaz wished that Najum would visit more frequently as he loved to talk about old times. “He complained of often feeling dizzy but looked well otherwise,” says Najum, “When I took leave from Imtiaz Sahib, he walked to the gate to see me off in his usual courteous way. We shook hands and he remained there till I drove off. Little did I know that it was going to be the last time. The next time was on January 4, 2017 when I went with flowers to his grave near his house.”


The writer, lucky enough to accompany the Pakistan cricket team as a child on their first tour of England, remembers Imtiaz Ahmed


Najum Latif is a historian and an authority on cricket. He founded the first cricket museum of Pakistan. Lahoris may remember the old red-tiled cricket pavilion at Bagh-i-Jinnah, formerly called Lawrence Gardens. It was a city landmark where many cricket matches were played before Gaddafi Stadium came up. Thanks to his foresight, passion and hard work, the crumbling pavilion was salvaged and made into a cricket museum, the first in Pakistan.

According to Najum, Imtiaz Ahmad’s meteoric rise began in 1945 when, at the age of 17, he scored an unbeaten 135 runs against the Australian Services XI led by Lindsay Hassett at Lahore. The team included Keith Miller and Cecil Pepper as their main players. Earlier he had become the only wicket-keeper -batsman to score 300 unbeaten runs (at Bombay for the Indian Prime Minister XI against a Commonwealth team) in 1952. Imtiaz played all of Pakistan’s first 39 Test matches. In all, he played in 41 Tests. When he came out at number eight to join Waqar Hasan against New Zealand at Lahore in 1955, “Pakistan was in real trouble,” remembers Najum. The duo created history by scoring 307 runs between them. “Imtiaz scored 207, which made him the first-ever wicket-keeper in Test cricket to score a double century.” He later told Najum that the New Zealanders could never get him out. He just got bored and tired and so gave a simple catch on a bad ball. He did not wear a helmet or a thigh pad against the speediest bowlers of his time.

Imtiaz, the ever-smiling genial man, “was a stubborn and uncompromising foe who feared no one on the field,” he recalls. “He was an unequalled master of the hook that brought the ball down towards the ground, unlike many who send the ball high in the air.” Never one to hold a grudge, he accepted Javed Burki as the captain of the disastrous 1962 tour of England despite being more deserving than Burki to lead the team. This was to be his last Test match. “I once asked him what he thought of the great bowler Jim Laker?” said Najum. “In a nonchalant way he replied ‘It was not difficult to play him as we had ample practice with off-spin bowling by playing Zulfiqar Ahmed.’” Zulfiqar showed his prowess against England in the 1954 Test series, but his finest hour was when he took 11 for 79 at Karachi against New Zealand in the 1955 Test match.

Cricket lovers can look forward to a treasure trove of memories from Najum Latif who is currently writing Imtiaz Ahmad’s biography because “We owe it to his greatness.”

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 5th, 2017

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