CRICKET: MEMORIES WORTH PRESERVING

December 01, 2019

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The Cricket Museum in one main room | Photos courtesy: Yahya Ghaznavi
The Cricket Museum in one main room | Photos courtesy: Yahya Ghaznavi

The shining gold-plated, rose-shaped Nehru Cup sits flanked by another sterling silver trophy in a secure cabinet. Both come with a proud history. Beating India in cricket, especially on Indian soil, is what every Pakistani cricketer dreams about, and these trophies embody those dreams.

The Nehru Cup — held to celebrate Jawaharlal Nehru’s 100th birthday in 1989 — was brought home by a jubilant Pakistan cricket team after winning the final against the West Indies in Kolkata. Nehru was famed for wearing a rosebud in his lapel and the Nehru Cup is designed in the shape of a rose.

The other trophy is from when India invited Pakistan to their home ground to celebrate 75 years of India playing Test cricket in 2007. No doubt these mementos were designed with a very nationalistic design philosophy in expectation of Indian wins. Ironically they now rest in the Cricket Museum at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium.

The museum, albeit just one room in the sprawling grounds of the stadium which also serves as the headquarters of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), is a trophy treasure-trove. It is also a researcher-accessible world renowned library boasting the entire Wisden series (famed as the ‘Bible of Cricket’).

A visit to the PCB’s Cricket Museum in Lahore

Pride of place is, of course, occupied by none other than the Australian Waterford Crystal World Cup trophy brought home by Imran Khan and his team in 1992. Rare would be the visitor who is given the honour of actually holding it, as a very jealously vigilant Yahya Ghaznavi often keeps watch himself. He is the general manager of Archives and Game Education with the PCB and the National Cricket Academy (NCA) since 2013 and is happy to launch into reasons for his strenuous efforts to arrange for a copy of the trophy from the original company that has now moved to Ireland. Basically, Ghaznavi is concerned about a repitition of what happened with the FIFA World Cup trophy in 1966, which was stolen from its display case in the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster.

Pakistan’s Khan Mohammad clean bowls Pankaj Roy to take Pakistan’s first Test wicket at the Feroze Shah Kotla Ground in Delhi, India in 1952
Pakistan’s Khan Mohammad clean bowls Pankaj Roy to take Pakistan’s first Test wicket at the Feroze Shah Kotla Ground in Delhi, India in 1952

Ghaznavi’s keenness to share all sorts of information about the memorabilia in the museum speaks of his personal passion of preserving cricket history. Including photographs, mementos from epoch-defining matches and even team shirts, the museum’s treasures have been literally hauled by him from around the world — drawn from private collections, cricketers’ descendants, donors and, of course, from his own home museum in Rawalpindi. Operating from the office of the PCB, Ghaznavi has reached out across the globe, writing to, cajoling and convincing people of the importance of the museum project. And people “have been supportive,” he says.

Ghaznavi’s dedication to his work shows as he walks visitors around the museum, reading out captions from under time-worn photographs as he provides additional snippets of cricket information from over a century ago. His fascinating stories about the game in the subcontinent are a treasure in themselves — behind the victories and defeats, behind careers cut short or nurtured, about who carried the bat and when, about the Pakistani family that shares the honour of playing cricket three generations in a row with the Hadlees, about the designer of the Lahore cricket stadium, about how, when and why tobacco companies handed over cricket sponsorship to branded soft drinks, etc. Then there is the performance history of each player in the historic first Test match played by Pakistan against India in 1952.

The photographic history includes that of a jubilant Intikhab Alam in 1967, the first-ever Afghan cricketer Saleem Durrani, the patriotism of Duncan Sharpe — Pakistan’s only white player — and the Men in Green in tuxedoes and sideburns and bell-bottom trousers. “It has sometimes taken me months to research and verify the historical detail of some of these photographs and memorabilia,” says Ghaznavi.

Wicketkeeper Waseem Bari’s iconic gloves, the Four Minar trophy — commemorating Pakistan’s first win in a Test series against India — the Champions Trophy, the T20 trophy are, of course, well-secured in wooden cabinets. This lone room is testimony not only to Ghaznavi’s passion for conserving sport history, but to the thrifty usage of space.

The hall of fame
The hall of fame

Squeezed somewhere in between the trophies and rare photographs are other mementos such as flags of the original 12 Test-playing countries, captioned with the dates, venues and wins of each country’s first Test, details of individual performance as well as highlights from those Tests. The museum also houses a commemorative stamp collection, another rare highlight since the practice of issuing stamps was given up with the rise of online communication. The Pakistan cricket team blazer with its falcon and crescent emblem is also there and Ghaznavi will happily tell you the story behind its designing — by the daughter of the late all rounder and former national team manager Yawar Saeed. The lady later went on to wed cricket icon Fazal Mahmood.

Then there’s material from 1886 when the first Indian club team went to play in England. Few would know that the epoch-making team, nurtured mainly by the Parsi community, had 12 players from Mumbai and three from Karachi, played 20 matches and won just one but went on to lay the foundations of cricket in this part of the world. The Karachi Parsi Institute was one of the first cricketing centres in the subcontinent.

Being walked through the veranda gallery, where every spare inch of brick wall is adorned by pictorial memorabilia, is like a breathtaking ride on a visual time machine that weaves the distant past into the present conscious. The gallery is testimony to Pakistan’s pride of performances in a world-class sport.

It is no small adventure to trace the images of national and international cricket celebrities in their prime, through the ages and to see documented proof of the professional dignity and game ethics that made cricket a gentleman’s sport. There on the walls of this cricket museum, posing with cricketers, also stand tall the political icons from across the world: Jinnah giving the Roll of Honour to Nazar Muhammad in 1942, Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin hands raised to applaud the 1952 team when Pakistan became the seventh Test-playing country in the world, USA president Eisenhower wearing a Pakistani blazer, Begum Raana Liaquat Ali Khan, Bhutto in his hey-day.

The spillover of photographs into the verandas of the player’s hostel of NCA would have been a tough choice for Ghaznavi, who has dedicated his life and life resources to preserving cricket history in a near-world-class format. But there is a spring in his step as he outlines PCB’s future designs for setting up an exclusive cricket museum on the lush grounds of stadium.

“The proposed complex will have provision for a hall of fame area, for memorabilia space for the pictorial history of Pakistan cricket — both of the pre-Partition and post-Independence periods — a library, a souvenir shop, a cricket café, a seminar hall to host cricket speakers and players, a gym, a reception area, car parking and offices for the management,” he says.

May his enthusiasm remain infectious.

Published in Dawn, EOS, December 1st, 2019