WHEN Fazal Mahmood, The Oval hero, died unexpectedly at the age of 78 on May 30, 2005 at Lahore, and a glorious chapter of Pakistan’s early cricket came to an end. Fazal, who stood at 6 feet with blue eyes, was the handsomest sportsman ever to adorn a sports field anywhere in the world.
His neatly combed hair with Brylcreem were always in place and a curled lock of hair loosely hung over his forehead which he would often blow. The first two fingers of his celebrated right hand had noticeable yellow stains of nicotine from chain smoking which he gave up in later years. Remembering the great Fazal on his sixteenth death anniversary brings back unforgettable memories. He was the first inspirational sporting leader and an icon of Pakistan who was able to lift the spirit of his nation soon after the tragic and bloody events of the partition of 1947. His contributions that led to the early victories in the Lucknow and Oval Tests brought instant recognition to Pakistan the world over.
Fazal was the earliest trendsetter for the youth, who would smartly dress with an expensive navy blue double breasted serge blazer with shiny brass buttons priced at Pounds 20 of his favourite brand Daks of London, when other such coats in those days would cost Pounds five only.
Matched with steel grey worsted trousers and brown crepe soled suede shoes, he was a sight to behold as he stood with his legs apart wearing dark glasses.
He was charismatic, unassuming and patriotic who played only for the glory of Pakistan. His handsomeness brought him offers from movies. Film director Mehboob Khan of India offered him Premnath’s role in ‘Aan’ in 1952. Then in 1955 George Cukor of Hollywood was so overawed by Fazal’s personality that he said he should have considered him for Stewart Granger’s role in Bhowani Junction. He was cast in a Pakistani film by director Ashfaq Malik but withdrew after appearing on the sets in a Mughal costume for a couple of days.
Fazal, who played a major role in gaining Test status for Pakistan cricket in 1951-52, was the first bowler of his country to take 100 wickets in Tests. He was also the first Pakistani to be chosen by Wisden among the five best cricketers of 1955. India had already chosen him as one of the five best cricketers of 1953. Fazal was also the first cricketer to receive the President’s Medal for Pride of Performance in 1959.
John Woodcock, John Arlott and Geoff Armstrong placed him among the 100 best cricketers of All Time in their publications. Selflessly, without any personal gain, he brought laurels for Pakistan for which we owe him a debt of gratitude. His impeccable fast medium bowling performances of 12 or more wickets in a Test against India 1952 (Lucknow), England 1954, Australia 1956 (Karachi) and West Indies 1959 (Dhaka) are a part of cricket lore. His unparalleled services and feats in cricket are unforgettable.
He was incorruptible in sport and in his profession in police. He was a symbol of dignity, integrity, honesty, humility, compassion and contentment. He lived frugally and was neither greedy nor envious of anyone. He believed strongly that given a chance Pakistan was capable of performing miracles in any field. His favourite brown shoes were made of crocodile skin which he had shot during his posting at Bahawalpur. Despite many repair stitches he wore them comfortably till his last days.
Since Fazal has not been included unjustly and ignorantly in the hall of fame in Pakistan, a supportive debate is going on for his inclusion. Knowing him, he would have declined his entry in any hall of fame if it were to come through debates and recommendations. On such a blatant oversight he would have simply recited his favourite couplet “Woh teray naseeb ki baarishain kisi aur chhat pe baras gaen, Dil-e-bekhabar meri baat sun, ussay bhool ja, ussay bhool ja.”
To honour the great bowler I had proposed a postage stamp of Fazal Mahmood in 2005 which was enthusiastically supported by PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan, but sadly, so far no such postage stamp has come out. It’s about time to honour the great man. Nations who do not remember their heroes seldom find the right direction.
Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2021