Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mumtaz Hussain

This is your last chance Taz. You'd better give it all you've got. I don't know what you'll do, but you must get wickets. If you don't, I'll have no choice but to drop you for the next game at Madras.

Abid Ali, the Hyderabad captain, spoke these words in a matter of fact voice, but his heart was heavy as he uttered them, because the man he was addressing was the seniormost player in the eleven after the captain himself. The selectors had told him in unequivocal terms that his senior left arm spinner was on trial.

Mumtaz Hussain, the recipient of the bad news, was close to the end of a distinguished career in which he had taken 173 Ranji Trophy wickets at less than twenty runs apiece. He had been a vital part of the Hyderabad spin attack, forging a successful partnership with off spinner Naushir Mehta, no longer a member of the team, having been replaced a few years earlier by me. The occasion was a Ranji Trophy match against Kerala at Kollam.

Initially depressed and dejected, Mumtaz decided on calm reflection, that it was time to unveil the rare bag of tricks he had kept hidden from public view for over a decade. In his Ranji Trophy career, he had stuck to bowling left arm orthodox spin, never attempting the bizarre variety he had unleashed on unsuspecting batsmen in the inter university matches for the Rohinton Baria Cup in the late 1960s. He then had the standard left arm spinner’s stock delivery which left the right hand batsman, bowled a chinaman using his wrist, a googly from the back of the hand, and both these deliveries with a finger spin action for variety. Batsmen were completely foxed by his changes of grip and action, or the lack of either, as they misread ball after ball, until they were bowled, caught, lbw or stumped, simultaneously looking very, very foolish indeed.

One famous victim was Sunil Gavaskar of Bombay University in 1970. He describes in his autobiographical 'Sunny Days' how he shouted to his partner Ramesh Nagdev that he had learnt to read Mumtaz, only to be completely fooled by one that looked like a perfect Chinaman but went the other way.

Wicket-keepers were not immune to the Mumtaz magic either. They had to resort to secret signals to anticipate what would come their way from a Mumtaz Hussain in midseason form.

The first innings was over at Kollam and Kerala was heading for defeat. Not bringing Mumtaz on even for a solitary over in the first innings, Abid Ali tossed the ball, barely seven or eight overs old, to the left arm spinner in the second. He dearly wanted his old teammate to perform well today and save him the embarrassment of being dropped.

In his very first over, Mumtaz attempted a chinaman, despite the newness of the ball. The ball pitched short, but the batsman did not take advantage of the long hop. Very soon, Mumtaz’s length improved reasonably but more important, he bowled a few unplayable deliveries and ended up with a bag of six wickets, though his loose deliveries were hit to the boundary.

The next stop for the Hyderabad team was Chepauk, Madras. The Tamil Nadu batting line-up was formidable, with V. Sivaramakrishnan, V. Krishnaswamy, T. E. Srinivasan and Abdul Jabbar prominent in it. Once again Mumtaz displayed his wares, for the second time after his university days. He was now up against a foe of great talent. There would be no meek surrender this time. He would not find the edge or a defensive blade as often as he encountered in the previous match. Still, Mumtaz claimed five utterly bamboozled batsmen, including Sivaramakrishnan, who went chasing a delivery outside the off stump like one hypnotised, and Krishnaswamy, who was bowled trying to withdraw his bat.

There was a brief moment in cricket history when fame and fortune flirted with Mumtaz Hussain, teasing him and cheating him in the end. He had just completed taking 48 wickets for the season in Rohinton Baria, a record until then, and had been included in the Board President's team to play against the touring West Indies led by Gary Sobers. The other left arm spinner in the squad answered to the name of Bishan Singh Bedi, a young bowler of immense promise. The chairman of selectors was former India captain Ghulam Ahmed--who belonged to Hyderabad--intent on being seen to be scrupulously fair as a selector. When it came to a choice between Bedi and Mumtaz, the local boy naturally lost out, or so the story goes.

Ghulam Ahmed's decision was justified by subsequent events, as Bedi took six wickets in the match and went on to become arguably the world's greatest left arm spinner of all time. But had fate been kind to the Hyderabadi in selection terms, what might have been his future in the game? When Indian batsmen found him practically unreadable, what chance did batsmen overseas enjoy of surviving his wiles and tricks? Had he played against West Indies at Fateh Maidan the day Bedi made such an impressive showing, could the Hyderabadi have made a sensational impact on the world stage?

These questions are merely hypothetical and not for a moment is it being suggested that Mumtaz was a greater bowler than Bedi, but it remains an unsolved mystery of domestic cricket why the former gave up his delightfully mysterious wares, and toed the line as an orthodox spinner in Ranji Trophy cricket, untouched by the greatness that might have been his, had he chosen the other path. Did his captain and seniors tell him to do so in the interest of economy and accuracy, as claimed by his teammates or did he do so of his own volition, as some others have suggested? What heights might he have reached had he continued, considering the way he resumed his old magic from where he left off after a gap of ten years, without any substantial loss of effect?

Mumtaz Hussain is no more today, a victim of cancer. Essentially happy go lucky, he had more than his share of woes in his short life of 52 years. The loss of a daughter a few years earlier was a grievous blow. Yet the enduring image of my old team mate and colleague is that of a man of a cheerful disposition, given to grinning wickedly at batsmen he had fooled.

27 comments:

Srinivas said...

Mumtaz no more? I'm really sorry to hear this!

I can still hear the patter of his cricket shoes as he strode around the Osmania University cricket ground.

Any news of Mumtaz's good friend Waheed Yar Khan? Incidentally, he did play that match against the West Indies at Fatehmaidan.

Ramnarayan said...

Waheed migrated to Pakistan. Thanks for dropping by.

a-la maverick said...

superb pieces sir, i have been following your blog for over a year and this is by far the best cricketing blog. by the way you have authored a book on madras cricket, didn't you?

Voltaire said...

Ram:

Been reading your blog first outta curiosity then out of utmost interest and excitement. Being a Hyderabadi and a cricket nut to boot it's kinda feels like an intimate conversation. I've started following cricket at all levels early 83. So did you play for Hyd in eighties? Do you remember Siva hitting a valiant 50 against Windies terror bowlers for south zone in 83 series? Your piece on TE was very poignant. Keep it going!

Bala

yogi said...

Wonderful Blog. How can i recieve notifiactions of news posts in your Blog ?

jughead said...

Sir!, One of the best blogs that I have read. Superb narration. For someone who is interested in the history of Indian cricket and esp. TN cricket your blog is a thoroughly informative and quite entertaining too. Looking forward to your future blogs and anecdotes.

Makarand said...

Ram

This is a brilliant piece. I remember Bombay University boys taliking highly of Mumtaz. They were in awe of his spinnig and most importantly his wicket taking ability. Do you feel that all these talented cricketers from Hyderabad could been handled batter ? From Mumtaz to Shahid Akbar ?

RV said...

Dear Sir,

This blog is truly a treasure.

You have managed to capture the spirit of cricket played in those days - there is sense of joie de vivre, spontaneity, innocence, and the ameteur spirit in these pieces. (Not that money was not important in those days, but money wasn't predominantly important)

Thank you! Any idea of bringing out a book...

Ramnarayan said...

Thank you, everyone of you. Your appreciation is a great tonic.

And yes, RV, the idea is to come out with a book of memoirs; this is my trial run!

Voltaire, I played for Hyderabad from 1975 to 1980, a ripe old 28 when I made my debut and 33 when I was dumped! From your assumed name, I guess you must be an admirer of the great Frenchman, one of the most inspiring writers of all time.

Yes, a-la maverick, I wrote a book on Madras cricket. I am humbled by your generous tribute. Jughead, ditto.

Yogi, I can notify you every time, if I learn to master the technology!

Makarand, thanks ever so much. I have a copuple of theories about the administration's insensitivity towards the sensitive plants of cricket, certainly with particular reference to Hyderabad cricketers. Hope to throw some light in this blog and eventually in my book.

I started this blog (and intended book) after much debate within myself and with friends like Mukul Kesavan, who felt it was important to record your own experiences in cricket even if you are not an international celebrity. How did I cope with the hurt of being dropped after a 4-wkt haul in Duleep Trophy, a 7-wkt haul in Buchi Babu, after 3 for 42 and 4 for 35 (in 12 overs each) in my only two Deodhar Trophy matches? Can my experiences teach another cricketer something, at least tell him how not to go about his career?

These are the kind of questions that forced me to write my cricket memoirs 28 years after my last first class match. Hopefully, it will be a celebration, not a catharsis.

Thanks once again for the tremendous support.

yogi said...

I look forward to your book. I am increasingly fascinated by these memoirs of players before the media explosion. And the unsung heroes. These men whose bowling and batting helped the Gavaskars and Tendulkars to greater deeds !!! Since, I have been cricket fan since 1992, these names are entirely new but neverthless fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, sir. Great piece.

Sam said...

Ram:
This is an outstanding blog - a great treasure. It is fast becoming the best cricket related blog and my favorite.

Thanks for all your wonderful portraits of these cricketers whom we all enjoyed while growing up. You pick wonderful stories and I love your writing style.

Thanks!

Ramnarayan said...

Thanks, Anonymous, thanks, Sam. I'm blushing.

Sumant said...

What is the name of the book on Madras cricket that you co-authored..Seeing how wonderful your blog is I would definitely like to buy it.And to someone who said how to get notification of new posts,get yourself a rss feed reader,when the blog is updated your rss reader will get updated,much like getting a new mail.

Ramnarayan said...

The name of the book is Mosquitos and Other Jolly Rovers. Please let me know if you have difficulty buying it. And thanks for the rss tip.

Sree said...

I can see this blog evolving into a book in the future :-)

We badly need such collections of anecdotes written by ex-players.

GuruGhantal said...

Ram Sir,
Its been fascinating read...I am in love with your blog... all the events have been portrayed as beautifully as it can ever be.
Thanks a lot
Raghu

Ramnarayan said...

Thank you Sree, thank you Raghu. Sumant, Mosquitos is a book I authored, not co-authored. You must be thinking of S Muthiah's Spirit of Chepauk which I helped him write.

R.A.Krishna said...

Hi Ram,

I am really sorry that I have never seen you play. Had heard so much about you. Am an alumnus of Central School Picket in Sec'bad and also used to go to SUCC for nets.Mr Eibara supervising us playing and chiding us for our errors was a fantastic experience. Have many pleasant memories of the city and its inhabitants who invented the word Cool. After reading your very moving piece about Mumtaz, it brings back to me my thoughts that the Hyderabadis, although extremely talented, never were able to do justice to their enormous gifts. Even Jai, in my opinion one of the most talented batsmen to play for India, did not do full justice to his potential. That VVS and Azhar played for India with distinction, never mind the other factors that ended Azhar's cricketing career, is an exception.

Thanks a ton for writing so beautifully about an era where Cricket was all about the long form game and was undiluted by the pollution of one days and T20s.

R.A.Krishna

Ramnarayan said...

Yes, Krishna, the cricketers who followed us were certainly made of tougher fibre. They even won the Ranji Trophy, with many sterling contributions from a number of players. I am a great fan of VVS. It was my greatest regret that I was before the time of Laxman, Azhar and Raju who played for India, though I bowled to young Azhar once or twice before I left Hyderabad. Many thanks for dropping by.

Waheed Yar Khan said...

Dear Ramnarayan,
Surprised & glad to know that after all these yrs. ppl. do remember me. My thanks to Srinivas & best wishes to him, yes i had a good match against the W.Indies.
Read ur article on Mumtaz, who was a fine all rounder & had tremendous control over the unorthodox spin. I dnt think he made his debut while i was there but we played together for state bank of India.
In 1999 after 30yrs i received a cash award from Hyd. Cri Asso for my contribution to the game.
I feel honored that i was named one of the 5 best "Indian Cricketers of the year, 1966". Recently Man Singh has sent me a copy of his bk which has an article on me.
I read ur planning to write another bk, i wish u and ur family the very best in all walks of life.

Ramnarayan said...

Waheed,
Thanks for dropping by. Though we never met, I knew you through your cricket exploits in the sixties, and was really surprised that you did not make it to the Pakistan team. I'm sure thereby hangs a tale!

I am taking a break from this blog and my planned book, as I'm assisting my wife with her book due to be released on 11 December. It's a biography of a great musician.
Thank you for your good wishes and all the best to you and your family.

Steamy said...

Just a minor correction. Bedi did not take six wickets in that match against West Indies at Hyderbad in 1966. Actually, he took six for 139 in the Prime Minster's XI match at Delhi's Ferozeshah Kotla. I saw that match in person so remember it clearly. Bedi went wicketless in the Hyderabad match.

Ramnarayan said...

Steamy, thank you very much for the correction.
Ram

Bala said...

There was a festival match a couple of years ago, in 1999-2000.

HCA arranged for players like Jai, Naushir, Mumtaz and others to turn out for a couple of overs/balls. Jai batted for one, while Naushir and Mumtaz trundled across for quite a few overs.

For someone who had grown up seeing them from Fateh Maidan stands, it was like being in the company of royalty. Sharing a beer later, only made the experience more memorable.

The captain mentioned in the blog is another wonderful Hyderabadi.
Abid chichcha (in Hyd all Chachas become chichchas)is one such lionheart.
And he was the warmest of them all...never failing to wave back from his scooter at all of us leaning out of school buses to wave at him. Imagine doing that every day to nearly every school bus on his way to State Bank. Incredible!
There is something in the water of Gandipet.

Despite never having met many of the others, all these players are a part of my life....having meant a lot in my childhood. I am proud to have bunked some classes for those Moin-ud-dowla matches.
I cherish those memories.

Thanks Ram, for recreating the warmth of Hyderabadi lihaaz. It is an unbeatable feeling.

Anonymous said...

This is for Bala, and I hope he's reading. I did not see your post all this while. Very warm and nostalgic. Thanks a ton. I'm glad I helped revive some memories for you. Ram

Dr. Subbarayudu G.K. said...

Such memory! Such simple clarity of expression! Such respect and affection for colleagues, compatriots... Wonderful, Ramnarayan, sir!
I wrote a few words about Waheed Yar Khan barely 15 minutes ago on an fb thread that was getting all mixed up... and he turns up on your blog!. Lovely. Thank you for reviving much of our childhood and spring-time--subbu