Monday, November 3, 2008

Syed Abid Ali

The non-striker in the photograph of Tony Greig lifting Gundappa Viswanath in Cricinfo’s “Photographic Memory” is Syed Abid Ali, the popular all rounder who was an important part of the victorious Ajit Wadekar-led Indian team of 1971.

"Kya bole?" (What did you say)? Abid is credited with asking this classic question of Viswanath, when they met three quarters of the way down the pitch, with GRV rooted to the spot and repeatedly shouting "No!" at the top of his voice, and Abid still charging down regardless for a run. This no doubt apocryphal story of an incident in a Test match was told with much relish by the Karnataka batsman, at the expense of the Hyderabad all rounder, who had a reputation for getting mixed up in run outs. Abid Ali was about twice as swift between wickets as most other batsmen and was always on the lookout for quick singles. He was more than once stumped off the first ball he faced, because he had taken off for a single even before playing the ball.

I was fortunate in the number of self-appointed mentors I had in Hyderabad soon after my arrival there in 1971. My State Bank of India teammates spread the word about me in cricket circles, and that is how Abid came to watch me in action in the practice nets behind the bank's local head office at Kothi, Hyderabad. Abid straightaway decided to take me under his wing. For the next few years, I was to enjoy that protective umbrella and benefit from his willingness to share his experience and knowledge with me.

His way of helping me become a better off spinner was to hit my best deliveries repeatedly out of the ground during net practice, so that I would learn to adjust my flight when confronted with batsmen who could do that to me in matches. He was of course completely innocent of the damage to my morale he was actually doing . Even in matches in which we were pitted against each other, the lessons continued, ruining my bowling analysis in the process. Of course, on the rare occasion I got him out, he had a perfect explanation for the accident that had nothing to do with good bowling!

Abid Ali was a genuine character among cricketers, an original in many ways. For instance, he set high standards of physical fitness for a generation of cricketers known for its lackadaisical attitude to such matters. The punishing regimen of training he followed was often the subject of anecdotes, perfect entertainment in the evening after a long day at the ground.He practised his fielding with devotion and became an acrobatic close-in fielder and an athletic one in the outfield, with an unerring, flat throw. He developed enough variations in his military medium pace bowling to keep the batsmen guessing. He also had the knack of making the ball skid on most wickets. He was demonstrative in an age when most bowlers tended to hide their emotions. His appeals to God when he beat the edge, and his sardonic grins at batsmen blessed by the Lord - unfairly in Abid's opinion - were sights to see and remember.

When Abid took over the Hyderabad captaincy from the cerebral and celebrated M L Jaisimha, he was determined to make a strong impression. He was solemnity personified as he addressed the team just before taking the field in his first Ranji Trophy match as captain. "Boys, I want you to play tight, mean cricket. I want us to give not LESS than 40 runs in the first hour." He had meant to say "not MORE than 40 runs," and the giggles and suppressed guffaws that interrupted him, spoiled his speech somewhat, but it was a happy Hyderabad team that took the field that morning.

When the mood captured him, Abid could be the life and soul of the party. He was great company while travelling with the Hyderabad team, taking part in crazy card games devised by M A K Pataudi, or singing calypso songs he learnt in the Caribbean. His favourite line was "Great India bowler Abid Ali" which he sang with gusto.Few cricketers exploited their talent better. Abid Ali was an honest-to-goodness medium pacer, who could also bat aggressively. He made a sensational Test debut in 1967 when he took 6 for 55 against Australia at Brisbane, following it up with two brilliant innings of 78 and 81 opening the innings in the Sydney Test.Abid took his cricket with him when he migrated to the USA by the end of the 1970s. There, he was an active participant in the local cricket scene in Los Angeles and coached many Indian, Pakistani and other immigrant groups still passionate about cricket. He always wanted to come back to India on a coaching assignment and even had stints as the coach of the Andhra team. He has also coached the UAE team.

When I look back on those treasured days of essentially amateur cricket with gratitude for my good fortune in getting to rub shoulders with the likes of Abid, I tend to remember the lighter moments rather than the grim ones of toil in the sun. Especially memorable was a team meeting at Bangalore after Abid had launched a typically unorthodox assault on Karnataka’s world class spin attack of Prasanna and Chandrasekhar, pulling the straight deliveries from off stump, cutting vicious off-breaks leaving all three stumps completely unguarded for boundaries, and randomly charging down the wicket without regard to length or line. “I was very relaxed today, Skip,” he told Jaisimha at the meeting. Pat came the retort from one of his senior colleagues: “Of course, you were relaxed. Only for us watching you was the tension unbearable.”


Anonymous said...

Isn't there a story about a fake obituary of Abid ?

Ramnarayan said...

I don't remember which game it was, but I think it was Farrokh Engineer who had the misfortune of announcing Abid's "death" based on some spurious news item during a live telecast of a match.

Srinivas said...

Abid Ali's English, at least in those good old days, was no big deal. All he could speak was Hyderabadi.

But after his Australian tour in the late 60s, or perhaps after England in 1971, Abid chacha decided it was time to show off.

So he sought out his SBH teammate, John Tarachand, and demanded: "John, ek mazedaar joke sunao!". John, poor chap, started recounting his joke in English ... but even before the joke ended, Abid chacha cackled loudly and remarked: "great joke, John!".

John was puzzled, but wisely didn't continue!

chinni said...

I loved listening to the Ranji commentary in the mid-seventies when he was captain of hyderabad. I now feel that in his athleticsm he was way ahead of his times. His close-in-fielding partnership with Solkar, Wadekar and Venkatraghavan made a lot of catches possible. His total number of catches is 47 in only 29 Tests , a very high ratio for a non-wicket-keeper fielder, not fielding in slips or forward short leg. I do not know why he was dropped in the middle of the series against West indies in 1974. can anyone throw light?

Sam said...

This blog is a treasure!

I love the writing and the wonderful memories I have of the cricketers you have described especially from the 1960's and 1970s before I moved to the US.
I saw many of them in Test matches, Ranji and Duleep, Irani, TNCA league matches, Hindu trophy matches, Buchi Babu matches, Inter-Association, and college mathces etc. I also had occasion to bat and bowl to TW at BS nets in Chepauk.

Just one minor correction to your story on Abid Ali's bowling analysis in his debut match:
His debut figures were in teh first test of the series in Adelaide not in Brisbane. It was a test that Chandu Borde captained due to MAK's injury. MAK came back to captain in Melbourne, and then of course, teh third test was in Brisbane where Jaisimha scored his century after being flown in from India as a last minute addition and India lost by 39 runs, and the final test was in Sydney. India was drubbed 4-0 in that series, if I remember including an innings defeat in Melbourne.

Would love to get more profiles as you have started of these fine cricketers who are lesser known but were colorful characters, or personalities of well-known cricketers that we know little about.

We have heard the two stories of TE and we yet don't know if they are true. I wonder if we ever will!


cynic said...

Brought to mind the 'compliment'Raju Bharatan paid him in "Indian Cricket - the Vital Phase" of being able to 'shoot at sight' after he bowled Fredericks and Sobers with shooters in the West Indies in '71. Thanks Ram. By the way, I'd like a copy of 'Mosquitoes...' too & should be sending you a cheque some time soon.

mk49 said...

Your blog brings back so many childhood memories of Hyderabadi cricket in the '70s. Like memories of Abid and his famous "Sur-sur battis" or "surras" for short. Did he actually ever bowl those?

Ramnarayan said...

Thank you one and all for your comments, but my sincerest apologies to Abida for writing in such a light vein without knowing that he suffered a tragic bereavement not long ago. I only heard a few days ago from Abdul Jabbar that Abid's son (and Syed Kirmani's son-in-law) died of a heart attack while playing a cricket match in the US. My heart goes out to my old mentor and champion cricketer-human being who has had more than his share of woes in his lifetime. My condolences to him, Kiri and the two families.

Satyajit said...

Ram, Your article, although read by me now (in Nov 2009) did bring back fond memories of my childhood. My father Gangadhar Rajurkar, used to work in SBH Gunfoundary and for some time Abid Uncle was working with him. I used to visit my dad during lunchtime (I was studying in All Saints' HS) and Abid Uncle used to lift me up and take me to Rainbow cafe (right opposite the SBH) and treat me an ice cream. This happened many times and the memories are crystal clear in my mind, although this is about 40 years back.

it was sad to hear about the tragedy in Abid Uncles family.

Aziem said...

During the tour to West Idies in 1971 there was a song composed which began as: Wadekar chale age age Sobers going behind ...
Has anyone the full audio of this song?

Aziem said...

One of the following lines of the song was:

The great India bowla Abid Ali, he bowled Maurice Foster when he was 99.

tarun said...

any one has the record for the song wadekar chale age age