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.”