From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.29 :: NO.09 :: Mar. 04, 2006
FOR THE RECORD: SYED ABID ALI: 29 TESTS, 1980 RUNS, HS 81, 20.35 AVG, 6 X 50S, 47 WKTS. 5 ODIS, 93 RUNS, 31.00 AVG., 7 WKTS.
He has the dubious distinction, thanks to a faux pas by a reporter, of reading in the early 90s his own obituary! However, to the delight of his fans, this gutsy Test cricketer of yesteryear, Syed Abid Ali, not only overcame that traumatic experience but returned to the sport in style in the role of a coach. After stints with the Maldives and UAE, he is now with Andhra and has earned a fair degree of respect.
"That was a hell of an experience to read that you are dead after a successful, by-pass surgery. How can such things happen? It is amazing," the gentleman-cricketer of yesteryear recalls tongue-in-cheek. But, then, his career is replete with quite a few surprises. For instance, on his Test debut in Adelaide in the 1967-68 series against Australia, he had a six-wicket haul. This performance made the legendary Frank Tyson walk up to him and say a few words of appreciation. Abid also scored an impressive 78 and 81 in the Sydney Test in the same series. He recalls how after taking Bobby Simpson's wicket in that Test, he had tears in his eyes, remembering his mother Zakia Begum, who was the biggest source of inspiration for him.
Rather unfortunately, Abid Ali is considered a `foreigner' in cricketing circles by virtue of his being away in the United States for more than a decade before returning home a couple of years ago. Unwanted by the Hyderabad Cricket Association, he had to leave for the U. S. in search of livelihood. With wife Sayeda landing a job there and later son Faqeer Ali also taking up an assignment, he had to stay there for quite a long time.
Once he got his son married to Syed Kirmani's daughter Azar Hussain, the focus shifted to his own well-being. Now, he stands forlorn and is perplexed as to where he should proceed from here. Despite a coaching stint with Andhra, this former Test star is not really happy on many counts. But there was a silver lining when his ward Venugopala Rao was picked to don India colours.
Abid Ali was one of the finest fielders in Indian cricket. He used to water the roller at the Fateh Maidan, bounce a cricket ball off it and practice catching for hours together as the cherry ricocheted in different directions. "Fielding is an art which one has to enjoy in order to excel," he says quite honestly. "This is what separated Eknath Solkar from the others, mind you without any protective gear."
This `Chicha' was known for bowling shooters with stunning regularity. "Even now, I just don't know how I could bowl them. It was one of those freaks," he quips. But, why couldn't he be a more consistent cricketer at the highest level? "I presume the reason could be that I was not sure at which position I would bat and even in bowling I was not a regular. For, we then had such fabulous spinners who could spin the ball from the second over of the innings itself. So, in a way, the opportunities were few. And, there was always the fear of losing your place lurking around the corner," he explained.
Abid considers the late M. L. Jaisimha as the ultimate `guru' in cricket. "He was the one who advised me to change my bowling action slightly to see that the bowling arm comes down from top in a smooth fashion for greater effect. He was always there every time any cricketer needed help," Abid said. And, he will never forget the first run in his maiden Ranji Trophy match against Andhra at Fateh Maidan in the 1959-60 season. "Jai saw that I was very nervous and realised the importance of seeing me score my first run. He then told me: `I am ready man, just take a single.' When I did that, I suddenly felt on top of the world. I scored my maiden half-century and Jai got a century," Abid Ali recalls.
"Like Tiger Pataudi, Jai had an eye for spotting genuine talent. Tell me who can be as daring as `Tiger' in insisting that a little-known (outside the South Zone) Vishy (G. R. Viswanath) should be included against the Australians in the 1969 Kanpur Test. And, see the result a genius was born," he explained.
For someone, who once bowled a dream spell in the Trinidad Test in 1971 clean bowling Rohan Kanhai and Sir Garfield Sobers off successive shooters, Abid's philosophy is that both life and cricket are simple. But, they are made to look complicated by some. "If we stick to basics, then everything will be in order. That is the reason why the Aussies are the best." Abid Ali says. "Just do it", is the message from this veteran to all the enthusiastic youngsters at the nets. A gentleman to the core, he says he walked up to Sunil Gavaskar and told him that he (playing in his first Test series in 1971 in the West Indies) should score the winning runs. It was just to give him that feeling of immense satisfaction, he says. And, in the historic Oval Test in 1971 in England, it was Abid Ali's turn to score the winning run to script what was the first-ever Indian Test win in England. "That was a great feeling. One which no other Indian team prior to us could sense. What a spell by Chandra and the great show by Ekky (Solkar) in close-in," he recollects.
Any special moments he would love to recall? "Well, Jai's century in the Brisbane Test in 1968 when he flew in as a replacement. I was lucky to be the runner at the other end for Chandu Borde. Then, the great sight of Viv hitting the bowlers all over in Delhi after a dismal outing in the previous Bangalore Test."
For him, Sir Garfield Sobers was the most complete and ultimate gentleman cricketer. Abid Ali's childhood hero is Aussie great Keith Miller and he says he is still fascinated by the all-rounder's book, "Cricket Crossfire". On captains? "Tiger Pataudi, M. L. Jaisimha and V. Subramanyam are the best-ever. These greats had thinking brains without today's hi-tech support system and always cared for their team-mates. Every morning in the nets they used to sort out the opponents' weaknesses. I tell you how the great Pras (Prasanna) once snatched the ball in the nets from me at the time of the 1969 Bombay Test against Australia and started bowling quite a long spell. I asked him what was wrong. `No man, I want to get rid of this batsman (Bill Lawry) very early today', he told me. And, I tell you, he came up with the `doosra,' which he bowled to perfection to knock back Lawry's stumps in the pre-lunch session of the Bombay Test."
Personally, he cherishes the prized wicket of Geoff Boycott the most. "Ever since he hit that 246 not out in the Leeds Test against us, I always dreamt of getting him out. And when I did that in the 1971 series at Lord's and in the 1974 series at Old Trafford, my joy knew no bounds for he was so technically correct," Abid says with a broad smile. Now, at 64, he is looking for a decent `job', which can take care of his primary concerns. Who says cricket is all about earning money if you have made the mark? People like Abid Ali portray the other side of life of some of the finest cricketers who played only for national pride.
"Don't I deserve just a piece of land at this stage of my career?" he asks, helplessly pointing to those who were bestowed with such benefits after just four or five Tests. Apparently, the tag of a `foreigner' is proving to be a major stumbling block for him in his hometown. But, Abid Ali hints he is not averse to even donning the role of a talent scout for the BCCI. "Am I not really `enterprising' in getting things done?" he asks innocently. That he is forced to think of taking up coaching at least a couple of individuals now is a sorry state of affairs.
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