In the cold early hours of December 31 in Washington – amidst meek capitulation of the Pakistan cricket team Down-Under – I was woken up by a phone call from my older brother in Lahore, cricket historian Mujahid Syed, thatco-founder of Pakistan cricket, Imtiaz Ahmed, is no more. A little later the same day, I got an email message from the visiting professor of Government College, Lahore, the eminent Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed, emblazoned with the poignant subject headline, “’And Imtiaz is Out!’ Omar Kureshi would say and my heart would sink!”
A few days earlier, Zaigham (Imtiaz’s son) had informed me that Imtiaz was ill and in ICU. I knew Imtiaz well. He had spoken at the Lahore launch of my book, “Will & Skill.” He had also honored me when he asked me several years ago to write the Foreword for his still-to-be-published book.
Christopher Martin-Jenkins was right on target when he called Imtiaz one of the rocks on which Pakistan cricket was built. Imtiaz remained an unassuming man who dabbled in romantic poetry. There was nothing unassuming though in his approach to the game.
During an era when wickets were uncovered, umpires were partisan, and no protective equipment was available, he captured the heart of millions of Pakistanis by his brave hooking against the fastest bowlers of the world. In his book, “Pace Like Fire”, speed-merchant Wesley Hall mentioned how the hook shots of Imtiaz against his most lethal bumpers caused nightmares.
It’s a folly to measure Imtiaz’s career through mere statistics. Whilst an Islamia College teenager, in 1945, he hit a hundred at Lahore against the visiting Australian XI led by Lindsay Hassett – including the legendary Keith Miller –immediately after the end of World War II. In 1948, when Pakistan was a toddler nation, his hundred – Pakistan’s 1st ever against an international Test team – versus the West Indies led by John Goddard at Lahore nearly beat the visitors. And, in 1951, at Bombay, he stroked an epic 300 for the Prime Minister XI versus a powerful Commonwealth side. For decades, this knock stood out as the highest score by an Asian player in the Subcontinent against a visiting side. It gave Pakistan cricket the self-belief that it could compete at the highest level. From 1947-52, Imtiaz lost his peak years because Pakistan had yet to gain Test status.
Imtiaz was easily the best wicket-keeper batsman that Pakistan has produced. His safe-keeping to Fazal’s bowling – during Pakistan’s 1st decade in cricket – was a hallmark of Pakistan’s iconic successes.
Imtiaz was a piece of Pakistani history and symbolized the romance of cricket of a vanished era when money did not matter and passion to perform did.
Great players leave a great impact. Imtiaz left the game well over 50 years ago, when he hit 98 during his farewell Test at the Oval. His dauntless playing style reflected the dreams of so many.
In batting for Pakistan, Imtiaz was battling for Pakistan. He – along with Kardar, Fazal, Hanif, and Justice A.R. Cornelius – unforgettably stamped the presence and the identity of the young nation on the international arena.
By Mowahid Hussain Shah
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