Abbas Ali Baig, Hyderabad’s debonair batsman, turns 85 today

Abbas Ali Baig who is celebrating his 85th birthday today was once described as the Golden Boy of Hyderabad’s Golden generation of cricketers. He epitomised the glamour of a well bred cricketer and combined it with a rugged, hard working approach to the game which led to many successes.

Back when he was in his prime, cricket was not played as frequently as it is now. So he only had the chance to play in ten Test matches for India between 1959 and 1967. His best innings came in his first Test match which was against England (the fourth Test of the series) in 1959.

In that match he scored 112 in the second innings before he was run out. He was a mere lad then, only 20 years old but the way he tackled the world’s finest bowlers was an eye opener to all those who were watching him that day.

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When the match began on July 23rd, England won the toss and elected to bat first. Centuries by opener Geoff Pullar (131) and middle order batsman Mike Smith (100) helped the host to reach a huge total of 490. India’s leading wicket taker was new ball bowler Surendranath who captured five wickets for 115 runs. He was an army officer and had good performances throughout that tour.

Chandu Borde fought back

In reply India folded up for a modest 208. Only Chandu Borde (75) showed some fighting spirit. Abbas scored only 26 before he was caught by skipper Colin Cowdrey off the bowling of spinner Illingworth.

In its second innings England declared at 265 for eight. For India, the wily leg spinner Subhash Gupte who was once described by Sir Gary Sobers as the best leg spinner he had ever seen took four wickets for 76 runs.

Baig scores a grand century

In its second innings India faced an impossible target of 500 plus runs. The match was as good as finished. But Abbas Ali Baig was not done yet. He entered after Pankaj Roy was dismissed. But this time Abbas unfolded a spectacular range of shots that had the English bowlers running for cover.

One of cricket’s greatest legends Fred Trueman was smashed around. So also his new ball partner Harold Rhodes. Even Ted Dexter, Ray Illingworth and Ken Barrington, all of whom later became captains of England, did not escape punishment from Abbas’ bat. No bowler could conquer him till he was finally run out for 112.

Lower down the order Polly Umrigar also scored a century (118) to send a message to the pundits that India can fight too. Although India lost the match, it went out with its head held high. Abbas set a record for becoming the first batsman to score a century in the 4th innings of a Test match on his Test debut.

Later that year India recorded its first ever victory over Australia and Abbas was involved in that match too. He scored two half centuries before his Test career came to an abrupt end. But his first class career lasted for a glorious 21 years. He played in 235 matches, scoring a total of 12,367 runs including 21 centuries.

Success off the field

However, his success was not confined only to the field. He also won hearts especially among the women fans. One such highly publicised incident occurred in 1960 when a Test match was being played in Bombay between India and Australia. When Abbas was returning to the pavilion along with his batting partner Ramnath Kenny, a woman ran out of the crowd and kissed him on the cheek.

An unsolved mystery

She then ran back into the crowd and disappeared. No one knew who she was or why she did it. Was it a bet with her companions? Was it a publicity stunt? The mystery was never solved.

Abbas Ali Baig, M L Jaisimha and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi were known as the Three Musketeers of Hyderabad cricket. Their adventurous and energetic approach to their game as well as their carefree personalities pulled in crowds of spectators whenever they played. Sadly two of the Three Musketeers have departed. But Abbas is still fighting it out. In life too, he may score a century.

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