Ghulam Ahmed was the first cricketer from Hyderabad to be named captain of the Indian team but his reputation as a gentleman player went far beyond the boundaries of the cricket fields. In everything that he did, be it as a captain, team manager or team selector, his deportment and conduct had that stamp of the class which symbolised Hyderabadi etiquette of the olden days.
He was born on 4th July, 1922 to Ghulam Mahmood and Hafiza Begum and was given the nickname of Aijaz when he was very young by his close friends and associates. But outside this circle, he was known as Ghulam.
From his days as a student in the Madarsa-E-Aliya, Ghulam made his talent known. His inspiration in those days was his uncle Hamid Razvi, former Chief Secretary of the erstwhile Hyderabad state and it was this gentleman who encouraged young Ghulam to pursue cricket on a full time basis.
As an off spinner, Ghulam was the best of his time. India has had the good fortune of being served by many famous off spinners such as Erapalli Prasanna, S. Venkataraghavan, Shivlal Yadav, Arshad Ayub, Harbhajan Singh and Ravichandran Ashwin. But all these bowlers had to have a leader who showed the way. Ghulam Ahmed was that inspirational pioneer who proved for the first time that the Englishmen, the Aussies and the dashing West Indians could be conquered by deceptive off spin.
Another Hyderabad star M L Jaisimha who was a teammate of Prasanna and Venkataraghavan, rated Ghulam as the best off spinner India has ever had. Although Jai was a great admirer of Prasanna, he had no hesitation in ranking Ghulam a notch above all the others.
Along with Vinoo Mankad and Subhash Gupte, he formed a deadly spin combination for the Indian team. He was a tall and graceful bowler with an easy action. Because of his stress free action, he was capable of bowling long spells. He once bowled 555 balls for Hyderabad in a Ranji trophy match against Holkar XI in the 1950-1951 season which then became a record. His bowling analysis read 92.3-21-245-4.
In all, twenty times he captured five or more wickets per innings and six times he captured ten wickets in a match.
According to an article in Cricinfo, he was absolutely unplayable during the third Test against Australia at Calcutta in 1956 when he finished with ten wickets for 130 runs including seven for 49 in the first innings.
There is a story that in one club match, Ghulam Ahmed found himself repeatedly bowling short pitched balls. He was so immaculate in his line and length that this was highly unnatural. Soon he became convinced that the pitch had not been properly marked. He forced the umpires to stop the game and measure the length from wicket to wicket. It was found that Ghulam was right. A careless groundsman had pitched the stumps one foot further than they should have been.
His Test career lasted exactly 10 years. He made his debut for India against West Indies on 31st December 1948 and he played his last Test again versus West Indies on 31st December, 1958. This unusual coincidence has probably not occurred in the case of any other Indian Test player.
However, he continued to play Ranji trophy matches for a while longer and ended up with 407 first class wickets. In his Test cricket he had 68 scalps in 22 Tests. As a tail ender he could be an obstinate batsman who was difficult to dislodge. Against Pakistan he scored 50 runs batting at number eleven in the 1952-1953 series and added 90 runs with Hemu Adhikari for the last wicket which was then a record partnership.
Ghulam captained India thrice. His first Test as the Indian captain was on his home ground of Fatehmaidan against New Zealand. Against England in 1952, he was the leading bowler taking 80 wickets in first class matches at an average of 21.92 and 15 wickets in four Test matches at an average of 24.73.
Although he was selected to tour England with the Indian team in 1959, Ghulam refused to go because he had already retired from first class cricket. But he continued to play club cricket for the Deccan Blues in Hyderabad and was always available as a friend and guide to the youth of Hyderabad.
It was also in 1959 that Nooh Abbassi the then Secretary of the Hyderabad Cricket Association, coaxed Ghulam to take over the reins of the HCA. He was elected as Secretary of the HCA in 1959 and he continued to serve till 1975. He also served as Vice President and President of the HCA.
In 1962 Ghulam Ahmed was the manager of the Indian team when it toured the West Indies. That was the tour in which the Indian captain Nari Contractor was hit on the head by a bouncer bowled by the fiery West Indian fast bowler Charlie Griffith. The blow fractured his skull. But it was due to Ghulam Ahmed’s timely intervention that a surgery was carried out which saved the life of the Indian captain. Years later, Contractor acknowledged the fact that Ghulam Ahmed’s timely action had saved his life while talking to Ghulam Ahmed’s son Nissar Ahmed.
The latter also recalled one more interesting incident that had happened once in Mumbai. On a visit to that city, Nissar Ahmed had met the legendary thespian Dilip Kumar at his house in a gathering with his relatives. At first the Bollywood star did not know the fact that Nissar Ahmed was the son of Ghulam Ahmed. But when Dilip Kumar came to know, he said: “Stand up at once young man and come and give me a hug. You are the son of the great cricketer and you have come to my house and you did not even hug me? Your father was one of the great players whom we admired. He was a Prince of Cricket.”
In 1983 Ghulam Ahmed was the Chairman of the selection committee which selected the Indian team that ultimately won the Prudential World Cup. It was one of the greatest moments of Indian cricket and has been rated by experts as a turning point in the history of Indian cricket. It was the day which saw the birth of a new superpower of the game.
Ghulam’s contribution was recognised by the prestigious MCC and he was given life membership. He served as BCCI Secretary from 1975 to 1980. He was also Chairman of the Hyderabad Race club in Malakpet and instrumental in setting up the Sultan-Ul-Uloom Education Society which established many reputed educational institutions in Hyderabad.
Ghulam Ahmed was also the uncle of Asif Iqbal, former Pakistan captain who was born in Hyderabad and furthermore the grand uncle of Sania Mirza. She is married to another Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik so this family has three cricket captains and one tennis champion.
All said and done, Ghulam Ahmed was a man of remarkable achievements and talents. His passing away in 1998 left a void in Hyderabad cricket and society that has never been filled.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.