In any gathering his tall and lanky frame would stand out. But, what distinguishes Mohammed Rizwan is his ‘humility and commitment’. A man who always kept a low profile, though his performances as a India basketball player and a banker were of top class.
It is no wonder that at the superannuation function of this former India captain in the district collectorate of Ranga Reddy many expressed surprise that they hardly aware of the presence of a former India basketball captain and one of the greats of the game from Hyderabad. Rizwan was on deputation from the SBI as lead manager to the district which has over 650 branches of all banks, with maximum from the SBI group.
As a playmaker in the tough and demanding game, his magic was in full flow on the basketball courts. He excelled in all positions on the court- as a pivot, ball handler and shooter. In a decade during the 1980s, he rose to captain the India basketball team in 1988.
As an officer in the SBI, he steadily rose to win the Chairman’s award for building NRI business. On April 30, the ‘Committed Officer and an Outstanding sportsman’, ended an illustrious and long career of 39 years with the SBI as a Chief Manager. Rizwan brought laurels to the bank both in the sports arena and the business development side, which perhaps is quite unique among sportsperson recruited in Public Sector Units and banks under the Sports category.
Rizwan emerged as a true ‘ambassador’ for the SBI. His affable nature and efficiency at work got him assignments to promote the bank’s business overseas too like in Qatar and Kuwait. During the controversial Demonetisation, he headed the currency chest as a Chief Manager in Hyderabad. “Somehow, flamboyance is not my cup of tea”, he remarked, when asked about his low profile.
“I am an accidental banker. I took all the assignments and transfers to districts in the combined Andhra Pradesh and Telangana serving in various responsibilities. In a way I learnt to balance both banking and basketball”, recalled Rizwan.
Hoopster par excellence
That Hyderabad produced outstanding footballers, cricketers, volleyball and hockey players is quite known. But, perhaps lesser known is its contribution to Basketball. Leading the hoopsters would be Mohammed Rizwan. Yadagiri, Banka Harikrishna Prasad, Umakanth, Srikanth Reddy, Appalaraju, Prithvi among others also made a mark.
Rizwan showed the spark quite early from his school days in St Patrick’s Secunderabad and the YMCA, where he was trained by G Sampath Kumar and Irani. He was selected for the junior India camp in 1980 when he was studying in Sardar Patel Degree College. He and Harikrishna were the products of the Sports Hostel in Lal Bahadur Stadium, which was the hub of sports training in Hyderabad, especially badminton, cricket, table tennis, athletics etc.
In 1982, at age 20 and just out of College, he represented India for the first time. He was perhaps the first basketball player from Hyderabad to achieve the distinction. Thereafter, he was a regular for the national team. In 1988, the mantle of captaincy fell on his shoulders and he led India in the Asian Championships.
During his illustrious career spanning nearly 4 decades, Rizwan played for India in 4 Asian championships and test matches with different countries (between 1982 and 1990). He played alongside some of the greats like Ajmer Singh, Sajjan Singh and Ramkumar, which honed his skills and improved his all round game. Rizwan also led India in the Test series against Syria in 1988.
Unlike Volleyball, where India has made a mark and is a regular in the Asian Games, the basketball team has not been able to make the grade regularly in the last few decades. Domestic support to promote the game too has not been very encouraging. Despite the efforts of the Basketball Federation of India and sponsorship by the Reliance Group and tournaments, the standards are a far cry from nations like the US, Yugoslavia, Russia, Brazil, China, Japan, Sweden etc. on the global or Asian stage.
Rizwan was a regular feature for the SBI from the day he joined in 1983 till January, 2022, playing the inter-circle tournament. The bank team was always a formidable side. I recall the teams brilliant action at the Secunderabad YMCA during the entire 1980s against national teams like Artillery Centre, which had greats like the brothers- Balkar Singh and Sajjan Singh, the Bihar team, which had the 7 feet 4 inch tall Sunil Panda, the South Central Railways and the AOC etc.
The open to the streets cement courts of the YMCA would see jam packed spectators and many passerby lined across the compound wall watching the games. SBI had its own stars like Gyan Dev, Rizwan, Umakanth, Hari Krishna Reddy, Norman Issac etc. matching their skills in ‘dribble and accurate throws into the cage’. During the 1980s, the SBI team was among the top four in the country. Three to four players were in the India team too.
Giving back to the game
In 1990, Rizwan retired from the national team. He got married and focussed on his career in the bank. His passion for the game continued as he was a regular figure in the bank team. This in a way did not give him enough time to turn to coaching.
But, Rizwan’s lasting contribution took shape in the form of the Fr Devasia Memorial, Inter-School basketball tournament, which was started around 2006. He was the brain behind a group consisting of Samson Jacob, Balakrishna Desai, Sadanand etc. from St Patrick’s Alumni Association, which were instrumental to launch the tournament in the name of the School’s popular Principal, Fr Devasia.
Though, the event went through tough times in finding sponsors during the initial years, it’s heartening that the annual tournament has become popular with more than 30 teams participating and Rizwan’s presence is prominent every year. “Rizwan is a very down to earth and humble person despite being a great player”, recalls Balakrishna, himself a basketball player.
‘I want to relax for a couple of months, spend time with the family and then think of the future,” says Rizwan when asked about the future.
Somasekhar Mulugu, former Associate Editor & Chief of Bureau of The Hindu BusinessLine, is a well-known political, business and science writer and analyst based in Hyderabad