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Mushtaq, Merchant were a fine combination

June 18, 2005 15:21 IST

Syed Mushtaq Ali, who died in Indore on Saturday a few months short of his 91st birthday, was the last surviving member of India's first-ever full cricket Test tour overseas -- to the game's birthplace in England in 1936.

It was a momentous visit in more ways than one, with another tourist Lala Amarnath, who died five years ago, being sent back in controversial circumstances by the team management for alleged indiscipline.

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Mushtaq was a flamboyant opener in his heyday, a forerunner to the likes of Ramnath Parker, Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Virender Sehwag, and a fearless player of the hook shot even in those days when batsmen played on lively, uncovered wickets without helmets and other upper body protective gear.

And he forged a fine combination with another great, Vijay Merchant -- a totally orthodox opener who believed in playing with the bat close to his pads and was averse to lofting the ball -- on that first full tour of England by an Indian squad.

There were dissensions in the team mainly because the erstwhile Maharajkumar of Vijayanagaram, better known as Vizzy, in whose memory a junior tournament was later instituted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, was the captain when better qualified persons, like C K Nayudu, were part of the team.

Mushtaq, in his tribute to Merchant after the latter's death in 1987, had written, in a special booklet brought out in Merchant's memory, that the latter had angered Vizzy by saying he should step down from captaincy in favour of Nayudu.

And after Merchant was run-out in the first innings of the Old Trafford Test, Vizzy told Mushtaq to run him out in the second innings too, Mushtaq wrote.

But the Indore-born Mushtaq did not pay heed to Vizzy's word and the two openers put on a then record 203-run stand with both batsmen getting centuries, wrote Mushtaq, in his tribute to his partner.

Mushtaq's innings of 112 earned him the distinction of being the first Indian to score a Test ton overseas, an honour which escaped even Merchant who followed his opening partner into the ton scorers' list the next day.

In 11 Tests, the stalwart from central India scored only 612 runs averaging just over 32, with two centuries and three half centuries to his credit, but Mushtaq's contribution to the game should be seen in the manner in which he batted -- in an absolutely carefree manner.

Such was his hold on the fans that when he was dropped for a match there was public outcry "no Mushtaq, no Test", which later found echoes when two other natural cricketers were left out of the Test team -- Salim Durrani and Kapil Dev.

Mushtaq, who could not tour Australia in 1947-48 to play against the all-conquering Don Bradman's team due to family problems, also represented the country in unofficial Tests.

He played against Lord Tennyson's team (1937-38), Australian Services team (1945), first Commonwealth team (1949-50), second Commonwealth team (1950-51) and Silver Jubilee Overseas Cricketers' team -- invited by the Indian Board to celebrate its silver jubilee in 1953-54.

Against Australian Ben Bennett's SJOC team, Mushtaq was ignored for the first four 'Tests'. But he then came up with two fine half centuries in his inimitable style in the fifth and final unofficial Test at Lucknow, at the age of 40, which was his last major international appearance.

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