June 17, 2000

Wazir Ali - One of the great pioneers

In these days of razzle dazzle cricket, played under lights and in coloured clothing, it becomes sometimes difficult to stretch one's mind and go back to the days when cricket was played only in the daylight and in white clothes, when helmets and white balls were unheard of. And recalling the days when the pioneers helped give the game in India a sense of purpose in the formative years seems almost irrelevant That's where birth and death anniversaries come in handy to remember the grand old men who did so much to shape the game in this country.

In these heady days of Sachin Tendulkar, the name of Syed Wazir Ali may not mean much to the average cricket follower. Even the genuine lover of the game might scratch his head and say `Syed who'. But to the diehard fan, his name will certainly be familiar. Today on his 50th death anniversary it is worth recalling his contribution in the days when cricket was just a game to be enjoyed, where money and other considerations never came into the picture.

Wazir Ali played in every one of the seven Tests that India played between 1932 and 1936, all against England. An attractive right handed batsman with a keen eye and the ability to play splendid strokes, Wazir Ali could cut and drive with a mixture of elegance and power. In the first ever Test at Lord's in 1932, Wazir Ali impressed in making 31 and 39, second top score in both innings. He handled the varied England attack of Bowes, Voce, Robins and Brown with a degree of comfort. At home he played in all three Tests in 1933-34 and had a modest series with two valuable knocks of 36 and 39 in the first two Tests. He was not very successful in England in 1936 but he notched up a top score of 42 in the second Test at Old Trafford which remained his highest score.

In these days when batsman have crossed 10,000 runs in Tests and have notched up over 30 hundreds, it is easy to brush aside a tally of 237 runs (average 16.92). But then it must not be forgotten that these were pioneering days and scores made for a side which had just cut its teeth in Test cricket. A popular cricketer in his time, Wazir Ali led India against Jack Ryder's Australian team that visited this country in 1935-36. A batting mainstay of Southern Punjab for many years, Wazir Ali in a first class career that stretched from 1922 to 1941, scored almost 7000 runs at an average close to 40 with 20 centuries. A medium paced change bowler, he also took 33 wickets in first class cricket at an average of almost 30. After partition, Wazir Ali migrated to Pakistan. He was the elder brother of Nasir Ali, another of the pioneers and the father of Khalid Wazir who played two Tests for Pakistan against England in 1954.