November 24, 2000

Bagh-e-Jinnah Cricket Ground: Where the twain shall always meet

Imtiaz Sipra

The city of Lahore and its environs reflect a continuity that is rich in all kinds of heritage; be it architectural, social or even political. Ever the main city of most rulers of the times, it has places whose mere recall warms the hearts of the locals as well as the temporary guests that visit, initially known as 'The Heart Of The Sub-Continent,' and now of Pakistan.

But while the city takes pride in its architectural splendour through the mosques, minarets, mausoleums, ancient gardens and the Fort, it is no less proud of a sporting arena that even today, is a manifestation of all the splendour, the glory and traditional grandeur of its rulers of the past; the English, who created it and frequented to partake the enjoyment of a sport they introduced in the sub-continent: cricket. As one goes down memory lane, one realises that the history of this 'playing field' reflects the introduction of the game of cricket to this part of the subcontinent and also witnessed its glorious periods; becoming a Test centre and then, to its mortification, seeing itself shorn of that honour. Cricket is still played here, and even though Rudyard Kipling wrote that 'East is East and West is West and the twain shall never meet', the mere continuity of cricket being played here, endorses otherwise.

This writer, who played cricket here in mid-1950's, was lucky enough to go through group photographs of years gone by, hung here in the pavilion and now consigned to a store, that bore testimony to the fact that cricket began to be played here in 1880. Chance discussions with seniors like the late Dr Jehangir Khan, Agha Ahmed Raza, Sultan F Hussain and even with Lala Amarnath, brought one up to date with its creation and subsequent development, to a centre where it was a dream and pleasure for every cricketer to play - be it a one-day friendly, a 3-day trophy or an annual festival match.

History has it that the British rulers of those days, busy consolidating their Empire as they were, worked six days a week, taking the day off only when there was a cricket match - for the majority of cricketers were their own masters. This had to be. For long before the English bid 'adieu' to the subcontinent, they needed a pastime that made them feel at home. And the game of cricket, being very 'English,' was one sporting discipline that allowed them that luxury. Most government officers at Lahore, along with some native civil servants, shared the fruits of the glorious days of regal pomp and show of the rulers of the day, lending beauty and grandeur to the games played at the Gymkhana. In due course of time, it became a fad with Oxon and Cantab civil servants to evince interest in cricket and discuss its finer points at social functions. By and by, natives of means and stature joined the English elite, to don white flannels and luxuriate in the surroundings found only at the Gymkhana ground. Even after independence, the pavilion still reflects that splendour of yore, reminding one and all of some elegant English county club pavilion, in the splendorous setting of Lawrence Gardens (now Bagh-e-Jinnah), with Montgomery and Lawrence Halls overlooking the artistically laid-out garden and lush-green plots in the North.

The historical group photographs, once part and parcel of the pavilion, have been relegated to the limbo of club archives, along with some masterly portraits of English governors of Punjab and some renowned Viceroys of India, endorsing the history of the patronage of this club. There existed no pavilion until the advent of the 20th century and the gentry witnessed the game from a vantage point where at present the score-board is located. But it was not only cricket that was played here; according to record, it has been the scene of a balloon ascent also.

Earlier matches were the source of fun and frolics before regular weekly games began to be played here from 1885 onwards. A group photograph attests to one of those matches, with young and old, lads and lasses, in their best attire, along with their pet dogs. One was updated on many an interesting match between 1885-1911. In one such match, a member of the Forces, without a wink of sleep due to an overnight 'binge', went in to bat and on completely missing a pull-shot, reeled on to the stumps. The witty scorer, instead of recording 'hit-wicket', noted the dismissal as 'out drunk'. Another photograph showed a numbered plate bearing '0', placed over the head of one player, reminding him that if he had treasured the 'ducks' made by him during his career, he might well have had a poultry farm by now.

The game of cricket in those days was patronised by rulers of Indian States. The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir like his counterpart, of Patiala, had regular fixtures against Lahore Gymkhana, Punjab XI and other teams. Legend has it that once, in a match against Mayo College, Ajmir, the Maharaja met the great Ranji, then Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, at the tea table, and asked him if he ever had been out for a duck. On the Jam Sahib's reply, that many a time he had, the Maharaja was so happy that he asked the Principal to announce a holiday for the students, for he had never scored a duck himself, while the great Ranji had. For the record, let it be known that opponents were under instructions to allow the Maharaja to score a few runs before getting him out.

Cricket enthusiasts, in order to generate greater interest, arranged a match between the British Army and a World XI, played here in 1911. The World XI had most players from Gloucestershire and Lancashire while the Army team was drawn from the 87th Punjabis, 17th Lancasters, 15th Sikhs and the King's Regiment. The World team won by 61 runs, one Henderson with 59, being the top scorer. The match had its desired result and interest to play here was endorsed through a strong team led by D.R. Jardine playing here in the mid-1930's. The team had such other luminaries as G.O. Allen, Hedley Verity, Earl Clark and Mitchell in it and played an unofficial Test against India here, in which the Verity-Mitchell combination prevented the great Wazir Ali from scoring double figures in either innings. It was followed by a Jack Ryder led team that included the 'Governor-General', Charlie Macartney, in which Ryder, a former Test cricketer, hooked S.M. Nissar, then one of the fastest bowlers of the world, at will.

The ground's acceptance as a venue of standard saw Lord Tennyson's team play an unofficial Test here against India. The Indian team led for the first time by Vijay Merchant, including the debutant Vijay Hazare, Lala Amarnath, Mushtaq Ali, Amar Singh, lost. An unbelievable catch off Hindlekar by Yardley, first post-war skipper of England, has come down through the years as a catch to remember. Recalled equally fondly, is that lbw verdict against Mushtaq Ali by Dr Vishwanath, a senior professor at Government College, Lahore, after the opening batsman, in a 200 run partnership with Merchant, had very finely executed a leg glance and the ball had crossed the boundary.

A Commonwealth XI also played here after the war, and included Keith Miller, Lindsay Hassett playing against a Punjab XI for whom both Imtiaz Ahmed and A.H. Kardar scored a century.

The ground hosted the first unofficial Test, against West Indies, from Nov 27 through to Nov 30, 1948, recording a draw. The West Indies led by Goddard, had G. Carew, J.B. Stollmeyer, C.L.Walcott, E.D.Weekes, K. Rickards, C.M. Watt, R.J. Christiani, G.A.Headley and J. Trim in the team. Pakistan led by Mian Mohammad Saeed had Nazar Muhammad , Imtiaz Ahmed, Maqsood Ahmed, Anwar Hussain, M.E.Z. Ghazali, M. Aslam, Fazal Mahmood, Shujauddin, M. Amin and Munawar Ali Khan. Imtiaz (76) and Nazar Mohammad (87) shared an opening stand of 148 runs in the first innings while Imtiaz Ahmed (131) and Mian Saeed (101) recorded a 205 runs stand in the second. Scores: Pakistan 241 and 285/6 dec. West Indies 308 and 98/1. Walcott scored 41, Weekes 55, Rickards 72 and Headley 57.

The Bagh-e-Jinnah cricket ground played host to yet another Commonwealth XI after independence. Led by J. Livingstone, with such luminaries like Frank Worrell, J.K. Holt, M. Oldfield, G. Tribe, W. Alley, Pettiford, Pepper, Lambert and Pope. Pakistan lost by an innings and 177 runs, scoring 176 and 66 respectively. Pepper posted 29-6-57-4 and 7.4-4-13-2 in the two innings while Tribe had figures of 33-13-39-4 and 10-8-8-5 in the second innings. The match was played from Nov 25 through to Nov 28, 1949.

The third Unofficial Test saw Pakistan beat Celyon (now Sri Lanka) on March 25,26,27,28, 1950 by an innings and 145 runs. Imtiaz Ahmed (127), Maqsood Ahmed (56), Asghar Ali (73), helped Pakistan to 362 while Fazal Mahmood (5/56, 3/48) and Khan Mohammad saw Ceylon restricted to 166 and 151.

The 4th Unofficial Test saw Pakistan draw with MCC here from Nov 15 through to Nov 18, 1951. MCC led by N.D. Howard had J. Robertson, R.T. Spooner, T.W. Graveney, D.B. Carr, A.J. Watkins, D. Shackleton, D.V.Brewin (wk), M.J. Hilton, J.B. Statham and R. Tattersall in the team. MCC scored 254 in the first innings and 308/1 in the second that saw Spooner and Graveney make unbeaten scores of 168 and 109 runs respectively. Pakistan posted 428, thanks mainly to Maqsood Ahmed (137 run out), Nazar Mohammad (66), Ghazali (86) and Kardar (48); a match that saw Hanif Mohammad's debut with 26 runs.

The Bagh-e-Jinnah cricket ground became a Test centre, the 35th Test ground in the world, when Pakistan played India after earning Test Status. The four-day Test was played from Jan 29 through to Feb 1, 1955 resulting in a draw. Pakistan made 328 in the first innings and declared at 136/5 in the second innings, with India replying with 251 and 74/2. Maqsood Ahmed got out for 99 while Gupte, the Indian leg spinner had figures of 73.5-33-133-5 in Pakistan's first innings. The Indians led by Mankad had Lala Amarnath as playing manager.

The Second Official Test between Pakistan and New Zealand was the first five-day match and was played, from Oct 26 through to October 31, 1955. It resulted in a Pakistan win by four-wickets due to some very sporting spirit from the Kiwis, who ran between over changes, to give Pakistan a chance to score the runs. Pakistan were 111/6 at one time, were rescued through a 308 run stand between Waqar Hassan (189) and Imtiaz Ahmed (209) to post 561. New Zealand led by Cave, scored 348 and 328 in their two innings and Pakistan posted the winning score of 117/6 in failing light, thanks to the sporting Kiwis who completed the required overs.

The Pakistan and West Indies teams
pose before the pavilion
The Third and last Official Test match was played here between Pakistan and West Indies on March 26 through to March 31, 1959 and lost by Pakistan by an innings and 156 runs. West Indies scored 469 runs, thanks to Rohan Kanhai's 217 and an eye pleasing 72 by Sobers. Pakistan could only manage 209 and 104 in each innings where Wesley Hall recorded the only hat-trick on this ground and where Mushtaq Mohammad made his Test debut, lbw to Hall for 14.

Thereafter the ground lost its Test status, playing second fiddle to the Gaddafi Stadium. It nevertheless, continued to interest visiting teams, especially the English and on every visit they have played official three-day features or unscheduled one-day games, like the Mike Brearley led MCC match against Lahore Gymkhana where Boycott notched up a century. The 1996 England team led by Atherton also played here against Lahore Gymkhana.

Presently, it plays host to limited overs contests, besides 3-day festival matches and regular Lahore Gymkhana matches against different clubs. It has to its credit a 'Night Cricket Extravaganza', initiated by Allied Bank a few Ramzan's back.

Well, all said and done, the England team is here again in Nov 2000 and playing a 3-day first class game, another glorious and nostalgic moment in this ground's history.