December 2004: The greatest Indian innings - No. 18

Mushtaq's day at Old Trafford

Mushtaq Ali: 118 v England at Manchester, 1936

Mushtaq Ali was a maverick strokeplayer with a love of sudden forays down the pitch, even to quick bowlers, and daring strokes that had bowlers tearing their hair out. The downside of this was that he was often indiscreet and overambitious. As Ray Robinson wrote in his piece on him, `Fellow-players estimate that in nine-tenths of his innings he got himself out, saving the bowlers that trouble.' Mushtaq forged a productive opening partnership with Vijay Merchant, and it was in the company of Merchant at Old Trafford in 1936 that he became the first Indian to score a Test hundred in England. As these accounts reveal, when Mushtaq, after a memorable assault on Gubby Allen, drew close to his hundred, it was not only his batting partner but also the opposition who counselled him to curb his impetuosity and get to his hundred. Match drawn.

Mushtaq Ali was unstoppable on the day at Old Trafford ©

Ray Robinson on the innings Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Merchant [were] a pair as dissimilar as curry and rice, and just as effective in combination. When they walked in for the second innings, England's declaration with a lead of 368 had left India a struggle for a draw. To his partner, three years older, Mushtaq said, not for the first time: `Vijay, please stop me whenever I am taking any undue risks'.

In the first over he charged a couple of yards forward to meet a fast ball from England's captain, Allen. Taking him at his word, Merchant made a cautionary remark between overs, but Mushtaq relied, `Well, Vijay, it puts the bowler off and that is exactly what I want'. This theory often let him down, but it worked this day at Old Trafford. He carved 15 off one of Allen's overs. Strokes unorthodox and unpredictable upset England's field- placing. Whenever his onslaught seemed to be tempting fate too much, Merchant would give him a gentle reminder that India's chief purpose was to draw the match and so keep the Test rubber alive. Every time Mushtaq would say, `Yes, Vijay, I will be careful now', but after a couple of overs he would forget. All the time the England bowlers expected to get him, yet his quickness of foot and luck helped him get away with the risks. With Merchant playing classic cricket at the other end, 190 appeared on the board [that day] at the rate of 80 an hour.

Mushtaq Ali "The faster Allen bowled and bowled outside the off stump, the harder I pulled him to leg for a string of fours. I had assured Merchant of casting away my impetuosity. Only for a while could I resist temptation. As I moved into the nineties, Hammond came up to me and said, `My boy, be steady, get your hundred first.' My hundred came a few minutes before the drawing of stumps, amidst thundering cheers. It was the day of days, my whole life compressed into a single day as it were." Excerpted from S Mushtaq Ali, Cricket Delightful (Rupa, 1967)