Syed Mushtaq Ali
December 17, 1914, Indore, Madhya Pradesh
June 18, 2005, Indore, (aged 90y 183d)
Right hand bat
Slow left arm orthodox
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack obituary
MUSHTAQ ALI, SYED, died on June 18, 2005, aged 90. Tall and debonair, often with a kerchief knotted jauntily round his neck, Mushtaq Ali - the son of an Indore police inspector - was a prototype for India's modern cricket heroes. In his foreword to Mushtaq's autobiography, Cricket Delightful, Keith Miller called him "the Errol Flynn of cricket - dashing, flamboyant, swashbuckling and immensely popular wherever he played". He was the first Indian to score a Test century overseas, with 112 at Old Trafford in 1936, when he beat Vijay Merchant to the mark during an opening stand of 203. He reached his hundred inside the final session on the second day, entrancing Neville Cardus, who enthused: "He transforms the bat into a conjuror's wand." There was one other Test century, 106 against West Indies at Calcutta in 1948-49. Mushtaq had a long career, starting in 1930 and continuing until 1963-64 when, aged 48, he scored 41 off several Test bowlers in a Defence Fund match. In between there were numerous Ranji Trophy finals for Holkar, but just 11 Test appearances. These were spread over almost 20 years and finished with India's first victory, by an innings, over England at Madras in 1951-52. Mushtaq's contribution was 22 in a useful opening stand of 53 with Pankaj Roy. He should have played more Test cricket, but the authorities were suspicious of him: there was an early mix-up when a selection letter apparently went astray, and later the Calcutta crowd chanted "No Mushtaq, no Test" when he was originally left out of a representative match against the Australian Services shortly after the war. He pulled out of the 1947-48 trip to Australia after one of his brothers died, and was not selected for the disastrous England tour of 1952. Even at 37 he might have been useful because, unlike most who toured that year, he relished fast bowling. Later, he was a slim, graceful, elder statesman at many of the multifarious awards nights that punctuate India's cricket seasons. Mushtaq's son, Gulrez Ali, and his grandson, Abbas Ali, both played first-class cricket.
Suresh Menon, The Wisden Cricketer
With the death of Syed Mushtaq Ali on June 18, aged 90, the last of the players who represented India before Independence has passed from the scene.
Two historic moments ensured Mushtaq's place in Indian folklore. His 11th and final Test at 37 was a momentous one: India's first Test win, against England at Chennai in 1951-52. Previous to that he had become the first Indian to score a century on foreign soil, against England at Old Trafford in 1936.
Although loved by the public, Mushtaq played in only 10 of India's 22 Tests since his debut aged 19 at Kolkata against England in 1933-34. He ran foul of the authorities; they felt he had once gone missing without their permission - it was to haunt him and restrict his career. Mushtaq explained that the mix-up had to do with his selection letter going astray but he became a marked man; and, when fans in Kolkata showed their love for him by protesting over his non-inclusion (`No Mushtaq, No Test'), it was probably too much for the fragile egos of the officials who waited for a chance to discard him.
Yet the Indore-born batsman was more than the sum of his runs. Playing his early cricket on matting gave him a feel for shots square of the wicket; lack of protection meant he had to develop his footwork to an extraordinary degree. In the words of Ray Robinson, "The only time he is still is while he takes guard from the umpire. Why he goes through the formality is one of the mysteries of the Orient because, after making his mark, he takes no notice of it." Tall, loose-limbed, quick of eye and swift of foot, Mushtaq began his Test career as a left-arm spinner batting at No. 7 but opened in the second innings following an injury to the regular opener Dilawar Hussain. It was not a particularly distinguished debut, although he picked up the wicket of Douglas Jardine.
India had played six opening combinations in five Tests before Mushtaq and Vijay Merchant came together to open at Old Trafford in 1936. Mushtaq was run out in the first innings for 13 after a drive off Alf Gover deflected off Merchant's bat to Arthur Fagg at mid-on, who threw down the stumps.
Then, replying to England's 571 and 368 in arrears, Merchant and Mushtaq finished the day on 190 without loss. Merchant was keen to go for the then world record of 323 but Mushtaq was caught and bowled for 112 early next morning with the partnership on 203. Mushtaq's century was the first abroad by an Indian; Merchant's 114 was the second.
During the innings Mushtaq displayed his patented shots - the pull and the casual walk out to the fast bowler that unsettled him and thrilled the spectators. "We could understand how a Ranji flowered from this field of play," wrote Neville Cardus. "The batting has paid rare tribute to cricket's loveliness, its art and originality."
The Merchant-Mushtaq association averaged 83.43, on either side of the war. Merchant declined the tour to Bradman's Australia in 1947-48 while Mushtaq, nominated vice-captain, pulled out after the death of his brother. He could still have made it after the mourning period as the team had not left. The Maharajah of Holkar was prepared to meet Mushtaq's travelling expenses but the board did not want him. So India undertook a difficult tour without a pair of recognised openers; and Mushtaq Ali realised, if he had not before, that he was not the blue-eyed boy of the board.
For more than half a century Mushtaq kept silent over matters that reduced his international career, although he played first-class cricket until 1963. When he died at his home in Indore, he was one of cricket's most beloved gentlemen.
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