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Feature

The multi-faceted domestic giant

Gul Hameed Bhatti made numbers fun, and knew and cared more deeply about domestic cricket in Pakistan than probably anyone who has passed through the doors of the Gaddafi Stadium administration

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
05-Feb-2010
Along with Abid Ali Kazi and Nauman Badr, Gul Hameed Bhatti formed the holy trinity of Pakistan statisticians  •  Abid Ali Kazi

Along with Abid Ali Kazi and Nauman Badr, Gul Hameed Bhatti formed the holy trinity of Pakistan statisticians  •  Abid Ali Kazi

Figures were always fun with GHB. The column of that name ('Figures are fun with GHB') in The Cricketer (Pakistan) was the one that decoded cricket for me first. It isn't an easy game to get into because there is so much to take in, but Gul Hameed Bhatti's statistics-based columns switched on a light: under 30 averages for bowlers were good, over 40 for batsmen likewise, and so the game goes. All that I have done since is essentially his fault.
Primarily, Bhatti sahab was known as the country's leading cricket statistician, but never have statistics revealed so little. In writing about that magazine I wrote of him once: "But probably no journalist came to be as closely associated with the magazine as the indefatigable Bhatti, guru of stats before Statsguru came out, and eminently better company." When I spoke to him next, he said he'd spent an evening with Statsguru and found it to be reasonable company actually.
His writing, overshadowed by his reputation with numbers, was always elegantly understated and light of touch, ready with humour where there was often little: it is vastly under-rated. He knew and cared more deeply about domestic cricket in Pakistan than probably anyone who has passed through the doors of the Gaddafi Stadium administration, a real tragic. He would've been more than useful in the board, but given the institution's reputation for sullying even the finest, we should all be glad he never did join.
He attended regularly any number of workshops and seminars and conferences the board organised to better Pakistan cricket. Amid the screeching cacophony that is Pakistan's ex-cricketers, on a freebie, dishing out their two cents on how they feel the game should be improved, Bhatti sahab's was always the most rational and calm voice, soothing, impassioned but unemotional. He cared, oh yes he cared, but he didn't need to shout to let it be known. Always he talked sense: take ownership of domestic cricket, don't keep forever tinkering with it, give it the status it deserves. No one in the board ever listened, though that reveals more about them than it does him.
He wrote in regularly to Cricinfo, gently tut-tutting us about names we had mis-spelt in our domestic coverage, skills we had attributed wrongly, date of births, birthplaces, everything. He really was, as another senior journalist Waheed Khan put it, an encyclopaedia on Pakistan cricket. His own database on domestic cricket here is said to be immense and it will be a real shame if it is not in some way preserved and maintained.
As I discovered over the years, there had been much, much more to him than just cricket and sport. He was a qualified pilot. He worked in PR. He had acted in a TV play. He had also, I very recently discovered, recorded some songs. He wrote culinary columns somewhere. His wife was the late, equally legendary Razia Bhatti, also a journalist, who left the editorship of one influential current affairs monthly, to start her own, equally influential monthly, Newsline. When she passed away in 1996, people say, a little of Bhatti sahab went with her.
At one time in the mid-90s, he was also the editor of the News, an indication of just how broad was his grasp on things not cricket. He didn't much enjoy the stint, people say, and was soon back to being sports editor. And he still found time, amid all this, to play cupid to someone close to me.
I got close enough to him to sense that he was an eminently warm man, and that he was never a scrooge with his smiles. Having read so much of his writing, meeting him for the first time in the mid-90s was one of those key moments in my youth, when decisions are being made and paths are being taken. I was nervous and trying to hide it, I remember that, and a little tongue-tied. No cricketer I have met has induced in me that feeling.
But Bhatti sahab was so serene, so welcoming and jovial and that didn't change in my association with him thereafter. He had a terrific Lahori humour on him as well and was a great teller of cricket tales, evidence present in every word of just how much he loved the sport. He was an acolyte of the early Government and Islamia College matches and he even missed classes to watch Shafqat Rana bat.
Cricket, and the figures, will not be much fun without him.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo