The Icon Builders: The men behind Pakistan’s two most famous cricket grounds

July 9, 2023

What they shared was a dream to help build a new country and raise it to a worthy status in the comity of nations. They did so with passion and pride, devoting the best years of their lives to building structures of everlasting repute and stature. We, as a nation, owe them an eternal debt of gratitude

The Icon Builders: The men behind Pakistan’s two most famous cricket grounds

Men are remembered for the legacies they leave behind, their ‘footprints in the sands of time.” The histories of Pakistan’s two most renowned cricket stadia, The National Stadium in Karachi and the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore are indelibly interwoven with two unique individuals, each a master of his own craft and calling.

Kafiluddin Ahmed

Kafiluddin Ahmed was born on November 13, 1913 in Mymensingh, East Bengal (British India). He graduated as a Civil Engineer from Calcutta University in 1937. He was an active sportsman in his student days, representing his alma mater in cricket, hockey, football and badminton. He subsequently qualified for the prestigious Indian Engineering Service (IES) and during the war years was posted in Bushehr in Iran as well as in Bahrain. While at Bushehr he played both cricket and hockey for the British Consulate against the British and Indian Navy teams.

After the creation of Pakistan he was assigned for three years to Dhaka as an Executive Engineer of the Pakistan Public Works Department (Pak PWD). While there, he was instrumental in establishing the Institution of Engineers of Pakistan (IEP) and served as its first secretary. He was also the founder secretary of the Dhaka flying club.

In 1950 Kafiluddin was posted to Karachi as the Superintending Engineer, Administration Circle, Pakistan PWD, with responsibility for the development of the-then federal capital of Pakistan. It was here that he began a love affair with the game of cricket that would become a major facet of his life.

He soon began to patronize the game in a major way. His officially allotted government accommodation was one of the large bungalows on what was then called Bunder Road (now MA Jinnah Road). It had a very spacious compound where Kafiluddin was able to set up proper covered practice nets which were frequented by all the leading Karachi based players of the day, including Hanif Mohammad, Wazir Mohammad, Waqar Hasan, Alimuddin and Ikram Elahi. He also established a PWD cricket team, and appointed the Test umpire Idrees Baig, as the sports officer responsible for managing it. Jobs were offered to many players to provide them financial security so that they could focus exclusively on polishing their cricket skills. One such beneficiary was a 17-year-old Hanif Mohammad, who was appointed as a road inspector in 1951, a job which guaranteed him a reasonable monthly income without putting in even a day’s work on the job. Another was Waqar Hasan, who was persuaded to move from Lahore to Karachi, and appointed as a cinema inspector in the PWD, a teasingly interesting appointment as Waqar’s brother Iqbal Shahzad, was a film producer.

Kafiluddin also served as the Vice President of the Karachi Cricket Association and the Treasurer of the BCCP (Board for Control of Cricket in Pakistan). In late 1954, plans were announced for an inaugural three month visit by the Indian cricket team, beginning in December that year, for a five Test series against Pakistan. There was great enthusiasm in the public about this tour and large crowds were expected to watch the matches between these two arch rivals.

The fifth and final Test of the series was scheduled to be played at Karachi from 26th February to 1st March. Karachi was the capital of the country but its only reasonable cricket ground was the one at the Karachi Gymkhana which unfortunately had very limited seating capacity for the fans. In November 1954 an urgent meeting was arranged at the office cum residence of Mr. AT Naqvi, the Chief Commissioner of Karachi to look into ways of addressing this problem.

As the honorary treasurer of the BCCP, Kafiluddin Ahmed also attended this meeting. He proposed a radical solution by offering the PWD’s services to build a new cricketing facility in the city in the short period of barely three months that remained before the start of the Karachi Test. After much persuasion he won the Commissioner’s approval. The PWD was provided a plot of land measuring 174.5 acres on the Dalmia Cement Factory Road, for a grand National Stadium project, of which the cricket ground would be the initial construction. The entire project also envisaged hockey and football grounds, thirteen tennis courts, practice grounds, an Olympic stadium, a club house and residential facilities. Its approved budget was Rs 14.6 million.

The cricket stadium had to be built quickly at rapid speed. In fact such was Kafiluddin’s sense of urgency that his son Hyderuddin, who had accompanied his father to the Commissioner’s house, recalled “once Abbu got Mr Naqvi’s nod to go ahead, he took my hand and whisked us out of the Chief Commissioner’s office, not even waiting for the sharbat (cold drink) that was on offer.”

The same evening he began making phone calls to get the project underway. The construction contract was awarded to Gammon Pakistan Ltd. and Sheikh Gulzar Ali and work soon began at a feverish pace with over 2000 people engaged on a daily basis. Kafiluddin conducted a daily inspection visit to the site, and with help from the officers of the PWD, this monumental task was completed in just over three months, at a cost of Rs. 2.2 million. This was a remarkable achievement, defying all odds, and reflects the dynamism and drive of Kafiluddin who was suitably described by Omar Kureishi as a pocket dynamo.

The Pakistan-India Test was the first cricket match to be played at the newly constructed stadium and proved to be a great public success, attracting a full house, with the rush of people and vehicles causing traffic jams all the way to the Jail Road. The match was temporarily interrupted by rain on the third day and eventually ended in a draw, but before that happened it was graced on its second day by a visit from the Turkish President, Celal Bayar, who was on a state visit to Pakistan. He was the first, and to this date, the only Turkish President ever to witness a Test match. While the visit of the US President to a Test match at the NSK in 1959, continues to receive much mention, sadly the Turkish President’s visit is one that has receded from public memory.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Kafiluddin continued to widen the net of his sponsorship of cricket in Karachi . He began organising summer camps at the NSK for talented school, college and university cricketers and beneficiaries of this scheme included players like Naseem ul Ghani and Haseeb Ahsan. Mushtaq Mohammad was also inducted into the PWD on Hanif’s recommendation. Since he was under age at the time, he could not be officially employed and a way round this bottleneck was found by offering him a scholarship. In the column that had to define his function in the organisation, he was shown as a cement clerk. Therefore, as Mushtaq records in his autobiography, he was formally documented as “Mushtaq Mohammad, cement clerk, on scholarship”, surely a first for the books.

The Icon Builders: The men behind Pakistan’s two most famous cricket grounds

In 1963, Kafiluddin was transferred to Dhaka to help build Pakistan’s second capital, and soon began to make efforts to promote cricket there. Although the main Pak PWD team stayed behind in Karachi, he invited some experienced Karachi players to Dhaka to help him in this task. These included Nasim ul Ghani, Rehman Ali, Masood ul Hasan and Mufassir ul Haque, all of whom he managed to have inducted into the East Pakistan contingent. The six month stay of these cricketers in Dhaka helped in developing local talent like Niaz Ahmed, Abdul Latif and Daulat Zaman, and in enabling the East Pakistan team to defeat a good Karachi Whites side, led by Saeed Ahmed, in the Quaid e Azam trophy.

Kafiluddin continued to recruit more players into the PWD side. Some of the more prominent names included Saeed Ahmed, Intikhab Alam and Zaheer Abbas. When Bangladesh came into being, Kafiluddin opted to stay back in Karachi, residing in his house in Nazimabad. A keen sportsman to the end, it is perhaps befitting that he parted from this world on a sports ground. On 28th November 1985, after playing two sets of tennis, he suffered a fatal heart attack while still on the tennis court.

Kafiluddin Ahmed’s contribution to the development of cricket in Pakistan in its early formative years is huge. The National Stadium that he built in the record time of three months, lives on as a testament to his vision and as an enduring witness of his commitment to a cause and to his country.

The Icon Builders: The men behind Pakistan’s two most famous cricket grounds

Nasreddin Murat Khan

The Gaddafi stadium was designed and built by a renowned architect of his time, Nasreddin Murat Khan who is better known for designing the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore.

Murat Khan was born in Dagestan in Russia in 1904, in a Muslim Caucasian family. His father was a soldier in the Imperial Russian army. In 1930 Murat graduated with triple degrees in Architecture, Civil Engineering and Town Planning from the Leningrad State University (now known as the St.Petersburg State University). He subsequently held a variety of posts in his home state of Dagestan, and was involved in major projects like building a Polytechnic Institute and a 600 bedded hospital in Makhachkala, the capital city of Dagestan, and the National Theatre in Derbent, the state’s second largest city.

Murat and his family were active supporters of the movement to free Caucasian territories from Soviet control and he was arrested during Stalin’s “Engineer Purges”, but was reinstated in February 1940, as Chief Engineer and Chief Architect of the North Caucasian Project Trust. His family, however, was still blacklisted. His brother was sent to Siberia, and fearing for her life, his sister emigrated to Iran. Murat also decided to flee from Dagestan in 1944, accompanying the retreating German army, and abandoning a thriving career in Russia, to live as a refugee in a camp run by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), in Berlin.

At the camp, Murat worked as an engineer and architect and was also the Deputy Chief of the Central Technical Office. It was here that he met and married Hamida Akmut, another refugee at the camp. Hamida herself had an interesting multi-cultural background. Her father was from Lahore, while her mother was Austrian-Hungarian. Her parents had settled in Turkey a few years after their marriage and had acquired Turkish citizenship. Hamida had been studying medicine in Vienna but her training was disrupted by the war and she eventually qualified as a nurse instead.

The Icon Builders: The men behind Pakistan’s two most famous cricket grounds

After the creation of Pakistan, Hamida’s father Dr, Abdul Hafiz Malwada, who had a doctorate degree in chemical engineering from Germany and was an expert in weapons technology, was lured back to Pakistan by his brother Mian Abdul Aziz, who had served as the mayor of Lahore for several years. On returning to Pakistan, Dr. Hafiz played a key role in setting up the Wah Ordinance Factory. In 1950 he invited his son-in-law Murat Khan to join him in Pakistan, and settle in this new homeland for the Muslims.

Murad accepted his father-in-law’s invitation, and after arriving in Pakistan, began work as a Garrison Engineer in the Military Engineering Service (MES), before moving to the Public Works Department (PWD), where he worked both as an executive engineer as well as a special architect. In 1959, he gave up his government job and established his own architectural firm, Illeri N. Murat Khan and Associates in the annexe of his beautiful home on Montgomery Road in Lahore.

Amongst the important structures that he designed and built, are the 1,000 bedded Nishtar Hospital in Multan, a 500 bedded mental hospital in Mansehra, Divisional Public High Schools in Lahore and Faisalabad, the Sinclair Hall auditorium in the Forman Christian College of Lahore, with a seating capacity of over 700, municipal offices in Multan, the Sahala Police Training College, a Textile College in Faisalabad, the Jamia mosque in Mirpur, a library and a ladies park in Rahim Yar Khan, the Bank of America in Lahore, a shopping centre in Peshawar, a mosque in the Punjab Governor’s house in Lahore, as well as many residences and townships.

Murat was also the architect who designed the Fortress Stadium and the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. The construction contractors he employed for the Gaddafi Stadium were Mian Abdul Khaliq and Company, and the project was completed in 1959.

It was originally named the Lahore Olympic Stadium (later shortened to just the Lahore Stadium), and was meant to be a multi-purpose arena. It even had a tunnel for athletes through which they could run into the ground, but this was later taken out. In addition to cricket, it also hosted wrestling tournaments and hockey matches. The first Test match at this stadium was played against the visiting Australian side in 1959, which Pakistan lost by 7 wickets with just 12 minutes of play remaining. Incidentally, this was also the first first-class cricket match to be played at this venue.

In 1974, the stadium was re-named as the Gaddafi Stadium, to honour the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who, during his visit to the Organisation of Islamic Countries summit held in Lahore in 1974, addressed a large public gathering at the ground in support of Pakistan.

Murat Khan’s biggest gift to the nation, however, is the Minar-e-Pakistan. On 23rd March 1940, the famous Lahore resolution was passed at Minto Park in Lahore, calling for the establishment of separate Muslim states in the Indian subcontinent. Nineteen years later on 23rd March 1959, the Lahore Municipal Corporation passed a resolution to build a monument to commemorate this momentous event. A 22 member committee was formed for this purpose of which Murat Khan was also a member. Designs for the monument were invited through a public competition, but when many proposals were rejected as being unsuitable, Murat Khan volunteered to design the monument and the surrounding national park himself, and also took responsibility for supervising its construction. He provided all these services free of charge, saying that this was his contribution to the country that gave him a new home. Construction of the Minar began in 1960 and was completed eight years later in 1968. Murat was awarded the Tamgha e Imtiaz in 1963 for his efforts.

Murat’s original design had an open top, signifying the country’s endless, infinite capacity for growth, but the committee subsequently wanted it capped with a dome to make it more Islamic in appearance. When Murat refused to give in, he was unceremoniously removed from the committee a few months before the minar’s completion and was not even invited to the inaugural ceremony of a structure that he had personally designed and built through eight years of sustained effort and love. Such is the callous way in which we treat our heroes .

Murat was heartbroken by this experience. A year later he had an unexpected heart attack and passed away. Sadly, very few people remember the part played by this gifted architect and engineer in building some of the most treasured monuments and structures of the early years of our nationhood. As a citizen of a young and emerging state, Murat Khan had accepted more than his fair share of responsibility in contributing to its growth, working with great dignity and distinction, leaving behind a lasting legacy through the buildings he helped to design and construct.

It is ironic that the men behind Pakistan’s two most famous and popular cricket stadia both happened to be born in lands that are not part of present day Pakistan. What they shared was a dream to help build a new country and raise it to a worthy status in the comity of nations. They did so with passion and pride, devoting the best years of their lives to building structures of everlasting repute and stature. We, as a nation, owe them an eternal debt of gratitude.

– Dr Salman Faridi is a senior surgeon, poet, sports aficionado and an avid reader with a private collection of over 7000 books.

The Icon Builders: The men behind Pakistan’s two most famous cricket grounds