Where traditions meet: Aitchisonians who were named as Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year

March 24, 2024

Where traditions meet: Aitchisonians who were named as Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year

Wisden Cricketers Almanack is the acknowledged gospel of cricket publications, while Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year is the oldest individual award in cricket, and one that is much coveted and revered in the game.

It was initiated in 1889w, and since 1891 five cricketers have been picked annually for this prestigious award. This list of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year constitutes cricket’s earliest equivalent of a Hall of Fame. On three occasions there were only single recipients of this award, Sir WG Grace in 1896, Sir Pelham Warner in 1921 and Sir Jack Hobbs in 1926. The last two are also the only exceptions to the rule that a player may win this award only once in their lifetime. Warner won twice in 1904 and 1921, while Hobbs did so in 1909 and 1926.

The players are chosen largely for their impact or influence on the previous English season, though for a brief interlude from 2000 to 2003, they were selected on the basis of their global performance in the preceding year.

Aitchison College is also an icon. It came into existence in 1886, just three years before Wisden’s Cricketers of the year awards were instituted. Aitchison was originally designed by the British to educate “the relatives of the Ruling Chiefs of the Punjab”. Initially called the Punjab Chief’s College, it was renamed as Aitchison College in honour of the services of the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, Sir Charles Umpherston Aitchison, whose efforts were instrumental in the establishment of the college.

Along with other eminent personalities, Aitchison College has also produced many renowned cricketers in its time. Three of them have attained the singular honour of being named as Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year, two from the same family.

Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi ( the Nawab of Pataudi senior )

Wisden Cricketer of the Year 1932

Iftikhar Ali Khan was born in 1910, into the family of the Nawabs of Pataudi, a small princely state located approximately 75 kilometers southwest of Delhi. His mother was the daughter of another prince, the Nawab of Loharu, whose family ancestors included the famous Urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib. Iftikhar’s third princely connection would come through his subsequent marriage to Sajida Sultan, the second daughter of the Nawab of Bhopal, Hamidullah Khan. While Iftikhar succeeded his father as the 8th Nawab of Pataudi, his wife Sajida would become the titular ruler of Bhopal and the 12th Nawab Begum of Bhopal.

Sajida’s elder sister, and the original heiress apparent to the Bhopal throne, Abida Sultan, had migrated to Pakistan and had thus abdicated her position. Her son Shahryar Khan would grow up to be a prominent diplomat and administrator in Pakistan and would also head the Pakistan Cricket Board.

After early education at Aitchison College, Iftikhar proceeded to England in 1926 for further studies. While preparing to gain entry into Oxford University, he stayed in Tonbridge, where he came under the cricketing tutelage of the legendary Frank Woolley. After joining Balliol College, Oxford in 1927, he was inducted into the university cricket side, but was not awarded his blue until 1929. The occasion was the traditional varsity match against arch rivals Cambridge University. This was Iftikhar’s debut inter-varsity match and he played fluently scoring 106 and 84 in the two innings.

Iftikhar was also gifted at other sports. Before his cricket career flourished, he had already made a name for himself in hockey, when he was selected as a member of the Indian team for the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. He played in some practice games but was unavailable for the main tournament. He also played hockey for Oxford University in 1930 and 1931, and represented them at billiards as well from 1929-31. He was a fine polo player, too, and this became his favourite sport in later life.

The year 1931 saw Iftikhar at his brilliant best as a batsman. In the second half of June, he made four consecutive centuries for Oxford University and after a fifty in the next innings, scored 238* versus Cambridge, which was the highest score ever in these inter- varsity matches, beating the previous record of 201 set up just a day earlier. This run of 5 hundreds in 6 innings helped him to a total 1307 runs for the university that season at an average of 93.55 per innings. In all first class matches in the 1931 season Iftikhar gathered 1454 runs at an average of 69.23. On the basis of this form he was named as one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year in the 1932 edition.

Iftikhar was approached by the Indian Board to play for India on its maiden tour of England in 1932, but on Ranjitsinhji’s advice he turned down the offer. He was selected to play for England the following winter on their tour of Australia in 1932-33. In his debut Test at Sydney he scored a patient 102, thus emulating two other Indian princes, Ranjitsinhji and Duleepsinhji, in making a century on their first Test appearance against Australia. This was the bodyline series, and Iftikhar did not agree with the tactics adopted by his captain Douglas Jardine. After an uneventful performance in the second Test, Iftikhar was, unsurprisingly, sidelined by Jardine from the remaining three Tests.

Iftikhar was in superb form the next summer in 1933, but played only a solitary Test before withdrawing from the side. He continued his excellent form the following year in 1934, averaging over 75 in the county championships. In October 1934 he was named as the captain of the Indian side that would tour England in 1936. This appointment, 18 months in advance of the tour, was most unusual. Maneuverings and machinations ensued and in disgust Iftikhar finally announced that he would not proceed on the tour on account of ill health. His cricket appearances became sporadic but a final hurrah awaited him. In 1946, after almost a decade of minimal cricket, Iftikhar was chosen to lead the Indian side on its 1946 tour of England. Though Iftikhar did nothing of note in the Tests, he still had a tour aggregate of almost a thousand runs from 26 innings at an average of nearly 47.

After partition Iftikhar joined the Indian foreign service. He continued to play billiards and polo, and it was during a polo match that he suffered a heart attack and passed away on the 5th of January 195I. Incidentally this was also the day that his son Mansur Ali Khan was due to celebrate his eleventh birthday.

Where traditions meet: Aitchisonians who were named as Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year

Majid Jahangir Khan

Wisden Cricketer of the Year 1970

The second Aitchisonian to be named as one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year was Majid Khan. Born in 1946, Majid began his career as a fast medium opening bowler who was also handy with the bat. He was inducted into the Aitchison College First Eleven when only thirteen, and while still at college, he made his first class debut for Lahore B against Khairpur. Announcing himself most emphatically, he scored 111 not out before proceeding to take 6 wickets for 67 as an opening bowler.

He was picked to tour England with the Pakistan Eaglets in 1963 and topped the bowling averages. The following year he made his Test debut at Karachi against Australia. Opening the bowling he dismissed Bill Lawry, off a rising delivery, in just his second over. The Australian captain Bobby Simpson, however, questioned the legality of his bouncers and Majid consequently made the decision to change his bowling style and eliminate the bumper from his armory.

Experimenting with his bowling caused Majid a back injury forcing him to convert to a slow off spinner. While his bowling receded, Majid blossomed into a batsman of the highest class and pedigree. On Pakistan’s tour of England in 1967, he scored a scintillating 147 not out against Glamorgan at Cardiff, including 13 sixes, the highest number ever in a first class innings on English soil. He was offered a contract by Glamorgan and Majid spent the next nine summers playing for the Welsh county, captaining them in the last four.

In 1969 Glamorgan were in running for the county championship and needed to win their last game against Worcestershire at Cardiff. On a difficult wicket with unpredictable bounce, while everyone else struggled, Majid played with great technical skill and seemingly effortless ease to score 156 out of 214 in just over three and a quarter hours. His knock laid the foundation for Glamorgan’s victory, enabling them to become county champions for only the second time in their history. For his pivotal role in this triumph, Majid was named as one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year.

Originally a middle order batsman, Majid was drafted into the opener’s role on Pakistan’s tour of England in 1974. The switch was an instant success and Majid became one of the world’s best openers. His languid style, playing shots of supreme quality and vintage with an almost irreverent disregard for the bowler, put him in a class of his own. He was nicknamed ‘Majestic’ Majid and his strokeplay invited words like magic or surreal. Unhurried, unruffled and nonchalant, Majid in full flight was a sight to behold, enthralling spectators and experts alike, leaving them in awe of his flair and finesse, with memories that would last a lifetime. A century before lunch against New Zealand in Karachi in 1976, a hundred in an ODI at Nottingham against England in 1974, an epic 167 against the full might of the vaunted West Indian pace attack on their home turf on a pacy Guyana wicket in 1976, still re-kindle remembrances of pure joy and pleasure. Bishen Bedi described him as the best bad-wicket player in the world, when Majid and Greg Chappell both scored rapid hundreds in an Australia versus Glamorgan match in 1975, Huw Richards, writing for Wisden, described Chappell’s innings as being prosaic by comparison with Majid’s knock. Dennis Lillee tried in vain for years to knock off his floppy hat, described as Majid’s ‘sole concession to inelegance.’

People flocked to the stadium to see Majid bat. The joy of his batting was infectious, in the aesthetics of his craft he had few equals, sheer figures and averages can never do justice to the pristine quality of his stroke play or the mockery that he made of the most fearsome bowling attacks when he was on song or on fire.

Imran Khan Niazi

Wisden Cricketer of the Year 1983

The third Aitchisonian to be nominated as one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year, Imran Khan, is arguably the best cricketer that Pakistan has produced. He is certainly the one who has won the greatest acclaim internationally, with most pundits of the game invariably including him in the short list of their all time cricketing eleven.

Born in 1952 into a cricketing family, Imran’s early heroes, when he was growing up, were his cousins Majid Khan and Javed Burki. During his student days he had fallen from a tree and broken his left arm, which was set badly in hospital and needed constant exercise to prevent it from stiffening up when he batted. He attended Aitchison College and there received coaching from one of the best national coaches, Khawaja Abdul Rab, who had also groomed Majid Khan and Farooq Hameed, one of the fastest bowlers ever produced by Pakistan.

Imran’s big breakthrough came when he was selected for the team to tour England in 1971. At the time he was a medium pace inswing bowler with a slinging action. After the tour, Imran stayed back in England for studies. He underwent schooling in Worcester and eventually gained admission to Keble College, Oxford. He played for both Oxford University and Worcestershire, primarily developing his batting. His bowling transformation started with a move to Sussex where John Snow helped him to remodel his bowling action. The effect was electrifying, and Imran was metamorphosized from a run of the mill medium pacer to a genuine speedster bowling at express speed.

He first demonstrated his new found pace with a twelve wicket haul against Australia at Sydney in 1977. World Series Cricket and further honing of his skills made Imran a complete fast bowler. However, due to the paucity of Test matches played by Pakistan, Imran initially got limited opportunities to display his talent. In the 1981-82 season against Australia he was declared the player of the series and became Pakistan’s leading wicket taker in Tests. This was followed by fourteen wickets in a Test against Sri Lanka, where he completely decimated the opposition.

Imran was appointed captain of the Pakistan team for their 1982 tour of England. He rose to the occasion taking 21 wickets, bowling late in-dipping yorkers and well directed bouncers at a fearsome pace. His batting also came of age as he played with great responsibility and maturity to average 53 runs per innings in the series. Playing at home against India later in the year Imran destroyed India’s much lauded batting line-up with 40 wickets in the series at under 14 runs apiece. All told, in 1982, from a mere 9 Tests, Imran took 62 wickets at an average of 13.29 runs per scalp. It, therefore, came as no surprise when Wisden chose him as one of its five cricketers of the year in its 1983 edition.

Imran grew in stature over the coming years. While a stress fracture to the tibia disrupted his bowling career his batting grew by leaps and bounds, averaging over 52 runs per innings in his 48 Tests as captain. His crowning achievement was defying all odds and predictions and leading Pakistan to the winners podium in Cricket’s World Cup in 1992.

Imran had matured into a complete cricketer; a bowler of genuine pace with the ability to move the ball late and in both directions at frightening speed. He was an early exponent of reverse swing and unplayable yorkers. As a batsman he could play in the classical mould with a full repertoire of orthodox strokes, but when required he could go aerial and play innovative shots as well. As a leader of men he was a revelation. He instilled confidence and self belief in the side, making them play for the team rather than themselves alone. Imran shone bright on Pakistan’s cricket horizon.

This is an unique triad of cricketers; Aitchisonians, Oxbridge graduates and Wisden’s five cricketers of the year. As the contribution of premier academic institutions to the world’s cricketing elite dwindles, this number may stay constant for many years to come.

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

Where traditions meet: Aitchisonians who were named as Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year