A cricketer? My parents were thoroughly confused. They mingled with capable lawyers, journalists, professors, musicians, executives, writers and businessmen, and could not understand their son’s ambition. How could he be so aberrant? It was entirely the fault of one man, whom few remember today and many once worshipped: Mushtaq Ali.
At a time when Britannia ruled the waves and cricket was the prince of games, Mushtaq was, for a brief shining moment, the regal champion of the game, the swashbuckling hero who took a staid game and raised it to the pinnacle of glamor and excitement. Keith Miller, a flamboyant Australian all-rounder, spoke of him as the Errol Flynn of cricket, who could, with feline grace and sheer flamboyance, change a game’s destiny in the twinkling of an eye.
I was ten when father handed over to me the prized ticket for a test match between India and West Indies. It was a spectacular match, with an Indian team contending against a redoubtable West Indian team comprising the legendary duo of Weekes and Walcott. The pair burnished their reputation, each scoring a century in the second innings and Weekes scoring one in the first innings too. When you have seen Weekes bending down on his left knee and sending a ball to the boundary in a flawless cover drive, you think you have seen the ultimate cricket.
That was just the beginning. He played faultlessly, stylishly, dramatically for two hours, against deadly bowling by Gomez and Goddard, cutting, driving, hooking and pulling in a maelstrom of mastery. He achieved a perfect century, before he was bowled lbw by Atkinson. When Mushtaq started walking back to the pavilion, I felt like crying, like every other spectator. However, we had all seen the best of cricket.
The players have changed. Even the game of cricket has changed radically. But Mushtaq remains a model of devil-may-care sportsmanship, of a kind you rarely see at any time in any game. Aneurin Bevan once spoke scoffingly of “desiccated calculating machines” pretending to be leaders; it applies also to sportsmen. Mushtaq was different: elegant, playful, daring. So he was a darling of the crowd.
That is why I wanted to be a cricketer. Like Mushtaq.