I was born in Junagadh, Northern India on November 22nd 1943. This is my “official” birthday, though it may have been 1942. My mother never had a birth certificate for me and any family papers were lost during our migration from India to the newly formed Pakistan in 1948. My age became officially registered when Hanif enrolled Sadiq and me in School in Pakistan. He may well have been right but nobody can be sure.
I have only vague memories of my life in India where we lived a wealthy, middle class lifestyle in a large four bedroom home. My Grandfather was the sole agent for selling American cars in the region and also owned a guest house called Green Rest House, so we enjoyed a very comfortable existence.
We migrated to Karachi in 1948, the year after Partition, having been forced to leave all our possessions behind in Junagadh. We took the train to Bombay and then sailed from there to the Keamari Port in Karachi. Once there it became clear that transportation was an issue but eventually all 30 plus members of my family found our way by camel carts to the Haji Camp, which was a temporary shelter made for pilgrims intending to make the sea voyage to Mecca & Medina.
My maternal uncles had been sent out as an advanced party to find suitable accommodation for us before our arrival but it still took six months to find an appropriate place. However our arrival at our new home, didn’t sit well with my mother, Amir Bee, and she made it very clear why she was upset – our new home was a Hindu temple known as Kaal Bhairu Mandir, within a compound of apartments housing the Hindus of Karachi, most of whom were in the process of making the opposite migration to India. The Mandir was still being used for worship whilst we lived there by the remaining Hindus so my mother soon had a timetable for worship worked out with them ensuring that everyone was more or less happy with the arrangements.
My mother was the biggest influence in my life and also my brothers. She very quickly had to wear the mantle of father and mother as my father, Sheik Ismail, died within a year of our arrival in Karachi, and I must say she did a tremendous job of bringing up our family. I believe that our sporting genes came from her as before Partition she enjoyed playing badminton and had even won competitions and had trophies to prove it.
The big hall in the Mandir wasn’t just our living quarters but our playing area too. My elder brother Raees taught us to play cricket with a tennis ball using a chair as the the stumps and we were given out if the ball turned and hit any part of our body. We eagerly awaited Raees’ return from work each day to play and even though we could play amongst ourselves it was never as much fun, we all focused a lot more when he was there. He would set a field and make us think about where we needed to play the ball.
So I grew up in a cricket dominated home and of course played cricket at school too. Sadiq and I went to school at the Christian Mission School, where we had to recite the Lord’s Prayer daily. A confusing state for a small Muslim boy who lived in a Hindu Mandir and went to a Christian School! The Christian Mission School boasted a very good cricket team. My team mates included Intkhab Alam, Aftab Saeed, Prince Aslam, Zaheeer Hasan and Ejaz Hussain. Intikhab and I were the youngest and inevitably were made to field all the time as all youngsters do… Hanif, being older than us went to another school called the Sindh Madrassah where he became the wonder boy of Pakistan cricket. Cricket soon became a big part of all our lives as Hanif’s talent quickly started to shine – he was born to bat. I wasn’t a lover of academic life, I went to school because I had to. Sport was the only thing that made life bearable for me. Hanif’s success helped us to rise socially. When he and Wazir went to England in 1954 with the Pakistan team, they won a Test at the Oval against the likes of Len Hutton and Denis Compton and it showed that Pakistan cricket was on the up. The team came back to accolades and the team were rewarded, which benefitted us all directly. We were still living in modest circumstances at the Mandir and subsequently, we were relocated to more suitable accommodation at the Officers Colony on the garden Road in Karachi, as the name suggested we soon had military officers and government officials as our neighbours. It was luxury compared to where we’d been living and it was an early sign that cricket was going to be kind to the Mohammed family.
We now had two bedrooms, a dining room, kitchen, a washroom and most importantly a large garden where we could play cricket at our new home in the compound on the Garden Road. Our neighbours over a period of time included Pakistan cricketers Asif Iqbal and Alimuddin. The move to the Garden Road house meant that Sadiq and I had to change school so it we left the Christian Mission School and started at the Marie Colaco School, which sadly wasn’t known for nurturing cricket. This was nightmare for me and I would never have survived had I not persuaded our games teacher to form a cricket team. The team wasn’t altogether competitive in nature so I was forced to look to other teams outside of school to get some serious cricket. So it was, that my eye was turned towards the club cricket that Hanif and Wazir were playing. I would go along when I was about 10 or 11 to do some fielding practice at the local park where about 15 teams would practice all at the same time. There was a different net every 20 yards, circling the ground. In the middle was w as a one match wicket. I would bowl field a and have a little knock at the end of the practice session and that was the beginning for me. It whetted my appetite for the game even more.
Raees continued to encourage all his younger siblings’ game and when we were slightly older, we accompanied him to net practice. However here too, we didn’t fair much better than ball boys and only towards the end, when sundown heralded the call for evening prayer, were we given a few minutes at the net. I was made twelfth man for the Sunday matches. I used to go to the older players in the team and bribe them with an opportunity for a rest by offering to field in their place. Sometimes if a regular player didn’t turn up they would let me play.
The love of cricket continued to peak and living on the Garden Road afforded me opportunities to play cricket on the small ground in the midst of the apartment blocks. However first of all we needed to make a wicket and enjoyed digging out the earth and replacing it with good soil from a local road construction project near our home – we even managed to borrow a large diameter cement pipe to role our newly formed wicket . Our activities aroused great interest amongst the residents…
Most of the boys in the compound would play but we never had enough players. Someone suggested we ask Alimuddin who lived three blocks away. He had a neighbour in the same block who wanted to play too, Shaukat Aziz, who we didn’t think was very good as a cricketer at the time. We were right as he didn’t make it as a professional cricketer but ultimately ended up as Prime Minister of Pakistan.
That was my introduction to semi serious cricket, Wazir used to play for his bank and Hanif played for a departmental team, but I had to fill in as twelfth man in either of their teams when someone couldn’t play. It was a good stepping stone for me as it meant I was playing with men rather than boys and it gave me a glimpse of a higher standard of cricket. The more I spent time around that level the more I wanted to be part of it.
That experience around men’s cricket was the catalyst in me becoming the world’s youngest first class cricketer, at the age of thirteen years and 41 days for Karachi Whites against Singh at Hyderabad in January 1957. In those days there were Karachi Whites, Blues and Greens as there were so many players to choose from. It was a fairytale debut as we won the game and I scored 87 and took 5 wickets.
I was still at school when I was picked to play for Pakistan for the first time in 1959. I played against West Indies and couldn’t wait for my return to school as I expected a fair bit of adulation from students and teachers alike. There was a big assembly and all the students were given a day’s holiday in my honour. When lessons followed, I was still feeling very cocky and didn’t anticipate at all what was to come. My English teacher asked me to recite some Shakespeare I should have learned prior to the lesson, in front of the class. I had only been worried about how to avoid 90 mile per hour thunderbolts from Wes Hall so Shakespeare was top of my list of priorities. In those days I found it difficult to speak English too so I told Mrs Afghan, the teacher, that I couldn’t do it. She ordered me to stand on a bench to try to make an example of a naughty boy who hadn’t done his homework. I was horrified at the prospect of a Pakistan Test player having to face such punishment and refused to comply.
I was made to leave the classroom and kneel in the corridor as her way of putting me in my place. I kept saying “you can’t do this, I was playing Test cricket last week and I’m now an important Pakistan cricketer”. When she turned to face the class she was laughing. It turned out she was having me on and in her discreet way making sure I didn’t get too big headed and still needed to get an education. I didn’t appreciate it at the time though!