Mushtaq Mohammad reminisces his "friendly" rivalry with India

Ahead of the India-Pakistan clash in Birmingham, former Pakistani all-rounder Mushtaq Mohammad talks about the rivalry between the two nations, his friendship with Indian players and more.

Mushtaq Mohammad has played 57 Tests for his country, scoring 10 hundreds and taking 79 wickets.   -  Shreedutta Chidananda

Mushtaq Mohammad is in a hurry because he has to break fast. It is late evening now and Attock CC has nearly shut for the day. Only a half dozen players remain, playing tennis ball cricket barefoot in one corner of this quiet, green field. To one side is Moseley School's old, gothic building, towering over the land. Trees line the boundary; birds chirp; it is a gloriously idyllic setting. Mushtaq, friend, patron and President of the club -- named after the district in Pakistani Punjab its founders are from -- takes his seat on a little bench outside the pavilion.

The former Pakistan all-rounder, who played 57 Tests for his country, scoring 10 hundreds and taking 79 wickets, has lived in these parts for a long time now. It always causes a stir in Birmingham (where nearly a quarter of the population is of South Asian descent), he says disapprovingly, when India and Pakistan meet in a cricket match.

"They always make a very big scene of it, a big issue of it. It's only a game of cricket. Because we don't play against each other so much, because we have political differences, and because there's always tension between the two countries [is why there is such a fuss]. And the present circumstances are not good, it's very fragile and very tense. Now all of a sudden Pakistan is playing India, and everybody is excited that something is happening."

Mushtaq will be at Edgbaston on Sunday, though, and it is a special occasion, he admits. "The rivalry is still huge between the two countries. In our days, it was a good friendly rivalry. We were able to bring harmony. Cricket built great bridges between the two countries. At times cricket was used to defuse the tension between the two countries. If cricket, which is a small commodity, can bring two nations together on a playing field, why can't do they it politically?"

The 73-year-old recalls games against India with much fondness. "Playing India in India is a great memory in itself. Getting a hundred at Feroze Shah Kotla (in February 1961) was special. That was my first Test hundred and it came against India. Then playing India in Pakistan (when he was captain and oversaw a Test series win) is also a pleasant memory, when Bishan Bedi brought the team over in 1978."

Despite how that historic tour turned out -- with Bedi conceding an ODI in Sahiwal in protest at Pakistan's unchecked short-pitched bowling -- the great left-arm spinner was only warm off the field, says Mushtaq. "Bishan is like a brother to me. Both of us played for the same county — Northamptonshire. We lived together for six years in England. Whenever I go to Delhi, I stay with him. Whenever he comes to Birmingham, he uses this ground. He's been here on a number of occasions. I get on well with Sunil Gavaskar too."

These days, though, Pakistan does not play serious international cricket at home. It has hurt the team greatly, Mushtaq feels. "We are unfortunate. We are forced to play our home season away from home in UAE. Pakistan has not been able to produce players like (Javed) Miandad, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam (ul Haq), Wasim (Akram), Waqar (Younis) or Shoaib Akhtar. These were the products when the team was on a high. Today's youngsters haven't see their heroes play at home. That's why Pakistan cricket has slumped. Once we start playing at home, inshallah, Pakistan will grow."

As he walks off, maintaining that Indian and Pakistani players have always been friends, Mushtaq reflects on a deeper, personal connection with India. "You know, I was born in Junagadh in Kathiawar (Gujarat) before we migrated to Pakistan in 1947," he says. “We moved when I was five years old. I haven't been back since. I'd love to go to my Junagadh again.”

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