P.R. Man Singh pays tribute to Ghulam Ahmed on his birth centenary

P.R. Man Singh, manager of the 1983 World Cup winning Indian team, recalls the “genius of Ghulam Ahmed" on the eve of his birth centenary.

V. V. Subrahmanyam
FILE PHOTO: Indian off-spinner Ghulam Ahmed shows how he grips the ball during a practice session ahead of the fifth Test against Pakistan at Calcutta on December 08, 1952.

P.R. Man Singh, manager of the Indian cricket team which won the 1983 World Cup, recalls the “genius of Ghulam Ahmed" on the eve of his birth centenary, emphasising that the genial Hyderabadi was a "master of subtle flight and variation of length and line”.

Man Singh, who is widely regarded as an encyclopedia on cricket in the city for his remarkable collection and memoirs, said that in the fifth and final Test in Mumbai (in his debut series in 1949), Ghulam was involved in a pulsating partnership with Dattu Phadkar which saw the West Indies captain J.D. Goddard employ unfair tactics to deny the home team a deserving win.

“Once when the ball had gone to the boundary, Clyde Walcott, the wicket-keeper, walked slowly up to the ropes to retrieve the same, thereby wasting time and enabling a draw. India, then had to wait for four years to win its first official Test in 1952. Here again, Ghulam played a major role in this landmark victory,” Man Singh recalled.

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“A product of Madarsa-I-Aliya and later Nizam College, Ghulam was selected to play for Madras University in the All-India Inter-University Tournament for the Rohinton Baria Trophy. He later made his first-class debut for Hyderabad against Madras in 1938 and never looked back, even leading India later on in the Test match against New Zealand at home in the city,” he said.

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“Everyone thought Ghulam should have been on board for the Indian Team’s tour to England in 1946 and later to Australia in 1947-48 but was not considered. He eventually made it to England on the 1952 tour and later went to Australia in 1967-68, but in the capacity of the manager,” Man Singh said.

“With Vinoo Mankad and later with Subhash Gupte, Ghulam formed a formidable, spin trio of spinners for India. It was the combination of Mankad and Ghulam that played a pivotal in India winning its first ever Test, played at Madras against England in 1952,” added Man Singh, the former HCA Secretary.

“Having been ignored for the first three Tests, Ghulam was brought in for the fourth match at Kanpur. Though India lost this match, Ghulam had justified his selection by coming up with some superlative performances. In the final Test in Madras, Ghulam took 4 for 77 and enabled India to win the match by an innings,” he said. “With these performances, the selectors could not ignore him and he made it to the tour of England. On this maiden tour of England, he took 80 wickets at an average of 21.92 apiece. He could have easily achieved the magic figure of 100 wickets, but for the team politics and other vested interests that denied him of the same,” Man Singh said. The only other official tour of Ghulam, as a player, was to Pakistan. "He also made it to the unofficial Tour of Ceylon. In the middle of the series against the West Indies, in 1958-59 and during the third Test at Calcutta, Ghulam Ahmed resigned from captaincy of Indian team under great storm and controversy. The same year he also relinquished the Hyderabad captaincy and also quit first-class cricket with 179 Ranji wickets at 18.18 apiece."

Once Ghulam gave up active playing, he took over to administering the game. He became the honorary secretary of Hyderabad Cricket Association in 1959 and held the post till 1976.

"Thanks to him, the Moin-ud-Dowlah Gold Cup, which was a local event, was revived as an All India tournament ensuring that the cream of Indian cricket featured in that,” he said.

“Thanks to his administrative skills, Ghulam was also manager of the Indian team twice to West Indies and Australia. In the Caribbeans, he had a tough time when Nari Contractor, the India captain was badly injured to a delivery from Charlie Griffith. The attention that Ghulam gave to Nari during that critical time, won him many laurels from one and all."

“Most importantly, Ghulam was the chairman of the national selection committee which picked the Indian team which won the 1983 World Cup,” he said.

“Ghulam Ahmed happens to be the only Hyderabadi (to be checked) to become the secretary of the BCCI and the golden jubilee celebrations were held under his guidance before he also became the BCCI vice-president,” Man Singh said. Accolades Late Frank Worrell of West Indies described Jim Laker as a great off-spinner on the wet and damp pitches of England, Ghulam was great on any kind of surface.

A gentleman to the core, Ghulam had the privilege of being conferred with the prestigious MCC Life Membership. “Well, Ghulam was a symphony in motion,” was how late Vijay Manjrekar described the off-spinner from Hyderabad.

By all means this thorough gentleman on and off the field, a pleasant personality deserves a fitting tribute.