Alimuddin: The world’s youngest first-class cricketer

Notwithstanding his seemingly less impressive statistics by today’s high-scoring standard, former dynamic Pakistani batsman Alimuddin, who passed away at Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow, on July 12, 2012, will always be remembere d for his three noticeable achievements in an eventful career spanning 1942 to 1968. He was the youngest cricketer ever to make a firstclass debut; he had the distinction of facing the first ever ball bowled in a first-class match against an international team on Pakistan’s soil – the three-day game between Sind and the West Indies at the old Gymkhana Ground, Karachi, in November 1948, when he faced the Trinidadian right-arm fast bowler Prior Jones; he was the first batsman to score a century at National Stadium, Karachi – 103 not out with 15 fours in Pakistan’s second innings of the fifth Test against India in 1955. Indeed, little did the 12-years-and-73-days old Alimuddin realise, when he appeared for the first and only time for Rajputana in the 1942-43 Ranji Trophy semifinal against the star-studded Baroda at Maharaja Pratapsinh Coronation Gymkhana Ground in Baroda in the pre-independent and undivided India, that he was making a history. The precociously gifted teenager top-scored with 13 in Rajputana’s dismal first innings of 54 before being caught by Mutyalswami Naidu off the bowling of leg-spinner C.S. Nayudu. He then took the prize wicket of Vijay Hazare (28) with his leg-break bowling in Baroda’s marathon innings of 543. Alimuddin batted well again and was the second highest scorer with 27 in Rajputana’s second innings of 133. An attractive right-hand opening batsman in the classical mould, Alimuddin was born in Ajmer, Rajasthan, India, on December 15, 1930. He continued to impress with his attacking approach, delightful shots all round the wicket and consistently good scores for other teams like Gujarat and Muslims. He had gained in experience by opening with stalwarts like Vinoo Mankad and K.C. Ibrahim before migrating to Karachi along with the rest of his family after India’s independence and the birth of Pakistan. “I played both the Quaid-e- Azam Trophy and the Patrons Trophy with him in Karachi. I always found him to be one of the most technically correct batsmen I’ve seen in my life. We used to play both on turf and matting wickets and he had such immense talent,” said former Pakistan allrounder and captain Mushtaq Mohammad. He missed a berth by a whisker in Pakistan’s team on its maiden tour of India in 1952-53. But a determined Alimuddin fought his way into the strong Pakistani team that toured England 1n 1954 under the astute Abdul Hafeez Kardar. Opening with his younger and more illustrious partner Hanif Mohammad, he began the tour in a blaze of glory, scoring 142 against Worcestershire and 51 and 100 not out versus Cambridge. But his dazzling form proved transient as he could muster only 51 runs in the three Tests, including at The Oval, where Pakistan won by 24 runs thanks to Fazal Mahmood (6 for 53 and 6 for 46). As far as Alimuddin was concerned, the best part of the tour was that he forged a stable opening pair with Hanif that was to last for the next few years. Incidentally, Hanif and his brother Raees Mohammad used to go to Rajkot from their native Junagadh in the western Indian state of Gujarat specially to watch Alimuddin in action. Paying a glowing tribute to Alimuddin, Hanif said that he was his “senior partner” and he “learnt a great deal” from him in the art of batting. Alimuddin was lucky enough to retain his place in the team when Pakistan took on India at home in 1954-55. He made up for his poor Test performance in England and played true to his potential and reputation. With noticeable scores of 51, 64, 38, 58 and 103 not out, he was easily the best batsman on either side in what was actually Pakistan’s first ever home series. His unbeaten 103 in the low-scoring fifth Test at National Stadium in Karachi was the first of his two hundreds for Pakistan.

Surprisingly, for a batsman of his calibre, he failed to maintain his form and hardly recaptured his old glory in his subsequent Test career despite getting opportunities against New Zealand, Australia, the West Indies and India, home and away, and often appeared to be a poor shadow of his brilliant self. But he came back strongly and hit 109 and 53 against England at Karachi in 1961-62. He again offered glimpses of his class when he scored 50 and 60 in the third Test at Headingley, Leeds, during Pakistan’s disastrous tour of England in 1962. It turned out to be Alimuddin’s last Test series. In all, Alimuddin scored 1091 runs at 25.37 in 45 innings of his 25 Tests. But these figures do not do any justice to the kind of batsman Alimuddin actually was and only a cricketing ignoramus will judge him on their basis. After retiring from Test cricket, he moved to England, where he pursued a career working at Heathrow Airport for Pakistan International Airlines, though he continued to appear in first-class cricket in Pakistan for Karachi Blues and Public Works Department till 1968. In his first-class career, he scored 7275 runs at 32.77, including 14 centuries and 38 half-centuries, in 237 innings of 140 matches. He also took 40 wickets at 24.00. Alimuddin was an intelligent cricketer and it was under his captaincy that Karachi Blues won the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy in 1962. He was a bit upset that the Pakistan Cricket Board did not name a stand of Karachi’s National Stadium after him. “How come the authorities forgot to name an enclosure after me since I had the honour of scoring the first hundred there?” he said, expressing his surprise. Two of Alimuddin’s brothers, Azimuddin and Salimuddin, also played first-class cricket. A gentle, cheerful soul, Alimuddin was a lifelong bachelor who worked diligently to support his sister and brothers.

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