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Pakistan’s First Cricket Scribe

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Qamaruddin Butt was the first chronicler of Pakistan cricket. Between 1954 and 1971 he published, largely through his own efforts, ten books recording the majority of the Test series that his young country undertook over that period. His reputation now seems to be confined to the conversations only of hardened book collectors, something which is a great shame because Butt knew his cricket, and he had a quirky and individual writing style. He deserves to be remembered.

I would like to have been able to include in this post some material about Butt’s life outside cricket, and the basic details will follow, but in truth I have not been able to find out very much about him. He is featured in Kim Baloch’s fine Encyclopaedia of Pakistan Cricket that was published in 2004, but that apart other than an occasional mention in other books and magazines my only source material has been those ten books themselves.

What seems clear about Butt is that he was born in Amritsar in 1914. Described by Baloch as lean, that is certainly the impression created by the photographs that appear in his books. Butt was a First Class cricketer who Baloch described as a dogged right hand batsman and right arm leg break bowler, which I suspect must be right, although in one of his books the man himself writes that, in 1939 at least, he was a pace bowler. The majority of his seven First Class appearances were for Southern Punjab. All bar one were before World War Two with a final appearance, this time against Southern Punjab, for Delhi, in January 1947.

Butt’s career record is modest but respectable. He averaged 20.45 with the bat with a high score of 59, and his seven wickets cost exactly thirty runs each. Between 1954 and 1973 he also stood as an umpire in 53 First Class matches. That tally included one Test, in 1964 against New Zealand, still the only Test to have been played on the Pindi ground in Rawalpindi.

Outside the game Butt was employed by the Ministry of Interior between 1947 and 1962, based in Karachi. After that he seems to have been able to concentrate on cricket writing and, perhaps, some coaching as well. Certainly nothing I have read indicates that he ever took any other employment.

The first book from Butt was published in 1954, Pakistan on Cricket Map. It was one of four published in Pakistan on the subject of the country’s first trip to England. Three of the books were put together in Pakistan from press and other reports and only one, by Test skipper AH Kardar, by an author who was actually in England for the series. Kardar had been the only man to write a book on Pakistan’s only other series, its inaugural one in India of a couple of years previously. One wonders whether all of the three Pakistan based writers would have bothered had it not been for the visitors stunning England by taking the final test at the Oval to square the rubber.

The publisher of the book is stated to be Butt himself, but the Ministry of Interior is also referenced so there may have been an element of government sponsorship, particularly as an Advisory Board consisting of eleven names is also mentioned. Five of them are photographed at the beginning of the book and described as indefatigable and resourceful, and identified also as members of the Cricket Control Board and the Karachi Cricket Association.

Butt also credits a financial advisor, and it is to be assumed therefore that the assistance Butt references as being received from Burma-Shell Oil and Storage company must have been largely of a financial nature. That company also have an advertisement in the book as do two other sponsors, a Karachi based jeweller and a bicycle shop from the city.

The preface to Pakistan on Cricket Map begins with a good example of Butt’s somewhat unconventional writing style and an illustration of how the book was put together; If the cricketers of the dear dead days beyond recall were to be brought back to life, they will indeed be stunned to know something incredible, that it is now possible to listen to a ball to ball commentary. He goes on to refer to having already written extensively on cricket in form or another. Sadly I have found no previous writings, but assume that in archives in Pakistan at least some examples will remain and, hopefully, they will one day be gathered together.

There is an interesting letter reproduced before the match reports from Jack Hobbs. It is dated 6 August 1954, thus demonstrating that Butt’s book at least was planned prior to that unexpected victory at the Oval, and whilst we do not see the letter from Butt which prompted it in his reply Hobbs makes the observation, of the Pakistan side, we have seen enough to realise the team is quite capable of beating England in Pakistan – presumably The Master was one of the many taken by surprise a couple of weeks later.

The book itself comprises a report on each match that the Pakistanis played. Most are fairly short, but all have the scorecard added. For the first three Tests there are longer reports (seven or eight pages) and, for the Oval, there is understandably a much lengthier description. Liberal use is made of quotations from English newspapers. The book concludes with the tour statistics followed by an essay of a page or so on each of the Pakistan players. There are a number of photographs and the book as a whole is a thoroughly worthwhile effort.

Butt no doubt learned a great deal from the efforts he went to with Pakistan on Cricket Map and I assume that sales must have been encouraging as his next book, Cricket Without Challenge, certainly seems to have had much more planning. There is a commercial publisher, Maliksons of Sialkot and Lahore, and this time there are as many as 44 advertisers.

As he followed the Indian tourists around Pakistan Butt must, presumably, have had some sort of sabbatical from his employment. In his preface he says; The daily reports appearing in the press had only an ephemeral value unless one cared to preserve the cuttings for sake of reference. It is the books written on such tours that perpetuate the achievements of cricketers and leave their names to posterity – hence my attempt.

On the whole the Indians had a successful trip. Of nine matches outside the Tests they won five and drew four, but all five Tests were drawn. Wisden was deeply critical of the negative safety first manner in which the matches were played by both sides. Butt himself, in typical forthright fashion, uses the word farce does not spare his own side. It is therefore somewhat ironic that Pakistan skipper Kardar wrote a foreword for Butt in which he blamed the Indians for the negativity and asserted that his own side largely attempted to play aggressive cricket.

Other than the very important difference this time of Butt being an eye witness to the cricket, rather than an ear witness, the format is broadly similar to his previous book. The only significant differences are the appearance of three essays at the end of the book by other writers and, no doubt with a view to securing sales across the border, some space devoted to the Indian players.

It seems likely that Cricket Without Challenge did not sell particularly well as by the time of his next book, Pakistan Cricket on the March, Butt was back to publishing privately and again making reference to the Ministry of the Interior and using the same printer who had produced his first book.  There were more advertisers than first time round, but nowhere near as many as Maliksons managed to attract.

This time the book covered three series, the visit of New Zealand’s Test side in 1955/56, that of an England “A” team that followed it and, finally, and the source no doubt of the greatest delight for the Pakistan supporters, the visit of Australia for a one-off test in October 1956. This was a match which the Pakistanis won comfortably, the visitors never getting to grips with a matting wicket on which Fazal Mahmood and Khan Mohammad skittled them twice.

In the New Year of 1958 Butt accompanied the Pakistan side that played five tests in the Caribbean so, presumably, he must have obtained another three month leave of absence from the Ministry of the Interior. On his return he published Cricket Wonders. This is a slightly different sort of book in that it is a more modest paperback (the previous books had all appeared in hard covers). Again privately published Butt used the same printers in Karachi and again the Ministry of the Interior is credited, albeit not quite in the same way as previously. There are a number of advertisers, on this occasion appearing at intervals throughout the book rather than merely at the beginning or the end, The book is a straightforward and comprehensive account of a series which the Pakistanis lost and which saw the last test appearances of Kardar, who once again contributed a foreword.

Less than twelve months later there was a return series of three matches, and although Pakistan won the series 2-1 Butt was not impressed, concluding that the Pakistan team showed nothing but batting crawl. This proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the tourists were a better combination.

The book itself is very similar in format to Cricket Wonders the only significant digression being that it closes with a lengthy appreciation of Collie Smith. Butt had watched Smith in the three Tests and was clearly upset to learn a few months later that he had been tragically killed in a road accident in England.

It is the mark of a different age that Butt’s next book, Cricket Cat and Mouse, appeared more than a year after the short three Test series between Pakistan and Australia that it tells the story of. It is another slim paperback and records Australia’s three nil victory. Butt describes the home bowling as feeble although he saw promise for the future in an improved performance in the final test, which he clearly rated in a very different category to the cricket he had witnessed from Pakistan in the first two matches.

In part the reason for the delay in the book was the need for Butt, clearly now a full-time journalist whenever Pakistan were playing Test cricket, to go to India to follow Pakistan’s 1960/61 series there. As in 1954/55 each of the five tests were drawn and indeed every one of the tour matches ended the same way. Understandably in the circumstances Butt entitled his book Playing for a Draw.

In his introduction Butt expressed the view that both sides were blissfully content to see the matches limp to a draw. It is no use apportioning blame. Later he wrote it made one’s blood boil to find that in the series under review, the sides were still chary of defeat. Another paperback the book was certainly his bulkiest yet, running to almost 300 pages. It was, once more, self published.

It was October of 1962 before Playing for a Draw was published. That is the year in which Baloch tells me Butt left the employ of the Ministry of the Interior. It is also after England played three tests in Pakistan in 1961/62 and it is perhaps surprising that nothing appeared from Butt to cover that meeting, and Butt clearly did not travel to England in 1962 when Pakistan were heavily defeated. After that no it would be almost three years before Pakistan hosted and then visited both Australia and New Zealand during the 1964/65 season playing eight Tests altogether. Whilst Butt may have written for the press on some or all of the matches concerned he certainly did not venture into the book market in respect of any of those contests.

That is not to say that Butt did not make an appearance in bookstores at all because he did, Cricket Reborn appearing towards the end of 1964 and covering a series of three matches played the previous November between Pakistan and what was styled as a Commonwealth XI led by England opening batsman Peter Richardson.

The Commonwealth side was a strong one containing men of the calibre of Rohan Kanhai, Tom Graveney, Seymour Nurse, Basil Butcher and Basil D’Oliveira. In the event the bowling of each side was insufficiently strong and all three representative matches were drawn. Perhaps Butt was not in the best of health but if that was the case he was sufficiently inspired by what he saw  to produce a modest 93 page book which followed the format of its predecessors. Interestingly there is a page in the book listing his previous publications all of which it is said continue to be available other than Pakistan on Cricket Map and Cricket Wonders.

If Butt had been unwell he was fully restored to health by 1967 when he had the distinction of becoming the first journalist from Pakistan to be sent to accompany a touring party to England. Not only was he employed by no fewer than four Pakistani publications his services were also retained by Wisden and Playfair Cricket Monthly and on two occasions was asked to broadcast for the BBC. It is hardly surprisingly therefore that what was to remain his bulkiest book, The Oval Memories, was written on the subject of this visit. The title is a reference to the third test when, after a series of disappointments and looking down the barrel of a heavy defeat, Asif Iqbal and Intikhab Alam came together when all looked over and added 190 for the ninth wicket in the Pakistan second innings. It was not enough to avoid defeat but the sparkling effort did much to restore pride amongst the tourists and their followers. In his account of the second Test, when the luckless Pakistanis were caught on a wicket damaged by rainwater leaking under the covers, Butt came up with one of my favourite ever lines when he described the Pakistan first innings as firing like a dirty carburettor on a frosty morning.

Pakistan were not, after their 1967 visit to England, due play any more Tests before October 1969 when they were due to host New Zealand for a three Test series. In the event following the D’Oliveira Affair and the cancellation of England’s 1968/69 tour of South Africa a three Test series was hurriedly arranged for February. At the time the political situation in Pakistan was, to say the least, tense, and after two draws the series ended in chaos during the third day of the final Test as riots brought about the immediate end of the tour. The fact that against that background the visit of the New Zealanders just over six months later went ahead at all is remarkable, but there was no real trouble and the visitors took that series 1-0.

Sporting Wickets appeared in May of 1970 and proved to be Butt’s last book. It contained accounts of both series as well as a tribute to the retiring Hanif Mohammad. In my view it is certainly Butt’s best book, although having always taken a great interest in the 68/69 tour I may be biased.

Not unnaturally Sporting Wickets once more carried an advertisement for Butt’s previous books and by now Cricket Cat and Mouse and Pakistan Cricket on the March had also sold out. Quite how long stocks of the others lasted I do not know but in the twenty first century Butt’s books are highly regarded and any one of his books will set a purchaser back the greater part of £100 and a fine copy of one of the hardbacks, with its original dust jacket, rather more than that.

Sadly there were no more books from Qamaruddin Butt after Sporting Wickets. On 8 June 1974, at just sixty years of age tragedy struck when he was cycling home from a cricket match and a heart attack claimed him. He is a much underrated writer and all bar two of his books represent the only substantial accounts we have of the tours with which they are concerned. In Wisden John Arlott always noticed his books, and was unfailingly courteous and complimentary about them, although it is fair to say that in that august volume Arlott was seldom unduly effusive or critical about any author. The greater impression of Butt’s writing could be expected to come from the pen of Rowland Bowen in his Cricket Quarterly. For reasons doubtless now lost Bowen only ever got around to reviewing Playing for a Draw. It is clear from that review that Bowen was familiar with Butt’s earlier work but, save for complaining about the passage of time between the end of the series and the appearance of the book, says little about it. He spends most of his review bemoaning the lack of an annual publication regarding the game in Pakistan. As he firmly expressed the opinion that Butt was the man who should take the responsibility for the publication of such a book whilst I would not for one moment claim to have any great understanding of the machinations of Bowen’s mind, I hope that Butt took that as the compliment I suspect it was, in Bowen’s eccentric way, intended to be. 

Comments

Cricket is lucky to have Martin as one of its advocates. Thank you for this and all your other well written, scholarly and thought provoking book reviews.

Comment by Jon | 9:55am GMT 27 October 2019

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