Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ehtesham Ali Khan - Stoic and Much Admired Skipper

Ehtesham always had this air of responsibility about him. Not for him the stupid mischief of young lads which was the trademark of our school, All Saints High School, notorious for rowdy and mischievous boys. I remember watching the cricket team practice when I was just another schoolboy, and Ehtesham swinging the ball to the leg side boundary effortlessly with his customary elan. That image of Ehtu, as he is known to us, is etched in my mind. But then I did not even know him.
Ehtesham at his home, beside his beloved library

It was in the ninth that I played for the White house of which we were both part of. Ehtu was the captain and I was given a bowl when I took four wickets bowling off an apologetic five steps. I was on top of the world to be playing alongside all these famous cricketers of course. But it was only in the tenth when I was formaly picked to play for the school team did I get to know Ehtu well. He was the captain, stoic and balanced, articulate and combative, dignified and well read, and every bit the character of Gautam in 'The Men Within'. We had a fine team that year, several state players, a couple of imports and me, the late debutant and we won quite a few games.

We hit it off well because Ehtu was always a decent sort and one who bears no prejudices to people. So a rank newcomer like me with no previous experience of playing cricket at that level was treated normally. I was thrilled when he gave me the new ball in the first league match we played against National CC on the All Saints High School ground. I got a couple of wickets and it was not the debut that I could write home about as having arrived. Subsequently I made a 43 against IDPL which pushed me into the all rounder slot, got a wicket off the last over with two runs to win and won a game for us, got five wickets and pulled off a huge win against HPS and by then I had proved my stripes and was well accepted. My being picked into the state Under 15 team and then the South Zone team sealed it. Ehtu was warm in his congratulations and I was happy to receive it from my captain.

We all went out own ways after that year to study our Intermediate. I went to the academically oriented St. Alphonso's and Ehtu went to the even more academically oriented Little Flower Junior College. We met in Inter collegiate games, once in the polo ground where we lost predictably, in our first year. I was in cricketing wilderness that year and I guess we might have bumeped into one another in a league match - MCC versus HBCC, for which Ehtu played for many years. But the next year, I roared back into contenton with match winning bowling performances against Syndicate Bank and I was in all squads starting with Under 19, Under 22 and Under 25. In fact I played all these in reverse order that year. I was also the first in our gang to play Under 25 for the state. Ehtu was the keeper for the Under 22 so we all made a trip to Trichur and lost the finals, and he was the captain for the Under 19 so we went to Vizianagaram and won the trophy. By now we were all back on track on the cricket field.

The next year wee made many more tours. Inter University to Vizag, Under 22 to Bangalore whcih we won, South Zone Under 22 to Gauhati which we won and where Ehtu was captain. I really enjoyed playing under this fair, no nonsense and pleasant young man whom I really liked from my first meeting. We won many tournaments, saw all sorts of politics and still kept out focus. One huge win was that in the Under 22 in Bangalore which we just about managed after a tense semi final against Tamil Nadu. As a skipper Ehtu was always a reassuring sight behind the wickets, much in the Dhoni mould, calm and collected, never losing his cool. He was shrewd as well and made good tactical moves which is why he won many tournaments for Hyderabad. He was more than dependable with the bat as well and scored heavily, his trademark shot being the flick to the leg side which he played very elegantly. Ehtu was highly disciplined, worked hard and was eager to learn. He was intense, efficient and always carried everyone with him.

Once you go on so many tours with someone you do tend to know the person a lot better. We would watch movies together, visit places together, celebrate victories together, laugh together. I always wanted to get Ehtu out, one of the few wickets I had not got and when I trapped him out LBW in the match against Ensconce when I played for Osmania I was extremely happy. I also remember vividly when in a game against HBCC, he completely neutralised me on a wicket that was completely wet. Instead of running through a side like I was expected to, I ended up with no wicket to my name. Much of that credit goes to Ehtu for playing me out very well.

Ehtu made his Ranji debut before me and creditably as well scoring a fifty. He was there behind the wickets when I made my debut in Sirur Kagaznagar and played the seven games that I did for Hyderabad. He went on with the team to win the final while I was dropped after the second. However we still have the honour of being alongside in the squad that won the Ranji that year. Ehtu played for a few more years for Hyderabad and State Bank of Hyderabad, before he moved to Dubai. After that I met him rarely, at the odd occassion. He changed much when I met him next, fifteen years later, laughing like carzy now, as if making up for lost time. And the last time I met him, last year, he was a lot more philosophical. He always was fond of reading and seemed to have read much in many disciplines in the years as he spoke knowledgeably on subjects as diverse as management, religion, philosophy and literature.

It was great to have an interview with Ehtu fixed for the movie based on 'The Men Within' because he is undoubtedly a very strong influence on the Gautam character. Much of what I played was under his captaincy and I was always ready to give my best for him. In fact he made sure everyone did that. Ehtu had a tough schedule that week when he had to do the interview but he obliged for the photo shoot and the interview. I however missed meeting him that last time since I had to go to Bangalore for a couple of days. So it is then, that from the corridors of All Saints High School to the Osmania University grounds and winning the Ranji Trophy and beyond, did we both measure each others characters out as men, as sportsmen. In my book Ehtu ranks very high, a fair and just person, one who has a clean heart and a clear mind, as a highly competitive cricketer and mostly as a person we all admire and love thoroughly.
Wishing you the best in all your endeavours Ehtu. You know you always have someone here who wishes nothing but the best for you, always.


Ehtesham said...

Hi Hari,
Fantastic sum up.Took me down the memory lane along and the times we shared.It was fun playing and sharing times with you.You were very talented in a cool way,quite different from others.
Appreciate Harry, as i always called you.Enjoyed reading the article.
Wish you best Pal.

Harimohan said...

Hi Ehtu, Glad you read it and liked it. Those were fun days really and I learnt much from all of you, and had a lot more fun. I only wished we all had the maturity to discuss more cricket, our strengths and weaknesses, when we played first class cricket. We could have done better than we did if we had articulated ourselves more.
But no regrest about anything. From All Saints to the Ranji team, it was a fun ride. Thanks for everything Ehtu.