Sunday, July 1, 2018

Fazal Abbas - An Old Team Mate Moves On

Fazal was a soft-spoken, well mannered and reserved boy who had a ready smile and an unassuming manner. He was a good batsman who favored the square cut mainly as I remember, and a brilliant fielder. I first met him when we were both selected to play for the Hyderabad Under 15 side in 1982. He must have come on the back of some strong performances because he was an automatic choice to bat at Number 4. We went to Bangalore and he immediately registered his presence with a swashbuckling 160 against Andhra, and along with Vidyuth, helped our team score some 400 plus runs. We won the tournament beating Karnataka in the final. Masood was our captain then and D. Srinivas, Srinivas Chakravarthy, Chetan Joshi made up the seven who went to Calcutta to play for South Zone. A long train journey, days away from home in cold weather and a sudden cyclone drew us all close together, literally. Then we went our ways until the BCCI organized a South Zone camp at Bangalore where we all spent a whole month under the coaching of Mr. Baig and honed ourselves physically, mentally and skill wise. We stayed at the KSCA, walked to Cubbon Park every other day, walked along Brigade Road every evening. It was a whole month of fun and learning. Others in the squad were Harish Holla, Boris Mascarenhas, Srinivas Maruvada, Vijay Kumar, Appadurai, Pavan. Hariharan, Haldankar. Boris is in touch on Facebook, now a famous oncologist in the US.
Fazal Abbas 
When we returned to Hyderabad I realized I did not have any team to play because the college I joined for my Intermediate course, St Alphonso's Junior College had no team. When Vidyuth asked me where I was playing the next year, I told him I had no team to play for and might not continue playing, and he immediately got me to sign up for Marredpally Cricket Club. It was an A1 division league team, something I could not have dreamt of playing for, led by the charismatic and larger than life ML Jaisimha. MCC was a happy bunch of Sunday cricketers then, enjoying Sunday games in the company of old friends. Aravind Rao, Santosh Reddy, Govind Raj, Suresh Borgaonkar, were the senior players. Raghu, Sudhir, Hari were in college. Fazal and I made up the juniors in a year where we rarely made an eleven. Fazal would do a lot of running in the outfield, manfully covering the entire cover region, as the seniors were too old to run. I hardly helped him, but I did my bowling well enough.

Fazal played that one year with us and the next year, for some reason, I don't know if he left voluntarily or if the sudden influx of talent in the form of Vivek and Vidyuth, Venkatapathy and Srinivas Chakravarty, Sunil Phillips, Imtiaz, Pavan, Sanjay, and others in MCC made it difficult for Fazal to be in the XI. Apparently, he went on to play for Saleemnagar.
The South Zone Under 15 team that won at Bangalore -
Muzaffar, Mallikarjun, Sanjay, Me, Kishenlal, Abdulla, Vijay Kumar, Aijaz, Affeff(standing)
Srinivas Chakravarthy, Chetan, D. Srinivas, Prahlad (Manager), Masood, Fazal Abbas, Vidyuth Jaisimha

I lost touch with him after that. A few years later I met him again in one of those crazy private tournaments where we played opposing sides in a tense final watched by a big crowd supporting two local teams. Fazal was batting well with a half-century, they were close to a win with 4 runs to get, plenty of overs in hand but only the last man to keep him company. I was given the ball in a make or break situation. Fazal was on strike. Two balls he defended, and on the third, I found the perfect length and hit him on the pad. It was a fifty-fifty decision I felt and the umpire raised his finger. All hell broke loose.

Apparently, the other team had the support of a violent local faction and a huge posse of their supporters descended on the pitch. Our team supporters sensed danger and two cars screeched on to the ground urging us to get in. We hurriedly got in and the cars left in a cloud of dust in true filmy fashion. The irate supporters beat up the umpire I heard while we escaped through some small routes and got to Bidar late at night to attend a winning party. I wonder what Fazal went through then. This was just after my engineering days - 1987-88.

Years later while working at IDBI, I bumped into him at the coffee shop opposite our office and we caught up. We must have been 35 or so then - twenty years since our Bangalore tryst. He had become quieter. Life somehow does that to us as we grow older and some illusions we harbored fade and we find it difficult to adjust. He had put on some weight but he was as sweet as ever with his famous smile and his kind eyes. I asked him what he was up to and he said he was into real estate. He did not look too happy about that but we promised to meet each other and moved on.

Last week we got a message form Masood, our captain on that Under 15 trip from the US. He had heard that Fazal had passed away due to a cardiac arrest. Several of our cricketer friends had passed away in all these years. Arjun, Dinesh, Shahid, Sridhar and so many more. It's a large community and we somehow always connect at the level we connected during our playing days - however successful or not we finally are in life or in cricket. Skippers remain skippers for life, mates remain mates. The Under 15 trip was a huge growing up stage for all us and I was quite shocked to hear the news. I checked with Masood if he knew where Fazal lived. He directed me to Ifti and Ifti directed me to Shuja and Shuja got me Fazal's brother's number. I spoke to him over the phone and told him I would come to meet.

Yesterday, along with Ehtesham, our school captain and someone who played 45 Ranji games including the winning team against Delhi in the 1987 Ranji season, I went to meet the family. His brother told us that Fazal had a stroke in 2002 and he slowed down after that. He put on a lot of weight as an after effect. He had been suffering from two months and was hospitalized. One by one his vitals failed until he passed away ten days ago. He is survived by his wife and a 12-year-old daughter.

Ehtu told his brother to trust in God above. His brother was very appreciative of the fact that we took time to meet him. I felt I needed to do this. For my long-haired, handsome, teammate, the smiling, sweet, quiet young boy who prowled the covers and hit those sweet square cuts and cover drives. Someone with whom I shared some fine memories. I showed Fazal's brother the pictures on my blog of cricketing memories, of our Under 15 days and he was very happy to see that. We bid goodbye and came away.  I wondered why we had never kept in touch. At least to say hello, once in a while. But despite that, we never forgot you Fazal.

Rest in peace Fazal old friend.

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