Who said landmarks are meant for cricketers only. Today, Pakistani journalist Qamar Ahmed walks into the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, which hosts the third Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to witness his 400th Test match.
Qamar (75), who now writes for The Dawn in Pakistan, reckons only Australia’s Richie Benaud and John Woodcock from England have reported on more than 400 Tests. Undoubtedly, he is Pakistan cricket’s most enduring journalist, who went to the same school as India’s first president Dr Rajendra Prasad — Chapra District School.
Test vetrans: Cricket writer Qamar Ahmed (right) with reputed photographer Patrick Eagar enjoying the tea break during the opening Test of the 2011 India vs England at the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. Pic/Clayton Murzello
His past is exciting and touching. Qamar comes from a family of doctors. In 1964, he left his home in Karachi where his family migrated to from Bihar. He was a promising left-arm spinner, who could well have played for Pakistan.
His Cricinfo profile reads: “As a left-arm spinner, Qamar Ahmed lacked nothing for quality. He made a name for himself in the mid-fifties, pushing for a spot in the national side and holds the rare distinction of having dismissed all the brothers of the famous Mohammad family.”
Qamar recalled being dropped once by the Pakistan media team and being included in the Indian journalists’ side by late writer Rajan Bala during the rest day of a Test match and getting back at his countrymen by claiming all 10 wickets in an innings.
Qamar wanted to play county cricket which would be a stepping stone to play for his country. Warwickshire offered him a contract, but the Birmingham weather discouraged him from signing up. Off he went to London and completed a course in journalism. Qamar wanted to prove to his family that there were other professions to pursue than just medicine. Soon, he was a regular on BBC’s Urdu service.
His flat at Shepherd’s Bush in West London was home to several Pakistani players when they played in England — Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Sarfaraz Nawaz et al.
He was never employed by an organisation, but was a go-to man for British newspapers when it came to covering Pakistan. He got his kicks by covering the first eight World Cups, but the story which he is most proud of is the scoop (in the London Times) about Sunil Gavaskar refusing the Marylebone Cricket Club’s life membership after being given a hard time at the Lord’s gates before the 1990 India vs England Test.
The 1979-80 India vs Pakistan Test series afforded an opportunity for Qamar to visit his home in Chapra. After the fourth Test at Kanpur, he set out to see whether his old house still existed. After getting off at Chapra station, he asked a rickshaw driver to take him to a hotel. To his surprise, he discovered that his old house had been converted into a hotel. Next on his wish list was to visit the Hindu family which had sheltered and protected them from being victims of communal riots for a whole month in 1947. To his amazement, the family lived in the same place. This time there were only tears of joy and no fear which Qamar and his family witnessed way back then.
I have been fortunate to know Qamar since 1985 when I was part of a firm which published his popular Pakistan cricket annual for the first time in India. I can still remember the man behind the popular byline saying over the phone way back then, “I’m Qamar Ahmed from London.”
Over the years, several like me have witnessed his popularity, listened to his anecdotes and profited from his deep knowledge that is not only restricted to cricket. During my first visit to England in 2002, Qamar and I were watching India and England bat in the nets at the Nursery End of Lord’s. Someone informed him about a press conference which was about to begin and Qamar said, “I won’t be able to attend it. I have to have lunch with Dr Ali Bacher.”
Qamar Ahmed continues to be influential, intelligent and interesting.
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor