Through their clubs and associations, the minorities played a pivotal role in the development and promotion of cricket in Pakistan from the time of Partition. There was the Karachi Parsi Institute (KPI), which had a good team and excellent ground facilities that hosted first class and “international” matches. The Karachi Goan Association had a lovely ground; the Hindu Gymkhana played an outstanding role in developing the game in the country.
One of the pioneers in the field of administration was Justice Alvin Robert Cornelius (1903-91), the Allahabad born, Cambridge educated Christian who at the time of partition was a High Court Judge in Lahore. Vice-president of the BCCP from 1948 to 1953, he was instrumental in piloting Pakistan’s case for Test status, granted in 1952.
His brainchild was the Pakistan Eaglets, comprising talented cricketers who toured England and other countries to polish their game and gain experience.
Another non-Muslim who helped Pakistani cricket without raising bat or ball was the well-known radio commentator Jamshed Marker, who with Omar Kureishi took the game to millions. Scion of a respected Parsi business family in Quetta, Marker later became Pakistan’s Ambassador to many countries, and was also its Permanent Envoy at the United Nations.
Among those who contributed with bat and ball were four Christians (Yousuf Youhana is the fifth). Khalid ‘Billy’ Ibadulla was a member of the first-ever official team to set out from Pakistan, to India in 1952 and subsequently played 4 Tests, scoring a then record 166 on debut in the Karachi Test against Australia in 1964.
Ibadulla also played county cricket for Warwickshire with distinction and domestic cricket for Otago as well as Tasmania; he also has coached for some time. I never saw Ibadulla play for Pakistan but I did catch a glimpse of his performance for Warwickshire in England and remember him for his brilliant close in fielding and catching!
Wallis Mathias, the first Christian to play for Pakistan, was one of the gentlest, kindest cricketers you ever will see. He made his debut against New Zealand at Dacca in 1955/56 and toured the West Indies, India and England and played against New Zealand, Australia, West Indies and England at home. He was a good stroke player and a brilliant fielder in the slips where he took most of his 22 Test catches.
I also watched Duncan Albert Sharpe (who, like Wallis, was Christian but whereas Wallis was a Goan, Duncan was an Anglo-Pakistani) playing against Australia at Karachi in 1959 and his three boundaries in one over off Ray Lindwall are still etched in my memory — how dare anyone hit Lindwall for not one but three boundaries in one over! It was unthinkable. >
Duncan (born 1935 in Rawalpindi) had made his debut in the first Test against Australia at Dacca top scoring in both innings - 56 out of 200 and 35 out of 134. He did not play for Pakistan after this series and in fact emigrated to Australia in 1960 (he must have followed the Australians on their way home!) He did appear for South Australia on the domestic scene there.
The fourth Christian to play Test cricket for Pakistan was Antao D’Souza, who was born in Goa in 1939, and educated at Karachi. He was a medium pace bowler and tail-end obdurate batsman. Antao toured England in 1962 heading the batting averages (53) as he remained not out in 5 of his 6 innings! His bowling was ineffective as was everyone else’s on that disastrous tour which Pakistan lost 0-4.
Another Christian — Sohail Fazal — played 2 ODIs for Pakistan in Sharjah in 1989, against India and the West Indies.
The first Hindu to don Pakistan colours was Anil Dalpat Sonavaria, who was selected to keep wickets when Wasim Bari retired. Anil, who debuted against England in 1983/4, was the son of Dalpat Sonavaria, a cricket administrator in Karachi for many decades.
Anil’s cousin Danish Kaneria currently plays for Pakistan. A tall and wiry leg spinner, an ever improving fielder but a member of the Courtney Walsh Batting University with the willow, he has a bright future, and should serve Pakistan cricket for years to come. He’s been signed up by Essex as their overseas player for next year in place of Andy Flower.
A number of Hindus, Christians and Parsis have played domestic first-class cricket in Pakistan. Those who come to mind are the veterans Rusi Dinshaw and Irani, the brothers from Balochistan Raj Hans and Raj Kishan — the former is now one of the coaches employed by the PCB.
And Anil Dalpat’s brother-in-law Mohinder Kumar, who played as a RHB and RAFM for Public Works Department, Karachi and United Bank Limited and his younger brother Bharat Kumar, who turned out for Karachi Greens.
The opportunities are there, the selection is fair and on merit so there is no reason why we will not have many many more members of the minorities playing not only cricket but other sports at the highest levels for Pakistan.
(The writer is an eminent Pakistani commentator and cricket aficionado)