Abbas Ali Baig: Cricketer Sacrificed at the Altar of Religion

There is one cricket player who played for India at the wrong time. He is Abbas Ali Baig, a more than competent cricket player who burst on the scene in England when playing for Oxford. He caught the eye of the Indian team management during the 1959 tour of England. That was one hell of a disastrous tour and India had lost the first 3 tests by wide margins. India best batsman Polly Umrigar had cut a sorry figure against the pace of Truman and Statham. The next best batsman Vijay Manjreker was injured and Indian cricket was looking down the barrel of a gun.

Abbas Ali Baig was inducted into the team and he put some resolve in the Indian team with a fighting 112 on debut. He negotiated the pace of Truman and Statham with ease and played superbly all round the wicket. Baig was an instant hero and in the later tour of Australia of India in 1959-60 he batted very well. He helped India draw the Bombay test with 2 fighting innings of 53 and 58. India felt that a new star was on the horizon. But the Pakistan tour of 1961-62 put holes in Baig’s career. At that time losing to Pakistan was like losing Kashmir and the public on both sides of the border were highly strung and emotional. Baig was included in the team, but he disappointed with scores of 1, 13, 19 and 1 in the 3 tests that he played. After the first test a Baig himself was under great pressure and he went to the wicket wondering what to do.

The knives were out and it was openly said that Baig had helped his Muslim friends from Pakistan. He began to receive a lot of hate mail. It was also rumored that Baig gave himself out deliberately so that Pakistan could win. All this was a white lie with no foundation, but in the surcharged atmosphere the selectors bowing to public pressure dropped Baig. This was a sad decision and the career of a promising cricket player was ended due to Indo- Pak cricket rivalry.

Baig came back to play a few test six years later but his prime time was over and he faded from the scene. In hindsight only if Baig had been given a fair chance India would have had an additional stroke player with Pataudi. Unfortunately Baig paid the price of being a Muslim.

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