Habeeb – the gentleman and fast bowler

Habib Khan

Hyderabad: He stands little over 6 feet and 7 inches and had the strong build of a fast bowler. Mohammed Habeeb Khan had the distinction of clean bowling England vice-captain Mike Stewart with the first delivery of the match while playing for South Zone under the late ML Jaisimha’s captaincy in Hyderabad in 1964. He may have been a towering personality, but he is one of the softest speaking cricketers one can come across. “He is a gentleman, very courteous and polite,’’ said V Ramnarayan, the former Hyderabad off spinner.

Habeeb is at present struggling with various medical issues and is confined to his bed for the last six months. “He is bedridden and has become very weak. He has age-related health issues like sugar, thyroid, arthritis and gastroenteritis problems,” said his son Mohd Nisar Khan, a tall fast bowler himself. Hyderabad cricketers have rallied to help this ailing player of the 50s and 60s, the eldest of the fearsome trio of great bowlers called the Khan brothers, the other two being Majid Khan and Sardar Khan. Today Hyderabad cricketers who have played with him or have been coached by him are raising funds for Habeeb’s treatment.

Born in a family of sportspersons, Habeeb’s father late Ibrahim Khan played for Hyderabad, and the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh in various disciplines such as cricket, football, hockey and athletics. Habeeb was a towering fast bowler who was much feared just as his younger brother Sardar Khan, was. Sardar played for Indian Railways and Hyderabad in Ranji Trophy while Majid represented Hyderabad in junior cricket.

Habeeb has perhaps a unique record in Indian cricket. He played for Hyderabad, Services and Railways in the Ranji Trophy. In the process, the tall fast bowler even played for South Zone (under Jaisimha), North Zone (under late Tiger Pataudi) and Central Zone (under late Hanumant Singh). Apart from that, Habeeb was in the Rest of India, against the visiting teams of West Indies, England and Sri Lanka.

Having made his Ranji Trophy debut under late Ghulam Ahmed in 1956, he returned his best match figures of 14 wickets against Kerala in Warangal in 1962. Former Ranji leg spinner Mahendra Kumar said Habeeb was a good fast bowler. “He had a good outswinger,” he said. Habeeb represented Hyderabad for nine years till 1964. Later on, he joined Services in 1964 and played in Ranji Trophy for one year. From Services, Habeeb played for Railways team from 1968 before retiring from first class cricket in 1974. He played a total of 40 Ranji Trophy matches. He had a ten-wicket haul in a match five times and was in the Indian probables for England tour in 1956. That was the closest he had come to play for India.

Old timers believe that Habeeb had good pace and injured many of the top order batsmen with his short-pitched deliveries. According to Mahendra, Habeeb was a very dangerous bowler on matting wickets. “The ball would awkwardly climb much to the discomfort of the batsman,’’ said Mahendra.

Ramnarayan added that with his height, Habeeb could build good pace. “He was sometimes quick and on a seaming track, he had the ability to make the ball climb. When you met him off the field, he was a very sweet person,’’ he said.

On his retirement, he was selector for Hyderabad junior selection committee and coach of the Indian Railway men and women’s teams. He was coach of the Hyderabad Public School Begumpet. He also coached former Indian captain Mohammad Azharuddin. Among other cricketers who were under his training were Hari Prasad, RA Swaroop, Vivek Jaisimha, Vidyut Jaisimha and Mohd Affan.

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