In the late 60s, while practicing with a bunch of South Zone Ranji team in Hyderabad, cricketing great Mansoor Ali Khan asked fellow teammates if any of them wanted to join him to run a lap around the Gymkhana ground.
One Hyderabadi son of the soil, Syed Abid Ali, was the only one who took Pataudi up on that offer. Though the Tiger stopped halfway, Abid Ali finished his lap.
In awe of his stamina, Khan then commented to the folks around them, “This is a strange kid!”
By no means was that a backhanded compliment but a genuine one. This is because when it came to overall athletic abilities, Ali really had a way with his feet on the field.
“That all though was another time,” recalls the all-rounder who played at state and national levels.
Born in September 9, 1941, Abid Ali lived in a different Hyderabad, one which has changed very much according to him.
He adds, “At that time there was a passion to teach kids. Sports and physical activity were actively encouraged then.”
It is during this golden age of sorts where he developed his flair for a sport. He would represent his country and then-state Andhra Pradesh while playing cricket.
A cricketer who would acquire a reputation for being adept with his feet, ball and bat, he also was a forward in hockey and football. Although the path to these big stages, where he would utilize his talents on a bigger stage, was not exactly easy.
His father, Syed Sardar Ali, died in 1956 during Ali’s latter teenage years while his mother died six years earlier. Sardar Ali was an ASP in Hyderabad. As the trifurcation of the state approached, there were plans to transfer him to Bangalore.
“My father said how will I take six kids to Bangalore? I then had to start working to supplement already meager household income,” he remembers.
They then moved out of their big house in Mallepally and then shifted to the Vallabhdas building, where people of different communities co-existed peacefully. He describes that building as one that symbolized the secularism of Hyderabad which is somewhat intact today compared to the rest of the country.
He wanted to study further but circumstances were such that he instead worked his way into a job at State Bank of Hyderabad (SBH). Jevant Rao, who was ML Jayaseema’s, another cricketing great, father in law and Vice President at SBH was forming a team.
The prowess that he showed there got these the state selectors to take notice. And in the Ranji tournaments, he won many accolades such as the Bahram-ud-Daula, Moin-ud-Daula, Ghulam Ali, Kishen Pershad, League Tournament, and Cup Championship trophies.
He got a chance to play for India. Many city folk like Mayor Goswamy, Dastagir Qureshi, and Noor Abbasi would encourage him to pursue this path. In the 1867, he joined the national team during the Australia/New Zealand tour.
As he talks about his career trajectory and things that have changed with his city and its values, there has been one constant throughout — nepotism.
“When state and national selectors are making their choices based on if somebody his some big shot’s son, how is real talent supposed to flourish?”
After playing against Pakistan at the international level, he returned to Mumbai. Seeing as how he played at the international level, he should have been a shoe-in for the zone team.
Yet, politics trumped merit.
However, Pataudi, Jayseema, Subramanium, and Prasanna vouched for him to ensure that he would play in the next zone match. “I was determined that the powers that be would be prompted to select me. The four wickets in four overs and two catches in leg slip forced them to choose him.”
In 1980 Abid Ali left India where he coached in England and the United States. Yet, he still longs to coach the youth of his own state. After all, he has coached in UAE, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, England and the West Indies along with his storied career.
Plus, many other athletes received land and money for their contribution to the sport.
The then-Andhra Pradesh government did not grant him that. He hopes that the Telangana government will finally do so. Ali does not have any intention to go back to the United States despite the many advantages of living there — one of them being that corruption does not exist on a basic level like it does in India.
That too, no matter how much it has changed, home is after all home.