Mushtaq Mohammad bats
© PA Photos

Match That Changed My Life

For county or country?

Mushtaq Mohammad faced a tough choice in 1963, which resulted in the best decision he ever made

Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

1963 Northamptonshire v Pakistan Eaglets

In 1963 I toured England with the Pakistan Eaglets side, which was a precursor to A teams. The tour proved to be the turning point of my career.

Specifically, the catalyst was a match against Northamptonshire at Peterborough. Conditions were very English - overcast, and in fact the first day was rained off. Pitches in those days were left uncovered.

I got a duck in the first innings and we folded up cheaply. But in the second innings I managed to crack a century and it was this that got me attention.

Immediately after that match, Northants secretary Ken Turner and head coach Dennis Brooks approached me with an offer to play for the county. They said they were looking to find a replacement for Donald Ramsamooj, a batsman from the West Indies, as the overseas player. My success during Pakistan's tour of England the previous year, where I was the team's highest run-maker in the five Tests, had attracted their interest as well.

Although I was keen to play for Northants, there was a hurdle. At the time if you wanted to play county cricket you had to qualify, which meant you had to reside in England for nearly two years. The terms of qualification meant I could not reside outside the UK for more than 30 days in that period, and I couldn't play first-class cricket for any other team, including my domestic side in Pakistan, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

Personally I had a few things to consider. I would be away from home for two years and I was courting my wife at the time. And if I were to play county cricket I might be forgotten by Pakistan cricket: out of sight, out of mind. I said to Northants that I needed time.

On January 11, 1964 I got married. The next day I was awarded the Pride of Performance by Pakistan's president Ayub Khan and I took the opportunity to raise the issue of the county offer. He said he would look into the matter. Air Marshal Nur Khan, the PIA chairman, called me and said my salary had been increased by Rs 100, which would take my monthly salary to Rs 600. But I felt it was time to go.

Northants offered me a five-year contract. The remuneration was £800 in the first two seasons and an increase to £1000 for the following three years. I was in my early 20s and although I missed out on playing Tests for Pakistan before I returned in 1967, I learned a lot at Northants.

The experience taught me a lot about batting in difficult conditions, by playing on wet wickets and uncovered pitches. I became a better player and I was also better off financially.

Incidentally, the qualification rule came to an end in 1967. By then I had already decided to head back to Pakistan. In the end I played for both PIA and Northants, but I still regret missing out not playing two years for Pakistan when I was at my peak.

Mushtaq Mohammad played 57 Tests and ten ODIs for Pakistan between 1959 and 1979. He was speaking to Nagraj Gollapudi