Syed Haider Ali, a domestic cricket stalwart, and one of the finest left-arm spinners who never played for India, has passed away after battling prolonged illness. Haider died in Prayagraj on Saturday. He was 79. Haider is survived by two sons Syed Sher Ali and Raza Ali.
"He was suffering from chest congestion for some time now. After a routine check-up with his doctor, we were returning home, when he suddenly collapsed. He passed away around 1.30 pm on Saturday," Raza, a former first-class cricketer, told PTI.
Haider made his first-class debut for the Railways in the 1963-64 season and went on to play for his side with distinction for close to 25 years. A classical left-arm orthodox spinner, who honed his skills on docile tracks around the country in the 1960s and 1970s, Haider bamboozled batters through guile and deception.
By the time he hung his boots in 1988, Haider was by far the most celebrated cricketer for the Railways. He finished with 366 wickets in 113 first-class games, scalping three 10-wicket hauls and 25 five-wicket hauls, at an impressive average of 19.71. Not only he accomplished much as a spinner, Haider was equally skilful with the bat, making invaluable contributions batting at No.7.
"He scored 120 against Vidarbha in Nagpur in a Ranji Trophy match in 1984-85 season. I remember we had lost seven wickets and were staring at an innings defeat. We would have lost that game without him," former Railways coach Vinod Sharma told PTI.
Notching up 3,125 runs, including three centuries and 10 half-centuries from 158 innings, is a testimony to his achievements as a batter. Not many know that Haider began his first-class career as a tearaway left-arm pacer. It was on the insistence of former Railways captain William Ghosh that he switched to left-arm spin. After retirement, he took on the mantle of the chief selector for the Railways.
"He was our selector, when Railways won the Ranji Trophy titles during 2001-02 and 2004-05 seasons respectively," Sharma recollected.
As news of Haider's demise began to trickle in, the Railways' cricketing fraternity was in a state of shock. Sanjay Bangar, the former Indian all-rounder, who played for the Railways in the 90s, remembered Haider as a stalwart and a well-respected individual.
"Very unfortunate to hear the tragic news. I never got a chance to play alongside him, but I played when he was the chief selector of the Railways team. He was a stalwart. A soft-spoken and a well-respected individual, Bangar told PTI.
"It's a huge loss for us. I cannot even begin to describe how I'm feeling right now. He made Railways cricket a force to be reckoned with. He was our Godfather," Sharma explained.
Despite being such an irresistible force on the domestic circuit, Haider never made the transition to international cricket. In a sense, he was very much an unsung hero, having plied his trade at a time when India boasted of the famous quartet of spinners, namely Bishen Singh Bedi, Erappali Prasanna, Shrinivas Venkatraghavan and Bhagwath Chandrashekar.
Haider, however, never harboured resentment for not having made it to the Indian national team.
"He would always say that Bedi was India's No.1 spinner, followed by Padmakar Shivalkar and Rajinder Goel," Sharma noted.
"Take my name only after these three cricketers," he added.
The Railways and the Jammu & Kashmir team, who are playing a warm-up fixture at the Karnail Singh Stadium here in the national capital on Sunday, observed a two-minute silence before the game, in Haider's honour.