Christian Sportsmen who Represented Pakistan
When Sir Charles Napier occupied Sindh in 1843, many Christians living in the Indian port city of Goa didn’t wish to remain under the Portuguese, so they moved to Karachi and other parts of Pakistan to improve their living standards. By the time of partition, Pakistan boosted a sizeable Christian Community that was active in all fields of life and played a pivotal role in freedom movement.
Christians traditionally love to have good times and their passion for sports is unquestionable, no wonder that after gaining independence, Christian sportsmen enriched the tapestry of Pakistan sports by producing players of out-standing class, of vibrant style and of stunning performances. As Christians around the world celebrate the arrival of Jesus Christ, I decided to find sportsmen who won sporting glory for their nation.
My research was intense yet exciting and had it not been for the articles and memories revisited by eminent commentator Mr. Chishti Mujahid, this piece could never have materialized. Also worth mentioning is the time spent with Mr. Mennen Rodriguez
Khalid ‘Billy’ Ibadulla
Born in Lahore in 1935, Billy Ibadulla was an articulate right handed opening batsman who played four tests for Pakistan between 1964 and 1967. He was a member of the first team to step out of the county touring India in 1952 but never got a chance to pad in that series. However, Billy immediately made an impact with a crafty 166 on debut against Australia in Karachi. He went on to score 22 first class centuries and bagged 462 wickets. Regarded as a brilliant close in fielder he also pocketed 337 catches.
But like every elite sportsman Billy had his lows, being dropped from the tour of England had both emotional and physiological effects. That disappointment led him to leave Pakistan and head to English county Warwickshire. He finally migrated to New Zealand in 1976 and started a career in coaching and cricket commentary. His love for fly fishing forced him to settle in the port city of Dunedin where he runs a private coaching academy till date. Ibadulla has helped some of New Zealand’s brightest cricketers hone their techniques. His most notable student was Glenn Turner who had an out- standing international career. Others to follow were former captain Ken Rutherford, all-rounder Chris Cairns and most recently wicketkeeper batsman Brendon McCullum.
Wallis was the first Goan Christian to play for Pakistan and as Chishti Mujahid tags him, “The gentlest cricket you would ever see”. Born in Karachi in 1935, Wallis played 21 tests for Pakistan from 1955 till 1962. He was a middle order batsman who often engineered critical innings but is most remembered as a brilliant slip fielder who palmed 22 catches. His debut came against New Zealand in Dhaka in 1955 where he scored 41 not out. Wallis played a vital role in supporting Hanif Muhammad in his legendry 337 at Barbados in 1958 where he scored 17 in each innings. His love affair with Hanif Muhammad continued in Hanif’s world record 499 innings at Karachi in 1959 where he shouldered Hanif with a precious 103. His true moment came against West Indies at Dhaka in 1959 where his 64 and 45 helped Pakistan win a low scoring game. A finger injury sustained in nets forced him out of International cricket but he kept representing Karachi in domestic cricket till 1977. He expired in Karachi in 1994 at the age 59 due to brain haemorrhage.
Duncan Albert Sharpe
Born in Rawalpindi in 1937, Sharpe was an Anglo-Pakistani Christian who represented Pakistan in three tests in 1959. Sharpe made his Test debut against Australia on 13 November 1959. He top scored in both innings scoring 56 and 35. He was dropped for the next series and immigrated to Australia in 1960. He played Sheffield Shield cricket with South Australia alongside the likes of Gary Sobers. Sharpe today lives with his wife in the province of Victoria.
Born in Goa in 1939, D’Souza later migrated to Pakistan and was the fourth Christian to don the Green Cap. He was a medium pacer and tail-end batsman. Antao toured England in 1962 heading the batting averages (53) as he remained not out in 5 of his 6 innings! His bowling was ineffective as his fellow bowler’s on that disastrous tour where Pakistan were humiliated 4-0. He migrated to Ontario- Canada in 1999 and lives there with his four children.
And then there was the most illustrious of all Christian players in the face of Yousuf Youhana, the fifth Christian to play for Pakistan. Yousuf made his debut against South Africa in 1998 but later converted to Islam in 2005.
While it was relatively easy to research men with bat and ball, I faced new set of challenges seeking info about men with Hockey sticks. It was time to turn to triple Olympian and Gold Medalist Anwar Ahmed Khan for help who was very excited to walk down the memory lane.
We start off with Milton D’Mello from Karachi who played left half and represented Pakistan at the 1948 London Olympics where they lost to Holland and landed in the 4th place. The next Olympics at Helsinki in 1952 saw Jack Britto, a center and right half don the Green Shirt, Pakistan again managed a 4th position after defeats to Holland and Great Britain.
1960 Rome Olympics was a historic event for Pakistan where it won its first Olympic Gold medal. The team was gifted with the dependable and stylish goal keeper Rony Gardner. Mr. Anwar has found memories of those Olympics and Gardner who shared room with him. “Rona was a Sergeant in Punjab Police, yet he was a Jolly Good Fellow and a complete team man who was always there to support his collogues. Abdul Rasheed was in top form and that left little room for Gardner to step in, he however played two matches against South Africa in the next tour”. Mr. Anwar didn’t forget to add that hockey in those days (as of today) wasn’t about money as it was not a professional sports and we all played just for the love of the game. Mr. D’Mello is not with us anymore while Mr. Britto lives in the United Kingdom.
Two other names worth mentioning are Peter Paul Fernandes who was born in Karachi but represented un-divided India at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and the mastermind Oswald B. Nazareth, who went on to draft the first constitution of Pakistan Hockey Federation, being its Secretary for a long time and becoming the Co-Manager of the country’s first Hockey team to the 1948 London Olympics. There were others who represented Pakistan in various sports like Michael Rodriguez at the1965 World Table Tennis Championship in Yugoslavia.
The list certainly does not end here but space does. Pakistan Sports has historically been struck by ethnic racism but thankfully never have we witnessed religious biasness. With the selection process being fair and opportunities in abundance, the chance for minorities making it to national squads is always on cards, all that’s required is ambition, hard work and dedication.