hort, stocky and curly hair, Muhammad Ilyas was born in Lahore on 19th March 1946. He began in first-class cricket as a leg-spinner and a lower-order batsman, but for his school, he used to open the innings and quite often operate with the new ball. Not in the classical mould of opening batsmen, he was a quick, aggressive and dashing player with a flair for performing the impossible. He would attack from the word go, and with his swift square cuts and occasional lofted shorts over mid-on, had many admirers in his native city. As a leg-break bowler, he was quite the same as Intikhab Alam, only a bit faster. However, the Googly was his most potent weapon. A superb fielder in the outfield, he seemed destined for loftier heights.
Born on 19th March 1946
In 1961-62, He made his mark in first-class cricket as a 15-year-old schoolboy, and it was the same match in which another famous Pakistani test cricketer Majid Khan made his debut. In the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Lahore ‘B’ was pitted against Khairpur in the preliminary round at Lahore. He was a student at the famous Muslim Model High School in Lahore and came in as a promising right-arm Leg-break bowler. Majid Khan had a wonderful first-class baptism scoring a century and claiming 6-67 in the first innings and he had a mediocre start to his career. He was used only sparingly in the Khairpur first knock by skipper Agha Saadat Ali but succeeded in clean bowling the visiting captain Faqir Aizazuddin for his first victim. His figures were 5-0-21-1. Later when Lahore ‘B’ batted, Muhammad Ilyas came in at number-nine and helped Majid Khan (111 not out) to add 48 for the unbroken eighth wicket stand. He was 15 not out when the declaration came, Lahore ‘B’ being 26 runs ahead in the first innings. Khairpur were all out for 178 in their second outing, thanks to some fine spin bowling by Muhammad Hafeez (5-69) and Muhammad Ilyas (3-41). Lahore ‘B’ went on to win by six wickets. Muhammad Ilyas played with moderate success in his team’s next two games against Karachi Blues and Bahawalpur, but Lahore ‘B’ could not make it to the final rounds. So he waited till the season’s Ayub Trophy, in which he appeared for the Pakistan Education Boards team which was elbowed out after only one game. In the season, Muhammad Ilyas scored 98 runs at 19.60 and took 10 wickets at 31.00 runs apiece. His bowling seemed his strong point at the moment, and he filled many hearts with joy with his superb fielding in the outer region.
In 1962-63, after the Pakistanis had returned home from a miserable 1962 tour of England under Javed Burki, and with Hanif Muhammad’s career threatened by an injured knee, the scramble for youngsters to take his place was on. He did provide a bit of hope in the circumstances, though the selectors later decided to bank upon experienced hands. However, it was under Javed Burki that he played in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy as he was named on the senior Lahore ‘A’ team. Javed Burki promoted him to the number three position, and the youngster obliged with a fine 47 in the opening game against the Railways at Lahore. As a bowler, he excelled in the Railways’ second innings to take 4-60 from 16.3 overs. His side, however, surrendered first innings points to the Railway. He managed only 16 runs in the first knock against Karachi ‘B’ in the next game and was unlucky with the ball too while the Karachi team gained a lead of 125 runs. With less pressure on him in the second innings, he batted brilliantly for Lahore showing his undisputed class. In his side’s 166-6, he hammered a masterly 106, but Karachi ‘B’ had already gained enough points to emerge as leaders of their particular group. Lahore ‘A’ match against the Universities was thus a mere formality, and in his side’s 362 run win, he made 22 & 32 not out. The season’s Ayub Trophy followed, but only the final round games were recognized first class that winter, and thus his performance with Lahore was not counted in the records. Anyway, he had a better second season, scoring 230 runs at 57.50 with his maiden century included, but as a bowler had to be content with just four wickets.
In 1963-64, he was named to play for the President’s XI at Rawalpindi against the touring Commonwealth team. The team was to play three representative games at Lahore, Karachi and Dacca and the Pakistanis hoped to establish a new side after the bitter lesson of the 1962 England tour. He opened the batting for the side at Rawalpindi, but managed just 6 & 3, though he was given a reasonable spell with the ball. However, he failed as a batsman and thus was not able to get into the Pakistan side to play against PE Richardson’s men. Then he shifted his attention to the season’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Once again, his home side batted his middle in the order as he came in number-five for Lahore Greens in the first match of the National Championship against Multan. For him, it was a moment of test, and he promptly posted a dashing 115 against the Multan attack. His form fell a little in the following games, and he struggled most of the time. He did get a better chance to show his worth as Lahore Greens made it to the semi-finals, but his lean patch persisted. During the season, he could finish with just 177 runs at 22.12 in five first-class matches. His admirers looked a bit disappointed and were not tipping him as a favourite for the coming hectic winter which included eight test matches and home and away series against Australia & New Zealand. A short trip to Ceylon was also planned just before the domestic season and he was nowhere in the reckoning.
In 1964-65, the luck was smiling on him as he found himself in the 14-member squad that undertook a tour of Ceylon under the leadership of former test skipper Imtiaz Ahmed. The side named Pakistan ‘A’ performed miserably and lost three of the four games played on the tour. He did not get to play any of the two first-class fixtures, which included the representative match against Ceylon, but hit 43 in the last one-day game at Colombo which the Pakistanis lost. Back home, at the beginning of the home season, he appeared for a Pakistan XI against the Railways at Karachi in a game meant as a test trial in view of the Australians tour that was to play a test at Karachi on their way to India from England. Batting at number five, he scored only 1 & 21 and missed his chance to make his Test debut against the Australians. Khalid Ibadullah, the Warwickshire Pakistani, was however the selectors already made a choice that opened for Pakistan with another new test cap Abdul Kadir.
With Khalid Ibadullah not available for Pakistan’s team tour of Australia & New Zealand then he was named in the touring party and he grabbed the chance with both hands. He began with a swift 46 against Queensland at Brisbane in the opening match of the tour, and when the Pakistanis batted a second time, he banged a tremendous 126 which received words of praise from no less a personality than the great Sir Donald Bradman. His aggressive range of strokes delighted the Australian fans who found his hard-hitting just right for their cricketing appetite. He was an automatic choice for the only test to be played at Melbourne. Playing his maiden test at the age of 18 years & 260 days, he was somewhat impressed by the big occasion and was run out for 6 in his first innings. Graham McKenzie got him leg before for 3 in the second knock, but the other Pakistani batsmen especially captain Hanif Muhammad (104 & 93) batted well enough to save Pakistan from a possible defeat. But he was not a lost bet yet. In the next game against New South Wales, he made 4 & 42, and just before the Pakistanis hopped over to New Zealand, he played the innings of his career. Opening the Pakistanis batting with Naushad Ali against South Australia at Adelaide, he slashed 17 fours in a tremendous knock of 154 made out of his team’s score of 264 before he got out. The run rate went to such proportions that the Pakistanis added 396 runs in a single day. He had made a place for himself on the national side.
He began the New Zealand leg of the tour moderately and scored only 156 runs at 19.50 as an opening batsman in the five matches prior to the first test at Wellington. But he was in the team for the test where he made only 13 & 4. Hanif Muhammad, however, showed his faith in him by including him in the second test too. Here, at Auckland, he was dropped down in the batting line-up, and at number seven he was out for just 10 runs. He improved patiently in the second knock and with a solid display and compiled a good 36. Batting at number six in the match against Central Districts, he hit 31 & 49, so Hanif Muhammad preferred him in the middle-order for the third and final test at Christchurch. He finally made the test grade when he lifted Pakistan from a poor 81-7 to 132-7 in partnership with Intikhab Alam (27), and with an inning of 88 (one six, 10 fours) led the recovery on a bitterly cold day. Pakistan was safely out of trouble and Hanif Muhammad made sure of safety with an unbeaten 100 on the last day of the test. With the series drawn, the Pakistanis ended a happy tour and took the flight home. He had a memorable tour, appearing in 13 out of the 14 first-class matches in the two countries and hitting 781 runs at 33.96 with the help of two brilliant centuries. And what’s more, he had secured a test place for himself.
The New Zealand side was to follow Pakistan for another three-test series on home soil during the same season, so the players were preparing for the test encounters. He meanwhile, found time to appear for the Punjab University & Lahore Education Board Combined team in the 1964-65 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. His team lost to the Railways on the first innings result and he himself scored only 8 & 30 besides taking 1-36 with his leg-spin. The test series began with Rawalpindi staging its only such encounter. He added 114 for the second wicket in just 80 minutes with Saeed Ahmed (68) after Pakistan had lost Naushad Ali early. In a stay of 125 minutes, he hit 11 fours to complete a personal 56. The match was over early on the third day giving Pakistan magnificent innings and 64 run win. He could not click in the Lahore test which was drawn but hit his first test century at Karachi. The Kiwis had left Pakistan 202 runs to win in a full day’s play, and the Pakistanis were in no mood to lose time. He and Naushad Ali gave their team a 121-run start, and at lunch, Pakistan were 107 for no loss. Muhammad Ilyas, when 97, hit four consecutive fours off Ross Morgan to complete a grand century. In a 205-minute stay, he smacked 15 fours to bring Pakistan within four runs of the victory margin. His 126 was a morale-boosting knock for him. Satisfied with his performances during the season, in which he made two tours for the Pakistan team and played in seven consecutive test matches with a fine century in the last one, Muhammad Ilyas seemed to be taking a well-deserved rest from cricket during the next season.
In 1965-66, he appeared in only one game for the Governor’s XI against the Punjab University in the traditional fixture at Lahore’s Bagh-e-Jinnah. In the meantime, he had landed a job with Pakistan International Airlines and was thus naturally eligible to play for them in national cricket tournaments. 1965-66, Ayub Trophy had not been completed that season, and PIA conceded a walk-over by Chittagong in their pre-quarterfinal game at Dacca. And as the tournament had started late because of the 1965 war against India, the PIA had to wait till the next season to play its quarter-final game.
1966-67, the home season was started with the postponed quarter-final of last year’s Ayub Trophy. However, PWD was lucky enough to defeat them by narrow 6-run first innings lead in the match played at Karachi. In his first game for the PIA scored 43 & 17 besides taking 0-9 in his solitary over. During the same season, two foreign teams visited Pakistan. First came the Ceylonese and later the
MCC’s Under-25 side is captained by a young MJ Brearley. Both were not official tours and only representative games were to be played. Muhammad Ilyas had Railways’ wicketkeeper Ijaz Hussain as his opening partner in the first representative match against Ceylon at Lahore and scored a solid looking 48 in the first innings. Although Pakistan won by 10 wickets the home selectors decided to try out former national skipper, Javed Burki for the first time as an opening batsman. So he was dropped for the Dacca game, and Javed Burki opened with Ijaz Hussain. The selectors gamble paid off and Javed Burki clicked in the opening slot. Wasim Bari then appeared on the scene as a fine keeper. He replaced Ijaz for the Karachi match and he returned to the team. In partnership with Javed Burki who made a mammoth 210, Muhammad Ilyas (60) gave Pakistan a 183 runs start, and Ceylon was beaten for the third time in a row. Then the MCC Under-25 cricketers arrived in Pakistan. He appeared for South Zone against the tourists at Hyderabad, where he scored 27 & 0 besides taking 0-15 in the match. He was a senior member of the Pakistan Under-25 side (he was then not yet 21) which played in the three-match representative series under the leadership of Asif Iqbal. All matches were drawn, and he opened in all games in partnership with Ijaz Hussain who appeared as a specialist opener while Wasim Bari kept the wickets. Muhammad Ilyas had a good series and made scored 68 & 30 at Dacca, and 44 & 35 at Karachi. He thus retained his place in the national team which was to make a trip to England during the summer of 1967. He began the England tour modestly with good knocks against Essex and Middlesex, but he injured himself while batting in the game against Surrey at the Oval. He was not fit for the first test match at Lord’s and when he returned to bat, he was dismissed for no score in the first innings against Glamorgan at Swansea. However, he put in a good effort of 63 in the second innings which were dominated by that famous 147 not out by Majid Khan in 89 minutes scored with the help of a record 13 sixes. Anyway, Muhammad Ilyas was not in the Pakistan team for the second test at Nottingham which followed the Glamorgan match. Finally, he got his chance in the Oval, only to see himself at bay against the England pacers, and he could manage a score of only 2 & 1. All in all, he had a disappointing tour of eight matches getting him just 332 runs at 25.53 per innings and took no wickets for 69 runs in 14 overs.
In 1967-68, he had one of his best domestic seasons. PIA once again surrendered to the PWD in their very first tussle in the season’s Ayub Trophy, but he was his team’s top-scorer with 45. He appeared for Pakistan in the lone representative match against the International XI led by England’s MJ Stewart, which was on a tour of Asian countries that winter. Pakistan lost by 43 runs in the final calculations, and a fine second-wicket stand of 149 in the second innings between Muhammad Ilyas (50) and Saeed Ahmed (97) was in vain. A Commonwealth team, led by former Australian skipper R Benaud arrived soon after for a three-game representative series and Muhammad Ilyas reached the zenith of his batting career.
He banged a scintillating 149 in the first match played by Pakistan against the Commonwealth at Multan’s Qasim Bagh Stadium. On an uncertain wicket, it was a great effort, considering that the next highest for Pakistan was Asif Iqbal’s 46. Spinners Intikhab Alam and Lyallpur’s Zulfiqar Ali then ran through the touring batsmen to help Pakistan to a 105-run victory. At Lahore, Muhammad Ilyas (78) was once again Pakistan’s highest score in the first knock, and at Karachi too, when he missed a fine hundred by just two runs. His contribution of 361 runs at 72.20 in five innings was something really worthwhile.
In 1968-69, the England team led by MC Cowdrey diverted its course from South Africa (the tour dropped because the Springboks would not have Basil D’Oliveira in the England side) to make a trip to Pakistan and three test matches were arranged. Just prior to the tour, he had appeared for his employer’s PIA in a friendly first-class game against the PWD and had played for them in the PIA Quadrangular Tournament at Karachi which his team managed to win defeating Karachi in the final. In the opening game against the National Tyre & Rubber Company, Muhammad Ilyas (104) helped his skipper Hanif Muhammad (186) to a grand 222 runs start. Later, in the season’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, in which PIA did not take part he appeared for his native Lahore who won their first-ever national title. He played a fine knock of 97 against the Railways and another sound 48 in the final against Karachi. In the traditional fixture for the Governor’s XI against Punjab University at Lahore, he hit 75 & 31. He was included in the team for the test against England at Lahore following his good display of 55 & 39 for the Central Zone in the Lyallpur game against the tourists. He was out the first ball (lbw Brown) in the test at Lahore and managed just one in the second innings, but he was retained for the Dacca test where he chipped in with innings of 20 & 21. He was dropped from the Karachi side where the national selectors decided to try Aftab Gul with Hanif Muhammad. That match was abandoned due to political riots when even England’s first innings were incomplete. During the season, he made 635 runs at 37.35 and took 12 wickets at 21.50 with his leg breaks which included a spell of 5-30 in a Quaid-e-Azam Trophy match for Lahore against Sargodha at Lahore.
In 1969-70, he did score two centuries in the season’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, 101 against Bahawalpur, also taking a career-best 6-66 in the same match, and 118 against Karachi Whites in the semi-final but he was not considered for the home test series against New Zealand. Sadiq Muhammad displaced him and then Salahuddin Ahmed and Aftab Gul made sure that he was not needed. He did not deliver the goods for PIA ‘A’ in the 1969-70 Ayub Trophy, and he was dropped from the semi-final team and the Ayub Trophy came to the PIA without his help. His final figures for the season were not very flattering as he scored 341 runs at 28.41 and took 8 wickets at 14.62 in 8 first-class matches.
In 1970-71, he was not to be unsettled and started with a bang for PIA ‘A’ in the BCCP Trophy, and hit a hurricane unbeaten 152 (17 fours) in a four-hour stay at the wicket, against East Pakistan Greens at Dacca in his first game of the season. He hammered 107 in the next match against East Pakistan Whites, and his third century in three innings with a smashing 108 in the match against Bahawalpur. He did not retain the same brilliant form from the semi-final stage onwards, but PIA ‘A’ team won the Trophy beating Karachi Blues in the final. The PIA ‘A’ were, however, in for a shock in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Punjab University gained a first-innings lead over them in the very first match between the two with the students batting with their last pair in. He had earlier batted with guts to score 91. And by the time the season ended, he had come back to the Pakistan side. He played in the third and final representative match against MJ Stewart’s Commonwealth team at Lahore scoring 20 & 45. But he was unlucky to have narrowly missed the England tour of 1971. His season’s figures of 592 runs at 65.77 runs apiece should have taken him on the tour, but Talat Ali of Lahore beat him in the race.
In 1971-72, another good home season was followed, when in the BCCP Trophy quarter-final for PIA ‘A’ against Rawalpindi at Lahore, he scored 41 in the only innings but did not bowl in the match. He hit scores of 30 & 83 not out besides taking 5-37 & 1-44 in the semi-final for PIA ‘A’ against Lahore ‘A’ at Bagh-i-Jinnah Ground. In the final against Karachi Blues at National Stadium, he made 4 & 19 not out besides taking 0-43 & 1-15 and helped his team to lift the trophy/
In 1972-73, he showed his fine form during the national coaching camp and trials which also helped him to gain the selectors’ confidence. He was thus included in the Pakistan team that was to make a tour of Sri Lanka, Australia & New Zealand. In a one-day warm-up fixture against a Victoria Country XI, he was getting ready to face a local fast bowler. The home quickie bowled some vicious thunderbolts which made the Pakistani openers touch and duck or get out of the way. One fast one reared up and hit him between the eyes. As there was no apparent injury and after looking a bit shaken up, he picked up his bat and went back to resume his stance. Then suddenly he found that he was not seeing too well, and he was taken back to the pavilion to have a check-up. An X-Ray revealed no fracture, but his eyesight was affected and he was advised to rest. Then the ill-famed incident comes about. Both he and Saeed Ahmed, the latter on grounds of gross indiscipline, were “sacked” from the Pakistan team and ordered to return home at their own expense. After having played in the only match against Western Australia, where he scored 11 & 0 and bowled only 5 balls in the second innings, he complained of blurred vision at the nets and was thus not selected for further games in Australia. After his sacking, he did not like to return home and decided to stay in Sydney. Perhaps to seek a living there and play a club cricket if possible. He did not have to wait for long, as there were many “A” grade clubs in Sydney willing to get a Test cricketer in their ranks and pay well for his services. So while Saeed Ahmed fought it out with the Pakistan Cricket Board, Muhammad Ilyas said goodbye to Pakistan cricket and was permanently lost to his country. After that, he appeared in only one further first-class match.
In the winter of 1975-76, he was a member of the International Wanderers team led by New Zealand’s GM Turner, which played a few games in Rhodesia. He played in the second first-class match at Salisbury and was out for a ‘duck’.
Within a few months after that incident in 1972-73, he was successfully granted permission to stay in Australia. Later he was made a citizen of that country. He then joined England pacer Barry Knight’s cricket coaching school as Assistant Coach. Muhammad Ilyas also played for Essex 2nd Eleven in England. In later years he too appeared for Greenoak Cricket Club in 1974 and Poloc Cricket Club in 1977 and played in the Western Union Championship in the Scottish League.
He remained a member of various selection panels of Pakistan Cricket teams from 2008 until 2011. He had two short tenures as Chairman of, the National Selection Committee from 2011 to 2012 and 2014 to 2015. He also served as Chairman of the women’s National selection committee in 2017. He was also the Manager of the Pakistan Under-19 team, which participated in the ICC Under-19 Asia Cup held in Karachi in 2000 and the Pakistan (A) team tour of Australia in 2009.
He was one of the CBFS beneficiaries during the Khaleej Times Trophy at Sharjah in October 2001. He left England and came to Pakistan in 2002 and since then settled in Lahore. His daughter is married to the former Test player, Imran Farhat.