© Wisden India

What makes the Attock Cricket Club special is the identity of the president. Mushtaq Mohammad, who was once the youngest Test centurion. © Wisden India

In a road far off from the centre of the city in Birmingham, there is a vast expanse of green dotted by pleasing trees and a stunningly pretty red school. It is one of the many cricket clubs in Birmingham, but what makes the Attock Cricket Club special is the identity of the president. Mushtaq Mohammad, who was once the youngest Test centurion, and has been a stalwart of Pakistan cricket, but has been living for decades in the United Kingdom. The cricketing lineage of the family is unmatched, with four brothers having played Test cricket, one having played first-class cricket, and nephew Shoaib Mohammad also a Test cricketer. Of the brothers, Hanif of course is the most famous, the original ‘Little Master’. But Wazir and Sadiq too represented Pakistan, while Raees played first-class cricket for more than a decade.

Mushtaq himself played 57 Tests for 3643 runs at 39.17 with 10 centuries. Before the India versus Pakistan clash in the Champions Trophy 2017 on Sunday (June 4), Mushtaq took some time out at his club to speak on the rivalry, Pakistan cricket, and more. Excerpts:

What are your thoughts on the India-Pakistan game today?
It’s a great occasion and perhaps the best match of the tournament. Everybody is looking forward to see India and Pakistan playing, because they play each other only in ICC events. India versus Pakistan has got a special ingredient. Both teams are keen to play each other. The supporters of both are also going to be there in great numbers. We only hope the weather doesn’t play spoilsport.

There are no bilateral series between India and Pakistan. Is that why you think this match has been hyped up so much?
They always make a very big scene of it, a big issue of it. It’s only a game of cricket. Because we don’t play against each other so much, because we have political differences, and because there’s always tension between the two countries [that’s why they make a big deal of it]. And the present circumstances are not good, it’s very fragile and very tense. Now all of a sudden Pakistan is playing India, everybody is excited that something is happening. If cricket, which is a small commodity, can bring two nations together on a playing field, why can’t do they it politically?

How was the rivalry between the two nations during your playing days?
The cricketing relationship between the two nations has changed tremendously. The rivalry is still huge between the two countries. In our days, it was a good friendly rivalry because there wasn’t much money involved. Both teams were playing for pride. We were able to bring harmony. Cricket built great bridges between the two countries. At times, cricket was used to defuse the tension between the two. I think cricket is a very important commodity for both the countries.

Did you have any friends in the Indian team?
Yes, I know Bishan Singh Bedi very well. He’s like a brother to me. Both of us played for the same county — Northamptonshire. We lived together for six years in England. Whenever I go to Delhi, I stay with him. Whenever he comes to Birmingham, he uses this ground. He’s been here on a number of occasions. I get on well with Sunil Gavaskar too.

Sunil Gavaskar, Mushtaq Mohammad

“In our days, it was a good friendly rivalry because there wasn’t much money involved. Both teams were playing for pride.”

What are your memories of the five Test matches you played in India?
Playing India in India is a memory itself. Playing India in Pakistan is also a present memory, when Bishan brought the team over. Getting a hundred at Ferozeshah Kotla — my first Test hundred was against India — was one landmark which I would like to remember.

What do you make of the current Pakistan team?
Having lost Younis Khan and Misbah (ul Haq), I think the Pakistan team looks a little bit fragile in their batting line-up. But it’s a great opportunity for youngsters to come and make a name for themselves. And I think this is the chance and opportunity to do it. Youngsters need to grab such chances with both hands.

While the lack of international cricket in Pakistan has definitely hampered their growth, what else do you think has affected them?
There are quite a few things plaguing Pakistan now. Firstly, Pakistan is forced to play all their international cricket away. That doesn’t help their cause one bit. The youngsters want to see their team playing in front of them. But no side is coming over because of security reasons. We are unfortunate. We are forced to play our home season away from home in the United Arab Emirates. Secondly, Pakistan has not been able to produce players like (Javed) Miandad, Saeed Anwar or Inzamam (ul Haq), Wasim (Akram), Waqar Younis or Shoaib Akhtar. At that time Pakistan was playing regular cricket in Pakistan. These were the products when the team was on a high. Today’s youngsters who play domestic cricket haven’t see their heroes play at home. So that has affected Pakistan cricket in a great way. That’s why it Pakistan cricket has gone down. Once we start playing at home inshallah, Pakistan will grow.

Virat Kohli is considered to amongst the best batsmen of this generation. How do you assess him?
He’s one of the finest batsmen I’ve seen in the present era. His temperament, his cricketing brain is absolutely fine. India is very lucky to have found a batsman like him after Sachin Tendulkar retired. In my book, Sachin Tendulkar is the best I’ve ever seen.

Mushtaq Mohammad

Mushtaq Mohammad played 57 Tests for 3643 runs at 39.17 with 10 centuries. © Getty Images

What led to you taking up an offer to play county cricket?
In those days, cricket wasn’t available much all over the world. In Pakistan, you played Test cricket, you played club cricket, you played the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. In India you played Duleep Trophy, Ranji Trophy and Test cricket. Everybody was playing in their own countries. There wasn’t much. Since money has come in, the game has been promoted vastly and marketing has been good. So now every youngster wants to become a cricketer because you can earn a good living.

When did you settle down in England?
I came here in 1964. I played county cricket here. I played cricket for Pakistan during the winter and then returned during the summer for country cricket. I hung up my boots in 1980. In a way, I’ve been living in England for the past 53 years.

Have you ever gone back to Gujarat, your birth place?
I was born in Junagadh in Gujarat state. We migrated to Pakistan in 1947, when I was five years old. I haven’t been to Junagadh. I’d love to go to my birth place.

Lastly, your thoughts on your brother Hanif?
He was obviously a pearl of Pakistan cricket. He’s an icon. Everybody looked up to him. In his playing days, the records which he created in poor playing conditions with a limited amount of protective gear are great. His name will be remembered for all the time to come.