OBITUARY: 'Baboo' Ebrahim - humble master of the art of spin bowling
The act of being born and that of dying is the universal law. It is a process that applies to everything. Nothing is static or remains constant. We are all part of the process of coming into being and passing away. We call this the process of life. There are people dying every day and that death is dealt with according to the religious and cultural practice of the deceased and his/her family. We learn of its occurrence; we pay due respect if we know that person and we continue with our lives.
Yet every now and then a death occurs which strikes a huge blow, which affects the entire community. We sit up and take serious note of it and assess the loss suffered. The death of the founder and member of Delta Cricket Club, Ismail Ebrahim, famously known as Baboo, is one such occasion. The cricket fraternity in this country and in KwaZulu-Natal in particular has sustained a grievous loss with the passing of this towering legend on 15 July 2020 at a Durban hospital. It is difficult to assess the game’s loss. The world we live in seems poorer and less hopeful without him.
Mention the cricketing feats of Baboo Ebrahim in the presence of his peers of a certain vintage and there would be a hushed reverence in honour of his achievements. Among his family and friends, his name was greeted with a similar sense of pride and honour. For many of us, Ebrahim was up there among the country’s all-time great cricketers. His story is not only about one of the greatest cricketers this country had produced, but it is also about how with good old-fashioned hard work, dreams can be realised and goals fulfilled.
Ebrahim was an orthodox left-arm spin bowler, who had the amazing ability to extract prodigious turn of the ball in both ways on almost any surface. Whilst he could bowl accurately for long spells, he varied the flight of the ball intelligently. His influence on the art of spin bowling in the 1960s and 1970s was considerable and he played the game in good spirit and earned a huge reputation.
Ebrahim had more endurance, passion, accuracy, determination, and most importantly heart than any other cricketer in his era. Watching Ebrahim play was an event, even without the advent of television. Ebrahim became a cricketing hero of legendary status. He always channelled his competitiveness in the right direction.
Ebrahim came into prominence in the 1966-67 season, while playing for Crescents Cricket Club in its debut season in the Super League. In a much-awaited encounter with the defending champions Kismet Cricket Club, Ebrahim claimed 4 wickets for 12 runs in the first innings, thereby assisting his team to win by a staggering 123 runs. Crescents became the league champions that season and went on to win the Super League an astonishing eight times in ten seasons. During that period, Ebrahim played alongside his brother Mia and high profile players in the calibre of Yacoob Omar, Graham Francois, Doc Abed, Goolam Allie, and Manchie Boomgaard.
Ebrahim’s talents were recognised at a very young age when he was invited to play for a Basil D’Oliveira’s XI against Western Province in 1967. He was also selected, alongside Yacoob Omar, Graham Francois, Jugoo Govender and Goolam Allie for the rest of the South African Cricket Board of Control (SACBOC) side against the formidable Western Province XI at the Oude Libertas Stadium in Stellenbosch. Ebrahim took 4-51 in the first innings to help the SACBOC team win the match by 9 wickets.
When Natal shared the Dadabhay Cup with Western Province in the 1973-74 season for the first and only time, Ebrahim starred alongside Yacoob Omar (312 runs) and Michael Patrick (337 runs). Ebrahim took 33 wickets at 15.64 apiece. He took the breath away with technical mastery and audacity. He was a solid performer with an equally solid disposition.
Perhaps Ebrahim’s greatest feat arrived on 8-12 April 1976 at Kingsmead when he represented the South African Invitational XI against the touring International Wanderers team, which was captained by Australian Greg Chappell and managed by former Australian Test cricketer, Richie Benaud. Ebrahim was not required to bowl in the first innings. However, in the second innings, he achieved the distinction of taking 6-66 in securing a 122 runs victory for the South African team. Among his scalps were Mike Denness (former England captain), Greg Chappell, Robert Taylor, Derek Underwood, Dennis Lillee and John Shepherd.
He later joined Radcliffe Cricket Club in the Lancashire Central League in England for one season. He took 62 wickets at 14.62 apiece.
Over the ages, the great teachers of humanity have taught and urged people to live humble lives. Without studying the writings and teachings of many of these great scholars, Ebrahim by nature was humility in the truest sense of the word. The twin sisters of humility are simplicity and modesty. All three had great virtues. Ebrahim had plenty of these.
In extending his sincere and heartfelt sympathy and condolences to Ebrahim’s wife Cynthia and her family, the President of the KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union, Ben Dladla, indicated that Ebrahim’s devotion to local cricket was strong and impassioned. He said, “The cricket community owes much to him for his aggressive and devoted toil for the welfare of the players, administrators, staff, and fans. Baboo was saintly in character, liberal in spirit, and vigorous in mind.” Ebrahim had the love of people and immense respect for the worth and dignity of the individual. “In his death, the cricket fraternity has lost one of its principal leaders,” said Dladla.
Heinrich Strydom, the CEO of the cricket union, stated that Ebrahim distinguished himself by his dedication and contribution to the welfare of the cricketing fraternity. “On behalf of the KZN Cricket family I would like to extend our sincere condolences to the family. Mr Ebrahim was a great man who served the game with distinction. May his soul rest in peace,” said Strydom.
Reassuringly, Ebrahim is at peace now and free of pain. He lived a life of service to his profession, his family and friends. He was, in the true sense of the term, a people’s person. As friends, we will miss him but are grateful that we were lucky enough to know him, and are better for having done so.
Ebrahim was a friend, mentor, and guide, a source of inspiration and support and a tireless worker on the cricket field. He was a man of boundless energy, an organiser and a visionary, a great humanist in the finest sense of the term. Your endless journey has begun, your soul is free.
Rest in peace, Mr Ebrahim.
This article first appeared on EWN : OBITUARY: 'Baboo' Ebrahim - humble master of the art of spin bowling
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