In the latest feature on the Bradford League's top all-rounders, Reg Nelson looks at the ground breaking feats of Ali Zia.
Not only was Ali Zia the first Pakistani to win the Sir Learie Constantine All-Rounders Trophy, but he was also the first recipient to retain it the following year.
He achieved this as the overseas pro at Queensbury after a decade of failure and multiple re-election pleas at the club in the seventies.
Playing member Terry McGuire had a good track record of bringing over classy Pakistani overseas pros, which included Test player Haroon Rashid, Rizwan uz Zama and Rashid Khan.
In 1981 he signed Ali Zia, and in the following year Asad Rauf (later a Test umpire) joined him, in an era when clubs were not restricted to one overseas player.
Zia had exceptional all-round ability and won the Sir Learie Constantine All Rounders Trophy in 1981 and 1982 and won the League Batting Averages in 1981.
His statistics read like this
1981 Batting 1,110 runs at 61.66 with a Highest Score of 138 not out
Bowling 50 wickets at 21.70
1982 Batting 738 runs at 36.90
Bowling 56 wickets at 13.73
Zia was a Pakistani First-class cricketer who played from 1974/75 until 1992/93. In 165 games he made 8,579 runs for an average of 33.90 and scored 13 hundreds with a career best of 229 not out. With the ball, he managed 241 wickets at 28.39, once taking 8-60 in an innings. He had the ability to bowl leg spin and medium fast.
The year before Zia arrived at Granby Fields in 1981, Queensbury had finished in the bottom two in the Second Division and in consequence had to seek re-election.
Despite Zia’s brilliant first season at Queensbury, he could not propel his side higher than third from bottom.
Queensbury 1981 - Back, left Brian Sunter, Tony Smith, Terry McGuire, Talish Butt, Neil Pearson, Shabir Ellahi. Front Martin Dunne, Gary Soames, Glen Rhodes (captain), Ali Zia, Tommy Carroll
All this would change in 1982 when fellow Pakistani Asad Rauf joined him and scored 1,097 runs at 49.86 with a highest score of 130 not out.
The title was duly won, and Ali Zia had helped enormously to put Queensbury into the First Division, and in doing so clinched his second successive Sir Learie Constantine All Rounders Trophy. Indeed, the first time it had been achieved since the trophy was first contested.
However, his powers diminished the following year in the top flight, and he did not make the league batting averages. He did, however, manage to take 55 wickets at 17.56.
This should not diminish in any way his brilliance in the league, and he proved his top flight class with an extraordinary performance in helping his side put Pudsey St Lawrence out of the Priestley Cup in 1981.
McGuire, who was a member of the Queensbury title-winning side in 1982, had this to say about Zia. “Having previously had Pakistani first-class cricketers at Queensbury, I had a few contacts. Ali wanted to come to England to play in the Bradford League for the experience and he was highly recommended.
“He was playing for the National Bank in Pakistan at the time. The first little quirk was that he was due to join us before the first match but was unable to do so because of an additional match he had to play.
“In 1981 we had a very heavy snow fall a couple of days before the season was due to start and as I recall, all the fixtures were called off. The snow was knee deep in Queensbury and when Ali did arrive, I do not think he believed me that the game had been cancelled due to snow.
“As a batman he was very attacking and had a great array of shots and could play all round the wicket, However, he was particularly strong through mid off and mid on and scored numerous sixes hitting the ball back over the bowlers head.
He was comfortable against both seam and spin but was particularly strong against the latter. He used his feet particularly well against both spin and medium pacers - coming down the wicket and attacking.
“As a bowler in Pakistan, he was predominantly known as a leg spin bowler who could occasionally bowl seam, but in England the conditions suited his seam bowling far more and he bowled mainly seamers, only occasionally reverting to leg breaks.”
“The majority of his wickets were taken as a seamer. Although he was not very tall, he had a good action and bowled at a lively pace. He started slowly as a batter scoring a fifty and a forty in his first half dozen innings. I do remember at the halfway stage of the season he only had about 350 runs. He still insisted he would score a thousand runs that season.”
McGuire added: “I remember we had just played Windhill and he had a got a decent score and was discussing the match with some of the Windhill lads. He made the comment about the 1,000 runs and the Windhill pro, a Lancashire second teamer called Geoff Greenop, told him he had no chance. They had a friendly bet of considerable monies.
“After the Windhill game he was unstoppable. I remember particularly a century against Lidget Green when his second fifty was achieved in about five overs.
“When he achieved the 1,000-run target, he went down to Windhill to collect his winnings. Greenop took it well, duly paid up and it was all very friendly.”
Another recollection of McGuire’s relates to a Priestley Cup tie. “In one of his earliest games we played Pudsey St Lawrence in the Priestley Cup first round. They had a very strong team including Colin Johnson Mike Bailey etc. We bowled them out for around 90 with seamer Glen Rhodes taking six wickets and Ali four.
“Even at that score Pudsey felt they had a good chance. However, Ali hammered their bowling while scoring a quick fire fifty and I think we won by nine wickets in about 18 overs.
“Ali was particularly harsh on their two spinners who went for around 50 runs between them in about six overs”.
Another member of the title-winning side was Martin Dunne who had a long career with Lidget Green as a swashbuckling batsman. His comments about Zia are brief but to the point, which is a particular trait of Martin.
“He was the best all rounder I have played with. He was brilliant with bat and ball and what a fielder - something special in the slips. He was a really nice person to play with and was good for Queensbury Cricket club.”
Another cricketer who played with him was Shabir Ellahi who made his name as an exceptional fielder in the covers. He remembers: “I played with Ali Zia and what a cricketer!
“I can remember in one match where he beat Pudsey St Lawrence single handed in the Priestley Cup. (I think Shabir is forgetting Glen Rhodes took six wickets!). He was a great all rounder who scored a thousand runs in his first season, back in 81. A great league professional and a great inspiration to youngsters like me and Talish Butt.”
Zia was the first Asian cricketer to win the Sir Learie Constantine All Rounders Trophy, but he opened the door for several more - most notably Suleman Khan of Lightcliffe who also won it in successive seasons in 2014 and 2015.
Next Sir Learie Constantine All Rounder Winner in this series is CHRIS GOTT