A cricket field in November can be a discomforting place.
The grass is too long, the square indistinguishable, and the sightscreens flat and covered against the elements. Leaves are swept by the winter wind, hither and yon, as if not knowing where to go in all those wide spaces. That same wind dulls the echoes of summer – the sound of bat on ball, the click of falling wickets, the shouted appeal, the stifled (and not so stifled) laughter of team mates, enjoying the game and each other‘s company.
And the wind turns even more biting when you think of those who have moved on from that field of memories.
The death of Mahmood Din was not unexpected for me. Being the gentle man he was, he was considerate enough to let me know some months ago that he had received the worst prognosis for the worst illness, and wanted to thank me for my friendship. A gesture in the most difficult of circumstances which only served to underline that kind and thoughful nature which was so evident throughout the forty years we knew each other as team mates and friends.
“You couldn’t meet a nicer man” is the inevitable reaction whenever his name comes up amongst the past and present players of Holy Cross Academicals Cricket Club – and that’s “nice” as in “pure gold”, rather than as a lazy word choice. To be in his presence was to feel better about the world. He could take the vicious humour of the cricket dressing room with the best of us, while always seeming to have sympathy with those on the receiving end. His smile was infectious, his joy at seeing you was always authentic. He was unfailingly courteous, in a world where many seem to have lost that ability.
He gave of his time to our club willingly and effectively, over decades – from 3rd X1 vice captain, to captaincy, to committee and ultimately in the thankless task of President, where he was as proud of the club as we were of him. As a skipper he was tactically astute and winningly apologetic when removing you from the attack, almost as if you were doing him a favour. He was a fine leader, using his organisational talents and connections to the general good, being astute enough to progress the possible and gently scale down the outrageous. His premier business skills were good humour and integrity, and he fully deserved the huge respect in which he was held.
Holy Cross have always been a club that welcomed and promoted diversity and Mahmood was the epitome of such an approach to life. He could drive a Mercedes while working hard for the poor and disadvantaged; he could be a highly successful accountant while supporting every one of my socialist rants on Facebook; he could speak in the measured tones of middle class Edinburgh while feeling equally at home with all comers to our team. In some folk such contradictions would be suspicious, but with Mahmood you knew he had a heart big enough to encompass all these views and more. He cared about folk and respected everyone.
Nowhere was the love he had to give more obvious than in his family life. A devoted son and husband, when he spoke of his own son and daughter he was transfigured with joy and love. He was hugely proud of them and they were blessed to have such a fine man as father and role model. Over the years as a teacher, I often had cause to talk to pupils of the importance of family and its love and support – and whenever I spoke in that way, Mahmood was one of the examples I had in mind.
Part of the bond between us was, I think, that we had the same attitudes to our Faiths – that we acted on the best of our beliefs and stood up against the negative interpretations of our religions which sometimes come to the fore. I have great respect for the Muslim Faith, and Mahmood was part of the reason for that.
Mahmood could also be achingly funny. One time, en route to a game in Fife, we were filling up with petrol when he drove past. He gave us a smile and a wave – a can of Coke in one hand and a sandwich in the other. How was he driving the car? He never explained – just gave one of his luminous smiles. His asides, on and off the field, could be sharp and witty and were always accurate.
He was probably the most elegant cricketer I ever played alongside. This was true in his dress sense – though that would not be difficult in Holy Cross company, but also in the way in which he played the game. In bowling and fielding, but particularly in his batting, he had a languorous unhurried style which was a joy to watch. He would frequently look set for a fifty, with an erect stance and a flick of the wrists as he dispatched yet another ball to the boundary – and then, just when you were enjoying the spectacle, there would be some kind of disaster and, to our chagrin, he would be out. I always wondered if he was too kind to ever want to get to the stage of punishing bowlers and fielders by making a good score!
He always left you wanting to see much more of him – but never more so than now, as that winter wind sweeps over the cricket field, chilling us to the bone, but serving also as a reminder of all those summer days in the sun alongside the nicest man we ever met. Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un, Mahmood. Go well. I am thankful and proud to have known you.