Farewell to Mo the Maverick

It is with a heavy heart to give the sad news that Portcullis have finally lost their maverick talisman Muhammad Bilal Farooq. He has upped sticks and gone back to Pakistan. Although his presence will not grace the Aberdeen pitches no more the memory of his performances will live on in the lower echelons of the Aberdeenshire Grades.

His debut was on July 30th 2011 against the soon to be Champions that season Knightriders 2nds. Although he looked rather dishevelled, an old scruffy cream(ish) top that was ‘complimented’ with a pair of tatty tracksuit bottoms that betrayed a lack of cricketing sartorial elegance.

His opening appearance with the bat was non-descript as he went for an innocuous 5 runs against the soon to be Grade Four Champions that season - Knightriders 2nds. We were a little disappointed as his batting technique promised so much more than the loose shot that was to do for him.

Despite the early dismissal we had seen enough had brief glimpses of his batting prowess, an expansive left handed batsman, his style was not dissimilar to that of a certain D I Gower.

Kannan Vijayakrishnan saw something of a bowler in him too and offered him an over. The first ball pitched at his toes – literally – and the innocuous over went for an untroubled 11 runs. I remember standing at gully thinking he was rank rotten and that would be the last we would see him bowl. How wrong could I have been!?!

Smarting at himself for getting out so cheaply on his debut, Mo decided to make amends with himself and nothing was to get in his way. It was the unfortunate Kemnay side who were next up and it was they who were made to pay.

Batting first, Kemnay made a fantastic 197-3 in their 45 overs, Lucian West anchoring their innings with an excellent 81 not out. They must have been extremely confident of finishing off the match (to be honest Portcullis with their 10 men were pretty confident of Kemnay’s chances too).

No-one told Mo what was expected to happen though. It was the first time we come to realise that to Mo no situation was insurmountable. Opening the batting alongside Ranjan Sahoo, the pair cut loose straight from the off. A shell-shocked Kemnay soon found that not only were Portcullis were not going to grind out a draw, they were going for the win!!

Ranjan went for a quickfire 30. Mo though was not finished. With his pristine technique and keen eye for boundaries, Portcullis were always up on the run-rate. Not even a mid-order collapse could dampen his enthusiasm. The late Nitin Shetty joined in the fun contributing a quicksilver 29 of his own. Mo was the star of the show though. With his “Tough of the Track” attire, he scored 15 fours and 1 spectacular six on his way to what turned out to be a Portcullis best of 92.

Portcullis surpassed the Kemnay total in 36.4 overs leaving themselves a ridiculous 8.2 overs to spare.

Such was the quality of Mo’s innings there were accusations he was a ‘ringer’ and it was rumoured that a protest had went in questioning Mo’s eligibility to play for The City Centre Green Caps. This may appear sour grapes but it was not. It was just that spectacular an innings that it merited such questioning.

The ultimate back-handed compliment!!

His next match against Kintore I opened with him and, perhaps with his adrenalin still pumping, made me run two with him, that was, quite ridiculous. I was easily run out.

He was very apologetic, humility personified in his apologies. I told him to forget it, think of the team and go on to make a fifty.
He made exactly a swashbuckling 50. That was another thing I learned about Mo. He wasn’t too fond of running or exercise come to think of it (this endeared me to all of us at Portcullis!). It wasn’t that he threw his wicket away on scoring 50. He had set his mind to reach this as a minimum requirement. On reaching the target he simply relaxed and dropped his guard.
His second season, 2012, was a quiet one by his standards. The quarter final against Ellon 2nds, that season the Grade Four Champions, saw him hit his season’s best 44 not out. With the ball He took 2-14 against Kintore in the League and 2-18 against Gordonians in the Semi-Final of The Johnston Rose Bowl. Both contributions vital as Portcullis enjoyed a Cup-Promotion double that season.
2013 and the rise to Grade Three seemed to galvanise him further. He and Mitch proved that season to be the best new ball pairing in Grade Three, the pair plundering 81 wickets between them in all competitions! The pair with the ball enjoyed three five-fors apiece. With the bat Mo made a 58 against Mannofield and a 48 against Turriff on his way to 219 runs that season.
2014 was the season of contrasts as Portcullis successfully managed to get relegated and win The Reid Cup. Mo’s form seemed to echo that contrast. His batting appeared to desert him whilst his bowling was still of the highest standard. It was a season that saw him take more wickets than score runs!
That was very nearly his last season for Portcullis as a Bosman to Crescent looked very much in the offing. Siyapa were also interested in his securing his signature as they were debuting the Grades that season, many of his friends playing for the new side. Dear reader, if there were odds on Farooq’s next club this time last year, the odds would have 2/5 Crescent, 3/1 Siyappa and 5/1 Portcullis!
He did indeed sign for Crescent but never played. A last minute change of heart saw him stay for a further season at Portcullis. Without this change of heart Portcullis would never have got promoted, never mind win the League!
There were huge contributions made by Mo as we hung on to win the Title. The turning point was a remarkable six wicket victory against Grampian.
Grampian, having won the toss, thought there would be rain so decided to have a bat. Prior to the match Mo asked how I thought this match would go. I gave him the honest appraisal that Grampian were every bit as good as Siyapa, perhaps better and that it would be a tall order for us to beat them.
If you remember earlier in this story Mo never saw any team as insurmountable. In fact the better the opposition the more pumped up he was!
With my words (not deliberately I may add) and Grampian batting first, Mo, along with Mitch, took it upon themselves to steamroller a highly talented Grampian side. Mo with 5-14 and Mitch with 5-23 shell-shocked Grampian and they were all out for 42.
That season also saw him take the crucial wicket of the gifted and dazzling Abdullah Khan in our match against Siyapa in the League. Bowling on a dampish Sheddocksley two not known for its assistance to short pitch bowling, Mo produced an absolute brute of a delivery. It rose off short of a length and veered straight for Abdullah’s head. Thankfully Abdullah was skilful enough to get a glove in front of his face. Alas he could not keep it down and I was fortunate to be on hand to take a simple catch behind slip. This wicket a major contribution to a narrow three wicket victory.
It was in his last match for Portcullis that I found that Mo’s use of the short ball was a mark of respect. It was in the match against AGSFP 3rds. The batsman was a highly talented Ally MacDonald and I found Mo, in an effort to get Ally out, peppered him with some short stuff. He did ask if he was alright with this (Ally confirmed he was fine) between deliveries. Ally won that duel, going on to make an excellent 44 as AGSFP 3rds as they made 202 -4.
I may add Mo never ever bowled a short pitched delivery to me. EVER. I feel slightly insulted yet thoroughly relieved. There ARE advantages to be of limited ‘talent’!
Mo was not finished though. He went on to make a spectacular 76 in reply as Portcullis produced a backs to the wall 172-9 to hang on for a draw and dear life.
It was enough to take the club to its first ever Grade Four title. This turned out to be Mo’s last game for the club. He was not really one to play friendlies. In fact the only ‘friendlies’ he wanted towards the end of last season was against Siyapa and Grampian!
Perhaps he wished to have the most grand of exits to make.
As I find myself nearer retirement than my debut when I don the old whites, I play as I always have for the love of the game.
I enjoy meeting and playing alongside some great characters in the Aberdeen Grades Cricket. Even in Grades Three and Four you sometimes meet some highly talented cricketers who enjoy our level for the camaraderie and the fun as well as the competition.
Mo was definitely fitted all of those categories.
He will be missed by all of us who played alongside him or against him but maybe not quite as much by those batsmen whom he held the utmost respect.

All the best Mo. I do hope you keep playing your cricket back home. You are a long time retired and far too many retire far too soon. Please don’t be one of those.