Billy Ibadulla: straight-talking cricket mentor

Billy Ibadulla at his Mornington home. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Billy Ibadulla at his Mornington home. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
He has been involved in the coaching of some of New Zealand's greatest cricketers. At an age where most people are well into retirement, Billy Ibadulla is still preaching the straight bat. Cricket reporter Adrian Seconi talks to the former Pakistani international.

Billy Ibadulla answers the front door to his Mornington home in a crisp shirt, freshly pressed trousers and a smart cricket vest.

He is immaculately turned out as always.

A dapper gentleman, the 73-year-old moves with athletic grace as he strolls along the hallway leading us to the conservatory.

Once his visitors are settled, he quickly turns his intense, analytical mind to this reporter's questions.

Since migrating to New Zealand in 1976, the former Pakistani international has been a permanent fixture on the Dunedin cricket scene and has touched the lives of thousands of would-be famous cricketers.

Not all of his students have had the skills to play first-class or international cricket.

But Ibadulla has helped some of this country's best cricketers hone their technique and realise their dreams.

His most notable student,Glenn Turner, had an outstanding international career.

He also helped guide the careers of the likes of Ken Rutherford and Chris Cairns, and more recently Brendon McCullum.

For the past 20 years Ibadulla has run a private cricket coaching business, working with the region's youth.

It is not a glamorous job.

He is not involved in selecting or coaching representative teams, and others tend to get the accolades when one of his former students perform well.

But perhaps the best measure of Ibadulla's impact and the regard in which he is held by the cricket community, is that business is still booming.

Parents are still taking their children to Ibadulla, and they are still expecting results.

"It doesn't matter how good a player is, I'm responsible for their progress," Ibadulla said.

"If he is not going to be another Turner or Rutherford, I've still got to help him go as far as he can go.

"I'm always preparing myself for that moment when they [the parents] ask, 'How is he doing?'.

"And I can't afford to fail him. He has to improve and that's what we are looking for."

Ibadulla played four tests for Pakistan in the mid 1960s. His highlight was scoring 166 on debut.

It was one of 22 first-class hundreds he notched up.

He also took 462 wickets at a shade under 31 runs apiece in a first-class career that lasted 20 years.

He has seen a lot of changes in the game since he started playing as a child in the 1940s and keeps up to date with the latest coaching techniques.

But while cricket has changed with the advent of the limited-overs game, he is still an advocate of the basics.

"The game is changing, but the fundamentals haven't changed. My philosophy is very much based on proper technique.

"The first thing is to get the kids to play with a straight bat. That does not mean that that is absolutely essential, because all of a sudden people come along like Brian Lara who defy logic and are in a genius class.

"But it starts from a straight bat and you expand from there. Then comes the footwork and the bat control and the attacking strokes."

Ibadulla came to Dunedin to play and coach Otago in the 1964-65 season.

He stayed for three seasons before heading back to England to play county cricket.

When he later chose to migrate, it was a close call between Dunedin and Tasmania, where he had also played and coached.

His love of fly fishing helped him decide on Dunedin.

Glenn Turner's father, Alf Turner, introduced him to the art and he has been a convert ever since.

Ibadulla's attention to detail and appreciation of the aesthetic drew him to cricket.

As a young boy in Lahore he went to a game and remembers being mesmerised by the beauty of the white uniforms and lush green grass of the playing surface.

"It stirred my imagination and made such an impression on me."

His older brother taught him some basic technique and the life-long love started there.

But like all elite sportsmen, Ibadulla had his ups and downs.

Missing selection for a tour of England early in his career "was a very big hit emotionally and psychologically".

"I was so disappointed and it had a huge affect on my life because I left Pakistan and decided to become a professional cricketer in county cricket.

"That changed my life. If they had picked me for that team I wouldn't be sitting here."

While his playing career was very satisfying, he has taken a lot of satisfaction out of coaching.

Cairns and Turner have paid tribute to Ibadulla for helping their careers.

Brendon McCullum, one of the greatest cricketers to emerge from Dunedin in a long time, did not get any coaching from Ibadulla until later in life.

After making the test team in 2004, he visited Ibadulla at his house and the pair had a long chat and several coaching sessions over the next four or five days.

"When I started looking at him there were a number of things which were completely wrong. And yet the lad obviously had a lot of ability.

"I had to correct a number of things the way I would correct an 11-year-old.

"There was a lot of rubbish in his batting and I had to take the rubbish out."

"To his credit he got everything sorted out, but the main thing was the forward straight-bat play."

A couple of years later McCullum rang Ibadulla during the evening of a test to ask him how he should go about batting the next day.

New Zealand scored 275 in the first innings of the first test against the West Indies in 2006 and bowled them out for 257.

But when McCullum came to the wicket in the second innings, New Zealand was losing its grip on the test and struggling at 143 for six.

Nathan Astle departed three runs later to leave the home side teetering.

Ibadulla had been following the test and offered McCullum the benefit of his advice.

The wicketkeeper-batsman batted superbly and made 74 to help guide New Zealand to 272.

It was a valuable knock and, in the end analysis, crucial in helping his country win the test by 27 runs.

Ibadulla watched with pleasure as the match played out on television and probably thought to himself, "What more can an old coach wish for?".

 

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