BORN in Durban, he is widely recognised as the best wicketkeeper to have played the game in South Africa. But it was by pure chance that Salie ‘Lobo’ Abed actually got to don the gloves in the first place.
As a member of the WP Indian team that played at the national racially-based tournament in Durban in 1948, Abed was included in the team primarily as a batsman who could bowl a few off-spinners.
As fate would have it, the team’s first choice wicketkeeper, Shaikh Moosa Goder, picked up an injury, prompting the captain, Hassan Mall, to unwittingly summon someone who would go on to become a legend in that position.
‘From there he never looked back as his performances behind the stumps went to prove.
‘Lobo, like (brothers) Tiny, Dik and myself all took our cricket very seriously as we would play with the other boys in the road in front of our home in Muir Street, where we grew up.
‘He was a natural; he didn’t really practise or do anything special to develop his wicketkeeping talents,’ said younger brother Goolam, who had a stint in England’s Lancashire League after initially going to England to pursue a very promising rugby league career with Bradford Northern.
Along with Tiny, who was vice-captain to Basil D’Oliveira, Lobo went on to represent the SA Cricket Board of Control (SACBOC) team that famously toured Kenya in 1958 after hosting the East Africans two years earlier.
Abed played in three ‘Tests’ for South Africa against Kenya Asians at home in 1956/57 with his wicketkeeping being described as ‘free of acrobatics and supremely efficient and flawless’. Tiny played alongside him in two of these matches.
In 1958/59 in Kenya, he played in two ‘Tests’ against Kenya and one ‘Test’ against East Africa. Tiny played alongside him in all three ‘Tests’.
He had to be very agile to collect a plethora of high bouncers from the opening bowlers, Ben Malamba and Eric Petersen, and in all matches on tour held 29 catches.
While his class as a wicketkeeper was widely recognised by all who had the privilege to see him going about his craft, it was his leg-side stumping of WP top order batsman Malcolm Richardson in a friendly match between two provincial-strength black and white teams at Claremont in 1959, which helped to raise funds to enable Basil D’Oliveira to pay his own air fare to travel to England, that is still spoken of in awe by those who saw it as if it happened yesterday.
It was performances like those, coupled with his ability to stand up to the wicket to quick bowlers on bouncy matting pitches that prompted D’Oliveira to enthuse later, after he had sampled international cricket for England, that Abed at his peak was the best wicketkeeper in the world in the late 50s and early 60s.
‘No words can describe Lobo as a wicketkeeper. He was simply out of this world, he had no equal,’ said legendary spinner Lefty Adams, who played alongside Abed in the WPCB teams at the 1966 (when Abed was captain) and 1969 centralised Dadabhay tournaments.
‘These days you don’t find keepers standing up to the wicket to pace bowlers – Lobo did that with great bowlers like Eric Petersen, Coetie Neethling, Ben Malamba, and his brother, Tiny.
‘In addition to his sporting prowess, Lobo was a gentleman both on and off the field.
‘It was a privilege to have played virtually all my cricket with two of the best wicketkeepers in the game – Lobo, followed by the late Braima Isaacs.
‘With them, any bowler felt safe that catches behind the wicket would be taken and stumpings made.
‘Lobo didn’t need to be fancy or acrobatic, his anticipation and feel for the game meant he was always in the right position,’ Adams added.
Abed’s reliable lower order batting contributions won many a match for WP as well as for his club, the District Six-based Roslyns.
In the 1963/64 Dadabhay Tournament held in Port Elizabeth, he scored 72 against Natal (adding 121 runs for the seventh wicket with Coetie Neethling) in WP’s innings and 145-run victory.
Besides his cricketing prowess, Abed was also a useful rugby player, featuring at centre and full-back for Roslyns and Walmers.
A very warm, engaging and pleasant personality, Abed suffered from heart problems in his final years.
He died in Lansdowne, aged 81.
Salie ‘Lobo’ Abed leaves his wife, Fatima, two daughters, Nurjahaan and Zainab, and four grandchildren.
- Mogamad Allie is a sports journalist and broadcaster and author of the book, More Than a Game: History of the Western Province Cricket Board 1959-1991.
This article was first published in the August 2011 print edition of Muslim Views.