By Aslam Khota The game of cricket lost two of its finest personalities in Suleiman ‘Solly’ Chothia and Mobin Bhikhoo. Solly was one of the finest and craftiest all-round cricketers of his era, whilst Mobin, who played a bit of cricket soccer and tennis, was certainly an all-rounder, but of a different kind. Both men sadly passed away on the 25th August 2011 (25th of Ramadan 1432). Solly Chothia brought joy to cricket followers whenever he played and he loved and respected the game.
In return he was acknowledged as one of the best of his era and the game brought him tremendous accolades and dignity. He lived for the game and played until his late forties, then took to coaching youngsters in Nigel. After unity in South African cricket, he qualified as a coach and served in various academies and ended up coaching the Easterns academies in Benoni. He even had a short stint for ICC’s development programme in Botswana. Solly had just turned 70 and passed away after his regular morning walk from a heart attack. Chothia was a native of Nigel. He completed his schooling at Williams Hills High in Benoni and achieved a teacher’s degree at the Johannesburg Indian Teachers Training College. He was then recommended by veteran Salim Baghalia to Rafique Khota that; “here is a jewel of a cricketer.”
By then he had played for Transvaal High Schools and as a 19 year old was immediately exposed to big time cricket when he was included in an Invitation XI that played against Peter Coetzee’s XI. The team included great stalwarts such as Basil D ‘Oliveira, Cecil ‘Chong’ Meyer, Agie Patel, Ahmed Deedat and Rafique Khota. He was a naturally gifted cricketer with a positive disposition. He was a right-arm fast bowler and an accomplished right-handed batsman. Solly was a fearless stroke-player, always prepared to play shots yet was elegant in execution. Chothia played for Kohinoor Cricket Club in the Witwatersrand Union and represented the league in inter-union matches too. Remarkably, Solly represented Transvaal in every match between 1961 and 1975! He played in all five Bi-annual Dadabhay tournaments from 1961/62 to 1969/70 with a highest score of 112 against Border at Port Elizabeth in the 1963/64 tournament. He added 143 runs for the fifth wicket with Yusuf ‘Chubb’ Garda (174) in Transvaal’s innings and 331-run victory against Border. In the 1968 tournament in Cape Town he took 6-12 and 3-48 against Griqualand West. From 1970 the Dadabhay Trophy was played over three-days. In 1975 Solly achieved his top score of 85 not out against Natal and registered his best bowling analysis of 7-29 against Eastern Province. These performances were instrumental in Transvaal winning the Dadabhay Cup in the same year.
In 33 matches he scored 4 fifties and totalled 1035 runs and took 85 wickets at a superb average of 23.02. Chothia gained three caps representing the SACBOC XI and played was selected twice for North Zone against the South Zone. These annual fixtures assembled the cream of SACBOC players. Chothia and Ismail ‘Morris’ Garda were the first non-whites selected for the Transvaal Cricket Council in crickets failed attempt at unity at the height of apartheid in 1976. As a bowler he had amazing stamina and bowled very fast and wasn’t afraid to bowl the bumper. In later years he learnt that a shorter run-up, bowling medium pace, was more effective. He swung the ball and also bowled off and leg-cutters and became more potent and reliable. Solly and Abdul Latief ‘Tiffie’ Barnes were the two youngsters that played in that famous S A Haque XI against Johnny Waite’s XI in a two-day match at Natalspruit in April 1961. The Haque team won by 20 runs through the brilliance of Amin Variawas classic 107 and Sam Ntshekisas breathtaking 5 for 27. Friends and colleagues lamented his passing. Mentor Rafique Khota recalled Solly’s sheer love for the game and his sacrifices, travelling from Nigel for 20 years. Khota had also coined the phrase and described Transvaal’s three kingpins, Hoosain Ayob, Tiffie Barnes and Chothia as; “the ABC of Transvaal cricket.” The triumvirate had played together in all of the provinces campaigns throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Munir Saleh, a provincial and club mate talked about Sollys uncanny ability to prise out a batsman and mentioned the great Siddique ‘Dickie’ Conrad as one his many victims, Solly he says; “constantly uprooted Conrad’s exposed leg-stump!” Aboo Manack, another provincial colleague that opened the bowling with Solly for Kohinoor, reflected on his amazing stamina, bowling 8-ball over’s in marathon spells.
“Solly was dependable and an extremely hard worker. He once bowled 33 over’s into the famous Cape South-Easter, when there were no volunteers and took 4 for105,” he said. Transvaal, the Wits union and Kohinoor depended much on Chothias brilliance with the ball and the work load invariably meant that he would bat in the lower middle-order. According another provincial colleague Hoosain Ayob; “Solly would have been an ideal number four in any line-up.”Easterns CEO, Cassim Suliman employed Chothia for 13 years and added that he is yet to see a more dedicated coach. He commented; “Many of our boys that went on to play for the province and in various representative teams went through Sollys expert hands. Solly was a night-watchman on one occasion and with former Transvaal captain ‘Morris’ Garda, shared a match-winning partnership of 108 for the 3rd wicket against Eastern Province. Garda described Solly as; “a true professional and as a ‘gentle soul’, who played the game hard once on the field and he was the perfect team man.” Sollys eldest son Iqbal recalled with a chuckle that; “Dads secret was accuracy, line and length and containment and he always said, ‘If you don’t protect your wickets it will be tickets!’” Chubb Garda concludes; “He was a soft and gentle person with a great deal of warmth and kindness and generosity were a way of life – but he also believed in discipline and hard work. Solly was in a class of his own and we may not see the like of him again.” Chothia was laid to rest in Nigel and is survived by his wife Anisa, sons Iqbal, Bilal, Shoyaib and Ismail and six grandchildren. END