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Fractious and fabulous – The great England-Pakistan Test series of the past 70 years

England Pakistan

Do you remember the first time? April 12, 1954, Pakistan set out on the SS Batory to take on the “might” of England. For once this isn’t hyperbole. Len Hutton’s side boasted names for the ages: Compton, May, Bedser, Trueman, Laker, Lock. The Trumpton-esque roll call was a terrifying prospect on paper but Abdul Kardar’s fledgling side would not be cowed.

Despite playing on rain-soaked, uncovered pitches, alien conditions to the Pakistanis, the inexperienced tourists battled hard, surprising those who had written them off completely. Cricketing sage Neville Cardus being one of many who didn’t believe Pakistan were “ripe” enough for Test matches.

There were moments of promise for Pakistan, the diminutive batsman Hanif Mohammad particularly applied himself to frustrate the English greats in their own, decidedly soggy backyard. They arrived at the Oval 1-0 down and determined to silence the critics and put up a fight. Fazal Mahmood was instrumental in a hard-fought game, taking 12-99 in the match, Pakistan had their first victory over England and became the first side in history to complete the feat on their maiden tour.

Fast bowler Fazal later said the victory had: “prominently put Pakistan’s name on the map of international cricket”. Cardus and co had to eat their words and the momentous series set the tone for future tussles between the two nations. Current odds for the first Test at Old Trafford have the host at 9/5 and Pakistan at 2/5. Expand your betting map with the best online site offering a new way to play.

On he map: Influential Pakistan fast bowler Fazal Mahmood. PA Images

Unacceptable in the Eighties

Tempestuous relationships make for great stories and England vs Pakistan has always been more “Burton and Taylor” than “Bert n’ Ernie”. But bickering and bantering can sometimes boil over. After flying home injured on the 1983 tour, future knight and lord of the realm Ian Botham showed himself to be a graduate of the “Les Dawson School of Diplomacy” by declaring Pakistan to be, “The sort of place to send your mother-in-law, all expenses paid”.

The 1987 tour a few years later was an ill-tempered affair. The England players’ mentality could be surmised by Bill Athey’s exclamation: “The sooner we get home, the f*ckin’ better.” Contentious lbw decisions got things simmering before Chris Broad, opening batsmen and future sire of Stuart, stirred things further when he took umbrage with an umpiring decision that adjudged him to have feathered one to the keeper, and refused to walk off. Graham Gooch, the non-striker, had to basically prise the future ICC match referee from the crease.

This fractious environment culminated in Mike Gatting and umpire Shakoor Rana going fully finger-wagging tonto at each other on the outfield at Faisalabad. A splenetic row erupted between the two over perceived underhand field tinkering. Both declared the other a cheat in among some other choice words. Diplomatic relations between the two nations soon became as sour as a cat licking pickles. England would not tour Pakistan again for another 13 years (more on that later).

Kings of the reverse-swinger

Imran Khan had finally convinced Sarfraz Nawaz to show him the mechanics of ‘reverse-swing’ after seeing him do it with a ragged old ball in a game against the West Indies in 1977. “Your ball is moving but mine won’t,” Imran remarked, indignantly.

King Khan: Imran Khan greets the Queen on Pakistan’s tour of England in 1971. PA Images

On the dry pitches of his home country the ball becomes roughed up quickly and Sarfraz discovered that if one side of the ball is left to get completely scuffed and the other is kept smooth and made heavy with saliva and sweat then it will move in the air in unconventional ways. Especially at high speeds. Sarfraz may have ‘invented’ the ‘phenomenon’ and passed it on to Imran but the two most destructive exponents were the two Ws: Wasim and Waqar.

The England side of 1992 felt the full force of the fast-bowling duo who had arrived that summer with a new arsenal of deliveries they could use to both bamboozle and obliterate the English batting in their own conditions. Waqar would steam in from the sightscreen and possessed a lethal in-swinging yorker while Wasim could make it go both ways off a relatively short run with a rapid arm. Pakistan wrapped up a scintillating series win with a ten-wicket victory at the Oval, Akram taking 6-67 in the first innings and Younis 5-52 in the second. The English Press began to cry foul play after repeatedly witnessing England’s lower order being blown away, ball tampering accusations would hang over the bowlers and the Pakistan side over the years to come. What is certain is that by mastering what Sarfaraz and Imran started, Wasim and Waqar altered the art and idealogy of fast bowling forever.  

Movin’ on up, outta the darkness

Nasser Hussain knew that Pakistan was a challenging place to tour and even more-so a difficult place to win. As captain, his plan, cooked up with coach Duncan Fletcher, was to stay in the 2000 series, take it as deep as possible and put pressure on Moin Khan’s side in the hope they would finally fold. This led to some turgid Test cricket and some of the press began to decry boring and unattractive play. Hussain would not be deterred, he knew if England could stay in the series they could potentially pull of something historic.

The series was level as the sides met in the final match in Karachi. A place where Pakistan had never lost a Test. Pakistan racked up 405 and, in response, Michael Atherton was at his dogged best in compiling a nine-hour century to keep England in the game. The pressure told and Pakistan lost a flurry of wickets leaving Hussain’s men needing 176 to win in 40 overs on the final day. 

Moin and Inzamam’s tried in vain to ground play to a halt in the hope umpire Steve Bucknor would end the game due to bad-light, but Bucknor wouldn’t buckle and Graham Thorpe hacked the ball to the boundary in near pitch-darkness. A 39-year wait for an English Test victory in Pakistan was over.

The match is one of the most memorable in Test history and the post-match celebrations described by Hussain in his autobiography certainly leave an impression too. He recalls a usually stony-faced Duncan Fletcher ‘woofing’ along merrily to the team song at the time – that melodious ode to canine escapism Who let the Dog’s Out by the Baha Men. Momentous indeed.

JAMES WALLACE

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