July 18, 2013

When Mushtaq's Pakistan nearly matched the mighty Windies

As Pakistan and West Indies played out a classic series in 1976-77, a schoolboy in India tracked the scores

Colin Croft: 33 wickets in his debut series © PA Photos

In a couple of previous posts here, I described tours of India by teams depleted by Kerry Packer's World Series: Alvin Kallicharran's West Indies and Kim Hughes' Australians. Today's post is about a series that took place in the same period, but it does not involve India.

I did not have access to radio commentary or television broadcasts for Pakistan's 1976-77 tour of the West Indies and could only follow scores via my newspaper's sports pages. And even those came late; because of the time differences involved, Indian newspapers only carried the tea-time scores from the previous day. The next day's newspaper would then carry the updated score along with the next (partial) score.

To date, I have not seen any live action from this series, and am not sure if it was even telecast. I had to satisfy myself with the few photographs and match reports that were published in Indian sports magazines. And yet, somehow, because I followed the series so obsessively, tracking every score update, the events seem especially vivid. To this day.

More to the point, this series became especially important for one central reason: it was the first time I became properly aware of the Pakistani cricket team, its players and their abilities. West Indies were by then a familiar entity; their names and reputations well known and established, thanks to their 1974-75 tour of India and India's tour of the West Indies in 1976.

Pakistan had made their presence felt - to this young fan - a few months previously when they had pulled off a 1-1 drawn series in Australia, thanks to a 12-wicket haul at the Sydney Cricket Ground by a young quick called Imran Khan. I dimly knew of Zaheer Abbas, largely on account of his two Test double-centuries in England, and I had heard of Majid Khan's century before lunch on the first day of a Test against New Zealand in Karachi. But, by and large, Pakistan was an unknown entity. This series would change that.

The series was also memorable for the debut of two West Indian fast bowlers, who in the absence of Michael Holding made more than adequate debuts: Colin Croft and Joel Garner. The pair took 33 and 25 wickets respectively (these figures included an amazing 8 for 29 from Croft on the first day of the second Test at Port of Spain).

West Indies won the second and fifth Tests; Pakistan won the fourth; the first and third Tests were drawn, so West Indies emerged 2-1 winners. But things could have been very different.

In the first Test, Pakistan scored 435 in their first innings, with Wasim Raja, batting at No. 7, making a brilliant 117 (like I said, I didn't see it, but the folks who did, including, supposedly, Gideon Haigh, say so). They then proceeded to squeeze out a 14-run lead and set West Indies a target of 306. West Indies were cruising along at 142 for 1, with Fredericks and Richards in fine touch. Sarfraz Nawaz dismissed both of them, triggering a slide that sent them crashing to 237 for 9 before the last-wicket pair of Andy Roberts and the debutant Colin Croft held on for dear life.

Thanks to Croft's bowling heroics, West Indies were comfortable winners in the second Test at Port-of-Spain. The third Test, as was often the norm in Georgetown in the old days, and still is today, was a draw. Pakistan did poorly in their first innings but weren't about to be fooled again in their second, as Majid Khan's 167 ensured a 500-plus score and a comfortable draw.

For reasons unknown, the teams returned to Port-of-Spain for the fourth Test. And here, Pakistan's captain, Mushtaq Mohammad, decided to put on an all-round show for the ages. Given its statistical stature, the quality of the opposition, the state of the series, and his own personal responsibilities, his performance will take some beating: with his side 0-1 down away from home, against one of the world's strongest teams, Mushtaq scored 121 and 56 and finished with figures of 10.5-3-28-5 and 31-9-69-3. (The storywriters wanted to give him a century and five-fors in each innings of the Test, but thought that would be stretching things.) Pakistan were comfortable winners by 266 runs.

Thanks to an early first-innings advantage, and a strong second-innings batting performance, West Indies won in some style in Kingston to wrap up the series. But Pakistan, of course, had not been disgraced. They had matched the hosts every step of the way with some brilliant individual performances: their pace bowlers had caused plenty of damage, and their batsmen had played some brilliant innings. West Indies, for their part, had found two new pace bowlers who would go on to terrorise the rest of the world. Pretty soon, both teams would succumb to World Series Cricket, but for now their best available outfits were on display.

Far away in India, a young schoolboy had received some inkling of what would lie in store for the Indian team when they would tour Pakistan in 1978. That series, an especially formative one in my cricket upbringing, is what I hope to write more about anon.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here