No-balling Subhash Gupte
In our new series, Indo-Pak Memories, Indian and Pakistani cricketers of the past describe their experiences of playing in an India-Pakistan series. In our first instalment, Madhav Mantri shares his memories of India's tour of Pakistan in 1954-55.
It was the first time an Indian team was touring Pakistan. Neither team wanted to lose. That was the primary objective. It was a matter of prestige. So it wasn't surprising when all five matches ended in draws. Also, they were all four-day games. So that made it even tougher to get a result.
Originally when the fixtures were arranged, they had decided to play on four turf wickets and one matting wicket. But just before the tour a team from there [Pakistan Services and Bahawalpur Cricket Association] visited India. In the festival game against the Bombay Cricket Association, they had no clue on the turf wicket, as Subash Gupte picked up all ten wickets in an innings. They immediately changed their plans and decided to play three Tests on matting and only two on turf.
Gupte still finished as the highest wicket-taker for India, but he was bowling so well that on turf wickets he might have been unplayable. He never took any time to settle into his length and would bowl the first ball on the spot where he intended. The Pakistanis tried everything to upset his rhythm.
In the first Test at Dacca, Gupte came on to bowl first-change on the first day. Idris Beg, the famous umpire, called the very first ball a no-ball even before Gupte finished his delivery stride. Gupte was completely stunned, as he had never bowled a no-ball in his career before that. In fact, he did not bowl no-balls even in practice. I went to the umpire and told him, "You are going to appear in the Wisden record books, for being the only umpire to have ever no-balled Gupte". It worked out well for us. He didn't call a single no-ball after that!
Ghulam Ahmed began the series very well, and, along with Gupte and Vinoo Mankad, formed a great trio. The main problem that all the three spinners faced was lack of catching support. In those days, the senior players stood in the close cordon, and the youngsters were made to run around the boundaries. The lack of agility of the senior players cost these spinners many wickets.
The Pakistan bowlers made very good use of the matting wickets. Fazal Mahmood was a great bowler. He was similar to Alec Bedser when he bowled his legcutters, and was extremely accurate. Khan Mohammad was also a fine bowler. He wasn't express quick but was very difficult to get away. Both bowlers used to pitch the ball consistently short of a length, and it would deviate after hitting the threads of the matting. Sometimes it would move alarmingly, and it was very tough for all the batsmen. It is a different art to bowl on a matting wicket compared to turf wickets. Fazal and Khan had mastered the art.
We received a warm welcome everywhere we went in Pakistan and some shops didn't even charge us. Players from both sides had a great relationship. We knew most of the Pakistan players as we had played against them in the University and Ranji Trophy games. Many of their players played for Punjab University and we [from Bombay University] had played against them many times. Occasionally there was a skirmish or two on the field. But that was all in the heat of the moment and was quickly forgotten after the day's play.
All the matches were played were in front of totally packed grounds. But, when India batted nobody would imagine that such a huge crowd were watching the match. There was dead silence all around and even a century wasn't applauded. When Pakistan batted, even byes were cheered and it was noise all around. We didn't expect any crowd support, but nobody could have imagined such a silence.
Abdul Hafeez Kardar, the captain, was a national icon in Pakistan. At that time, it could be said that Kardar was Pakistan cricket. He played a vital part in the early development of Pakistan cricket. He was a great tactician and his experiences in country cricket in England helped him a lot. I had a role to play in his cricketing career. I was his captain when he played for the All India University team against the Australians, and I wanted him to bat at No. 3 in one match. He was hesitant, but I forced him to bat in that position. He hit a fine hundred and his career took off from there. He was always grateful for that.
Hanif Mohammad was a youngster then, but there were clear signs of his being a great player. He was never ruffled by any situation and went about his batting is an extremely calm manner. He was technically perfect and had a sound temperament. We all knew he was special.
We made a lot of friends there, and, interestingly, many women followed our cricket closely. Some of them spoke to us about Bombay and Hindi movies. One young college boy from Lahore, Najum Latif, wanted my address so that he could write to me regularly. He continues to write to me to this day, even after almost 50 years, and he even met me when he came to Bombay.
We brought back a lot of memories from that tour. Pakistan is a special place.
Madhav Mantri was speaking to Siddhartha Vaidyanathan.