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Rahul Bhattacharya looks back at five decades of India-Pakistan cricket - a saga in three parts
March 27, 2004
In the piece below, which appeared in the March 2004 issue of Wisden Asia Cricket, Rahul Bhattacharya looks back at five decades of India-Pakistan cricket - a saga in three parts.
There are tales and tales and sub-tales and sub-tales in the folds of this many-layered history. We may start with Fazal Mahmood and Lala Amarnath, both of whom have, fortunately for us, had important biographies released within the last year.
These great cricketers were born in Lahore, at one time a major intellectual and cultural centre in South Asia, and a multi-religious one, even if not one devoid of communal tension. Amarnath was older by nearly 16 years, but they played each other in club cricket. Poetically, Mahmood's first first-class wicket was that of Amarnath.
The brutal scenes during Partition shook their insides. Amarnath came close to being butchered in a bloodbath on a train journey, but in the nick of time a police officer arranged for him a Sikh's kadha to wear like a badge. On another train journey, Mahmood was almost assaulted by a couple of extremists, but CK Nayudu brandished his bat and rescued him. Amarnath lost his ancestral house in Lahore, along with all his trophies and mementos, including the bat with which he had lashed India's first Test century, a piece of equipment he "literally worshipped".
For Mahmood it was a catharsis. Amarnath sent him a telegram asking him to join the Indian team for Australia, but he declined. When the chief minister of West Punjab followed up, at the request of his Indian counterpart, Mahmood replied: "Barrey bhai, do you want me to bring laurels for India?"
Amarnath, the Hindu, became the first captain of independent India; Mahmood, the Muslim, went on to captain Pakistan one day.
Such is our story.
Pakistan played their first ever Test series towards the end of 1951, in India. They were to maintain an on-off relationship ever since, spanning, to date, 47 Tests and 86 one-dayers, and immeasurable emotions. Patterns were to emerge in this relationship. The dominant one became an almost tangible fear of defeat to one another. The second, and the more universal one, which diminished with technology and neutral officials, was a mutual disgruntlement with one another's umpiring and sense of fair play. And somewhere in between all that has always lain a genuine affection for one another's cultures, a fondness for one another's company, and something resembling a sibling love-hate.
Pakistan were led on that first tour by Abdul Hafeez Kardar, a man who had played Test cricket for India (or the All India team, as it was sometimes referred to post-Partition). Amir Elahi, a legbreak-googly bowler, was the other former Indian Test cricketer in the party. Also in the squad were two of the Mohammad brothers, both batsmen, who had grown up in Junagadh in Saurashtra - Wazir, and the genius teenager, Hanif.
Abdul Hafeez, as he was known when he played for India, was, according to Ramachandra Guha in A Corner of a Foreign Field, "perhaps the greatest cricketer-ideologue born outside the West", one who was committed to the concept of the separate Islamic state, who took great pride in the Muslim heritage in India, and who sometimes even gave evidence of a "certain paranoia" in this regard. A left-handed allrounder, Kardar finished his international career with ordinary playing statistics but with the distinction of having led Pakistan to a Test victory over every team they met, and thereafter became a formidable administrator.
That first series, naturally, aroused vast interest and curiosity. Guha's research suggests that, despite some occasional resistance, most notably from Hindu revivalists at Nagpur, there existed a sense of goodwill. The actual cricket was hard-fought and - we must be grateful - yielded results.
Amarnath was India's captain on that momentuous first series. Scarcely believable figures of 47-27-52-8 from Vinoo Mankad in the first innings set up victory for India in the first Test at Delhi, a match in which they would claim 19 of their 20 wickets with spin. The Hindustan Times credited Amarnath with a daring vision popularly associated today with the age of Tiger Pataudi: "The sight of an array of six, and at times seven, close-in fieldsmen almost at handshaking distance from the batsmen was something which had not hitherto been seen in Indian cricket," a report said.
At Lucknow, in the following match, Pakistan recorded a historic maiden Test victory. Yet Lucknow was equally intriguing for what Mahmood - the hero with 12 wickets from his brisk cutters on a jute matting wicket (the Indians were desperate for a dustbowl) - reveals in his book: "As the Pakistan team emerged from the bus that carried us to the Gomti ground on the first day of the match, some college students, of both sexes, told us not to worry as they would wholeheartedly support us during the course of the play. They were all Muslims, and I must admit that whenever our bowlers appealed against any batsman, these students supported them with loud voices from the boundary." The wounds of Partition were clearly raw.
The majority of the crowd, though, was so incensed by the loss that it required Amarnath to charge them with a lathi to prevent bodily harm to the players. Eventually India won 2-1 to clinch their first Test series victory. It had taken 20 years coming; Pakistan were to claim theirs in three years.
Kardar was still captain during the reciprocal tour in 1954-55. India were led by Vinoo Mankad. The tour began in Dhaka, then a part of East Pakistan, before flying across. The Lahore Test was a great occasion, one that witnessed about 10,000 Indians crossing the border, thanks to waived visa restrictions, not just to enjoy the cricket, but to meet with old friends and relatives.
Amarnath, after a couple of typically turbulent years, was now manager of the Indian side. His accounts from that tour are bizarre and fascinating. There are vast salvos at Pakistan's umpiring, their time-wasting tactics, and their pitiful facilities. Extraordinary incidents are chronicled here, none more so than one in a Lahore hotel lobby, where an inebriated Kardar, backed by three huge Pathans, confronts Amarnath and tries to slap him, at which point Amarnath starts slapping back rapidly before the fight is broken up.
The cricket itself was singularly unappealing. Both teams scored at about two an over. Every one of the Tests was a draw, the first time it was ever so in a series of five or more matches. Which was the second time? When India and Pakistan met again, five years later.
In a way these draws were not out of keeping with the broader pattern of cricket in the subcontinent in that era. Moreover, the pitches were useless and the batting of both teams was stronger than their bowling. But every account acknowledges the lack of initiative from either side: the overwhelming sense that there was much too much at stake.
And it is amazing how similar Mahmood's memoirs - he was captain by now, Nari Contractor led India - from the 1960-61 tour read to Amarnath's from the previous series. There are the same bitterly comic digs, the same sense of being wronged; virtually the same incidents with different names. The most notorious is the story of how Hanif Mohammad, now in his pomp, was accosted at Baroda by a fan who cut his fingers with a ring.
An inconsequential meeting between Mahmood and one Ram Prakash Mehra 'Latto', a Lahore cricketer who was now honorary joint secretary of the BCCI, captures the essence of these series. Mahmood expresses his grouses against Indian umpires to Latto, to which he gets a reply in pukka Punjabi: "Boy, if you draw the series consider yourself a victor." In the undercurrents of this reply are present both trends of India-Pakistan cricket.
And at the Feroz Shah Kotla, where it had all started, ended the first era of India-Pakistan cricket, with the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram crassly exhorting the public to come and "see Pakistani cricketers being humiliated", "to play holi with them". Pakistan escaped with a draw - just.
For 17 years thereafter no cricket would be played between the countries. In 1965 and in 1971 they fought two wars. For lovers of cricket from both nations, resumption could not come soon enough.
The mood about now is perhaps best encapsulated by Raj Singh Dungarpur in a magazine article at the time. Dungarpur mentions how he had attempted to gently needle Bishan Bedi, captain for the tour, into showing some adventure to break from the history of draws of the fifties. "It takes two to do a tango," Dungarpur reminded Bedi. "Hope not the last tango," replied Bedi with customary wit.
And there, in a nutshell, it was, the timeless emotions associated with an India-Pakistan encounter: hope and fear. "Hope," Dungarpur went on to explain, "because every cricket enthusiast wants the series to give a shot in the arm for cricket in this subcontinent", but also fear, of returning to "the land of degenerated draws where emotion and prestige will take over from friendship and sport".
Alas, Dungarpur's fears, in the longer run anyway, were very much justified. Between October 1978 and December 1989, India and Pakistan were to play seven series and 29 Tests, more than what either nation played against anyone else in the period: 21 of these 29 were draws. Pakistan's superiority in the period cannot be questioned. They won six matches to India's two, and two series, home and away, to India's one at home. Ravi Shastri, who played in a number of these matches in this decade, inadvertently summed up the unique tension of the era while discussing Greg Chappell's underarm-ball incident on television recently. Asked whether he would have ever done as Chappell had, he answered without a blink: "Against Pakistan, I would."
India's tour in 1978-79 was historic for another reason. It marked the first reconciliation worldwide between the Packer rebels and the establishment, as Pakistan felt it impossible to field anything less than their strongest team. And so, Mushtaq Mohammad returned as captain at 37, and back in the team were Imran Khan, Asif Iqbal, Majid Khan and Zaheer Abbas.
Reports of the time talk of the rousing receptions and overwhelming hospitality for the Indians. "From the point of view of diplomatic initiative," concluded the World Cricket Digest, a popular quarterly magazine, "no two governments could have hoped for a more mature expression of goodwill and understanding."
On the field, it was business as usual: hard, scrapping stuff. There were sledging matches and hold-ups surrounding umpiring dissatisfaction. Imran and Sarfraz Nawaz indulged in plenty of aggressive short-pitched bowling - Bedi even conceded a one-dayer at Sahiwal to protest Sarfraz's unreachable bouncers towards the end of India's run-chase. Of events during the second Test at Lahore, the World Cricket Digest noted cheekily: "While Lala Amarnath was declaring that Mohinder could take bouncers because he was from Lahore, Imran seemed to respond by felling him in the over before lunch." Pakistan won that Test, largely on the back of Zaheer's marvellous double-hundred, and the sustained hostility of Imran and Sarfraz. A national holiday followed, and more jubilation as Pakistan sealed the series 2-0.
Only one Indian, Sunil Gavaskar, could match the dominance of Zaheer and Javed Miandad. His two hundreds in a losing cause in the third Test at Karachi are among the more poignant in Indian history.
The short series marked the virtual end of a long beguiling era, the era of the spin quartet. Erapalli Prasanna averaged 125.5 in the series and never played again; Bedi averaged 74.83 and managed six more Tests; Bhagwat Chandrasekhar averaged 48.12 and played five more; Srinivas Venkataraghavan, who was in the squad but did not get a game, soon lost his place, made a comeback, and never played again. Miandad, who had practiced arduously, especially his cut shot, for the famed quartet, found that playing them turned out to be "as easy as apple pie".
On the flip side, there was the debut of a gawky teenager, Kapil Dev, and the dawn of another age.
It was widely predicted that Pakistan would come to India the following year and win. Gavaskar, now captain, declared that his team would be crushed, a statement seen by some as a psychological masterstroke for it deflected the heat, and by others as plain negativity. India won the six-match series 2-0, so history recognises it as the former. Perhaps Pakistan themselves seemed to believe Gavaskar's prophecy. "There was a touch of arrogance in their approach," observed Dilip Doshi in Spin Punch. "They strode the turf with the heavy tread of predestined winners."
Pakistan were, typically, beset with wrangling before the tour even began. Mushtaq Mohammad, still considered worthy of international cricket by many, was left out of the squad, and Asif Iqbal, who had played some first-class cricket in India (for Hyderabad), was given the captaincy. Sarfraz was not taken, largely because the new captain felt he could not handle him. And to make matters worse, Imran pulled up injured in the first innings of the second Test, though he did return later in the series. The blow cannot be underestimated. Gavaskar later wrote of Imran's brief spell at Delhi that "if he had bowled another over to me, perhaps I would have batted with no feeling in my knuckles, so badly were they smashed in those fiery three overs."
India failed to take advantage in that particular match, as they came within 16 runs of a chase of 390, but they orchestrated two fine wins, first at Bombay and then at Madras, where Kapil gave one of the great all-round performances with 11 wickets and a raucous 84.
By all accounts, the social side of Pakistan's trip had been glittering. Yet by the end they were thoroughly disenchanted. They complained about the umpiring, the pitches, and, according to A History of Indian Cricket, Asif Iqbal talked of calling off the tour. The batsmen were left to ruminate their collective flop, none more than Zaheer, whose average had fallen from 194 in the 1978-79 series to 19 in this one.
"Even now when I think of that tour, a sense of gloom colours my recollections," Miandad wrote in his biography amid numberless gripes. "No Pakistan team has ever had to face such humiliation, collectively and individually," Imran Khan wrote in All Round View. And from Imran's next few lines we can feel, properly, the reality of those times: "Foreseeing these recriminations, Asif Iqbal announced his retirement before he arrived home. During the tour he was a shadow of his former self. He was on tranquilizers and, already a wiry man, he lost a lot of weight. It was not until 1986-87, when I toured India as captain and lost half a stone that I understood the pressures he must have been under. It was this story of dishonour and disgrace that was primarily responsible for my continuing to bowl through the 1982-83 series against India with a leg fracture."
And what a decision Imran's turned out to be. Rarely have a team been so comprehensively demolished by one man's thunderous pace as India were. Records show that only three fast or medium-fast bowlers in history have taken more wickets in a series than Imran's 40 in those six Tests (Terry Alderman, the Australian swing bowler, astonishingly, twice). Imran's exploits at Lahore and Faisalabad, coming as they did in successive Tests, with the injury, are imbued with a touch of the supernatural. Only Mohinder Amarnath among the Indians could remotely match the rampant trio of Zaheer, Miandad and Mudassar Nazar, all of whom averaged above 100.
How the circle was circumscribed. Gavaskar lost the captaincy immediately after. Viswanath, who managed just 134 runs in eight innings, never played again. And Doshi's memoirs towards the end of the tour were redolent of Miandad's whingeing from the previous tour: "We went from Lahore to Karachi wondering about many things - whether it was really necessary to have such a long tour which necessitated having two matches in each of the big centres, especially when the attendances were getting more and more depleted."
That tour somewhat signalled the end of a period of tumult and excitement in India-Pakistan Test history. The rest is a haze of draws. Few of their 14 other Tests in the decade even went into a last innings. Only one had a result. That was in early 1987, at Bangalore, the last of five Tests. Gavaskar played a legend's innings on a minefield, but, again, was condemned to defeat, and retired from Test cricket. Some two lakh people hit the streets to welcome the Pakistan team back home.
By the end of India's tour in 1989-90, the Azharuddin era was about to begin. Azhar's one great weapon, Sachin Tendulkar, had just been blooded, in that series, and the other, Anil Kumble, was to join the ranks shortly. For Pakistan, Waqar had just met Wasim, and swing bowling would never be the same again. More significantly, the political equation between the countries meant that not for another 10 years would there be a proper tour.
The one-day age
Perhaps this subtitle is misleading. For one, India and Pakistan did play Test cricket in the period between late 1989 and now, though hardly any. And the one-day age was not born after the Test exchanges of the eighties, but right in the middle of it, mostly in the desert ground of Sharjah.
We know about Miandad's six. Its effect was massive. Till then, India had won two out of three matches against Pakistan at Sharjah; after it they lost 16 of 20. Imran said recently that it "crushed the self-belief of the Indians against us for the rest of the decade". Essayist Mukul Kesavan wrote that "it was as if he (Miandad) had personally stuck two fingers up every Indian nose."
Kesavan's metaphor is important. For the way Pakistan played their cricket mattered to Indians. Their overt aggression, the streetfighting, the unpredictable, incandescent, almost always attacking brand of cricket, and their seeming mental hold over India's `soft' cricketers, all fuelled a hysterical desire to beat the old enemy. One-day cricket compressed these sensations; live TV coverage made it a real-time, visual affair. The nineties, as opposed to the previous exile, was an on-off period. The general consensus on the street in India seemed to be: let's play bilateral cricket with Pakistan except in times of declared war. Of course, politicians hijacked the issue. The bigoted Shiv Sena routinely vandalised pitches - their latest effort came a few months ago, at Agra, the venue of a veterans match.
From 1990 up until now, the teams have played 53 one-dayers. Forty-five of them were at neutral venues, which amply surmised the Indian government's stance. At Sharjah, Indians began to suspect, the dice were always loaded against them, and they served two boycotts of the venue, the second of which is still running. The action shifted to Toronto, where Sahara conceived the `Friendship Series', and where Inzamam was once driven to jump the fence to assault a spectator who, allegedly even made religious references in his heckling. When the match-fixing scandal broke, the Indian government clamped down on internationals at "non-regular venues", and that was that.
India kept winning at the World Cup. Often the needle would manifest itself in the middle - Kiran More and Miandad, Venkatesh Prasad and Aamir Sohail - but not excessively. Besides, the World Cup also produced a moment of great subcontinental solidarity: when Australia and West Indies decided not to honour their commitments in Colombo in 1996 for the fear of bombs, a combined India-Pakistan XI flew in to play an exhibition match.
Guha - who has for long advocated Test-match ties only, quite the reverse of what was being perpetuated - frequently recounts an incident from the India-Pakistan Bangalore quarterfinal from that 1996 tournament. As Miandad finished a struggling innings and walked off an Indian field for the last time, Guha stood to applaud. The gent sitting next to him wasn't so gracious: "Thank God I shall never see the bastard again," he said. After Pakistan lost that match, Akram, the captain, who had pulled out injured 10 minutes before the toss, was sued by a citizen back home. His house was attacked and his family harassed.
It should be pointed out that these reactions were not unique to India-Pakistan: the violent backlash against the Indian players at the beginning of last year's World Cup, for example, was precipitated by a first-round loss against Australia, and the preceding tour of New Zealand. Nor were they unique to the one-day age: many of the incidents described in Amarnath's and Mahmood's biographies would be huge scandals by today's standards. Yet, there is little doubt that both aspects played their parts in amplifying an already burgeoning - inevitable? - sense of nationalism in sport.
In early 1999, a few months before war broke out in Kargil (the 1999 World Cup match, at Manchester, would be played in the middle of this conflict) India and Pakistan finally resumed Test cricket. It was a set of three matches, awkwardly compartmentalised into a two-Test series and the overcontrived Asian Test Championship. These were the best Tests India played at home all decade. Between the three matches, they had everything: heroic performances and record ones, close finishes and incredible comebacks, masterclasses in batting and all types of bowling. Pakistan won two to one.
But where at Chennai the spectators rose to the occasion by giving Akram's men an emotional standing ovation during a victory lap, at Kolkata they rebelled viciously when Akram chose to claim the unfortunate, but perfectly legitimate, run-out of Tendulkar, who had collided with Shoaib Akhtar. The match had to be finished in an empty stadium. Here it was again. The dualities in sport, the dualities involving India-Pakistan, the strange, terrible, beautiful connection between these two dualities. Each facet was a stark reminder. From them we can learn a lesson.
The notion of a contest between two portions of a once single country, torn brutally apart along the lines of religion, encompassing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and still fighting over a piece of eternally damned land, is both chilling and uplifting. The more you dwell on it, the more you start to think of not how immaturely we do our cricket, but that we do it at all.
In other words, there is reason to celebrate it. And there is reason to handle it with the best possible care.
Rahul Bhattacharya is contributing editor of Wisden Asia Cricket.
This article was first published in the March issue of Wisden Asia Cricket.
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