A wholly inadequate cover-up
The 1974 series between England and Pakistan is not one that stands out in the memory. In a wet and cold summer, all three Tests were drawn with neither side really gaining dominance over the other. The second Test at Lord's, which England came within a downpour of winning, was the only match in which one of the sides took a firm hand, but it was also one dogged by controversy.
The series kicked off in an unusual way, with the first morning at Headingley interrupted by a delay brought about by a hoax bomb-scare. That Test, England's 500th, ended on a knife-edge with them needing 44 to win with four wickets in hand.
At Lord's, Intikhab Alam won the toss and batted. For the first hour or so, all went well, as Pakistan reached 51 for 0, but then it started raining. Under the prevalent regulations at the time, once the game was underway the creases and bowlers' run-ups were covered, but not the pitch itself. When play resumed in bright sunshine after a five-hour delay, conditions were ideal for Derek Underwood. On a spiteful surface, Wisden said that he made the "ball turn and lift at varying speed and height". He returned with figures of 14-8-20-5 as Pakistan crashed from 71 for 0 to 130 for 9 before Intikhab declared to have a crack at England.
England lost Dennis Amiss before the close, but under a leaden sky on Friday took a first-innings lead of 140. On the Saturday, a moderate crowd, many put off by predictions of more heavy rain (The Cricketer bemoaned the BBC weathermen, "whose inaccurate predictions must have cost cricket thousands of pounds over the years") watched Pakistan battle back in between showers from 77 for 3 to close on 173 for 3, with Wasim Raja and Mushtaq Mohammad leading the counterattack.
The rest day on Sunday saw some major downpours in London, and these continued into the Monday. When the covers were eventually removed, the pitch was found to be soaked. Experimental covers, tent-like affairs which were inflated with hot air, had proved to be totally inadequate and water had seeped under them.
For the second time in the match, Pakistan were exposed to Underwood on a drying pitch. Few post-war bowlers have been so effective on such a surface, and his left-armers, delivered at almost medium-pace, were devastating. Play resumed at 5.15pm, and Raja and Mushtaq resisted for half-an-hour before Underwood broke through. Thereafter, it was a massacre, the last seven wickets tumbling for 34 runs. Underwood took 6 for 9 in 11.5 overs, finishing with 8 for 51 in the innings and 13 for 71 in the match.
The Pakistanis were, understandably, indignant. Their manager, Omar Kureishi, accused MCC, in an official protest, of an "appalling show of negligence and incompetence in not covering the wicket adequately." Kureishi added, with justification, that his side were entitled to bat on a pitch in the same condition as it was when the covers were put on on the Saturday.
MCC was deeply embarrassed, and Jack Bailey, their secretary, offered a profuse apology, "deeply regretting that the covering did, on this occasion, prove inadequate." He concluded: "I am certain that the head groundsman and his staff have done everything that could humanly be asked of them in order to provide a good wicket and keep it that way."
"The argument was pointless," observed Tony Lewis in the Cricketer, "though sympathies were firmly with Pakistan. It would be unjust if a three-match series had swung on an instance of faulty covering."
"We were using balloon-type covers," Jim Fairbrother, the head groundsman, recalled. "We couldn't peg them down too deep because it would have damaged the other wickets. What happened? They just tried to take flight, and the water did come in on the track. The Pakistanis took it badly and their manager seemed to think we hadn't done our job properly. What can you do in these abnormal weather conditions depends entirely on your equipment."
Even fate, it seemed, thought Pakistan had been hard done by. By the end of the fourth day, England, needing 87 to win, had reached 27 for 0. But overnight, the rain returned and remained almost throughout the Tuesday. At about 4.30pm the covers were removed and the pitch remarked, but almost immediately another downpour forced the game to be abandoned as a draw. Other than a few die-hard England supporters, most people agreed that justice had been done.
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Testing The Wicket - Jim Fairbrother (Pelham Books, 1984)
The Cricketer -Various
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo