1983 August 26, 2006

Zaheer's Bangalore walk-off

Martin Williamson looks back to when Zaheer Abbas nearly forfeited a Test match after leading his side off the field



Zaheer Abbas: been there once before © The Cricketer

Pakistan's forfeiting of the Test at The Oval last weekend was the first such instance in Test cricket. But in September 1983, another Pakistan captain was threatened with such a penalty after he led his side off the field and refused to resume. On that occasion the captain was Zaheer Abbas, the man who as the current Pakistan manager, was also at the heart of events on Sunday.

The circumstances at Bangalore were far different from those at The Oval. The opening Test of the three-match series had been dogged by bad weather from the off with disagreements between captains and officials as early as the first day over the state of the pitch after heavy rain.

On the first morning Zaheer informed Swaroop Kishen and Madhav Gothoskar, the umpires, that he would not bring his side onto the pitch because he considered the outfield too slippery. "Fortunately for him, he did not carry out the threat," Gothoskar recalled in his autobiography, The Burning Finger. As it was, play ended an hour early despite the ground being bathed in sunshine, and the crowd reacted by breaking chairs and hurling debris onto the outfield. The riot police were summoned, but the situation was only diffused when the two captains returned to the middle, looked at the pitch, and agreed to restart the game. A hefty local entertainment tax imposed by the state government kept the attendance low - had it not, then the trouble could have been more serious.

The rest of the match - like the series itself - was a fairly turgid affair, bedevilled by rain and bad light, and the first innings were only completed on the last day, leaving India to bat out time. While there was only personal pride at stake, India were meandering quietly along with Gavaskar and Anshuman Gaekwad both nearing their half-centuries at tea.

The real trouble came in the last session. Under the playing regulations, a minimum of 77 overs had to be bowled on every day, but on the last day they also had to bowl 20 in the final hour regardless of how many overs had been bowled up to then. On the final morning, Zaheer sought out Gothoskar and ask for clarification of the rules and he confirmed that all mandatory overs had to be bowled, regardless of the state of the game.

According to Gavaskar, Zaheer repeatedly quizzed both umpires about this through the course of the Indian innings. "If his intention was to waste time so that fewer overs were bowled before the mandatory overs count began, then he was partly successful. If his intention was to disturb the concentration of the batsmen, then he failed."

As the final session got underway, Gavaskar and Gaekwad opened up. "I was now feeling more confident because in both the innings I had been in for a long time," Gavaskar wrote. "So after tea, I decided I should not be over-cautious but hit the ball if it was loose."

Gavaskar was closing in on Don Bradman's record of 29 Test hundreds, and as he approached his own century the crowd began to grow more animated. But at the end of the 14th over of the last hour, Zaheer turned and led his players off the ground without a word to the officials. Both umpires were nonplussed. "Technically we had won the match at that point," Gavaskar, who was on 87 at the time, noted. "But in cases like this, and particularly in Indo-Pak cricket, a little flexibility is to be allowed."

The umpires checked with the batsmen whether they wanted to continue, and after ascertaining that they did, retreated to the Pakistan dressing-room to confront Zaheer and Intikhab Alam, the team's manager. By this time, officials of the Karnataka State Cricket Association were also frantically trying to get the game restarted against a backdrop of a crowd that was growing increasingly restless.

It became clear that Pakistan believed that, as 77 overs had been bowled in the day, the game was over. The umpires stressed that unless both sides agreed to finish early, the full 20 overs had to be bowled in the final hour. For half-an-hour the arguments went on, and all the while the two batsmen remained in the middle, even though Kapil Dev tried to bring them in.

Eventually Gothoskar gave Zaheer an ultimatum. Return to the middle or India would be declared the winners. "The ruse worked," he wrote, and Pakistan reluctantly resumed the match. "Zaheer's charge that we bent the rules to allow Gavaskar his hundred does not hold good," said Gothoskar. "This was yet another example of ignorance of the Laws and the umpires becoming the scapegoat if anything went wrong on the field."

Gavaskar did complete his hundred - his 28th in Tests - off the first ball of the final over. "As the ball streaked to the boundary, I glanced at Zaheer and he was already walking towards the pavilion along with his player and we followed," he said. This time the officials and the batsmen followed. "It left a poor taste in the mouth," Gothoskar noted. "The unsophisticated Indian crowd was overjoyed, because Gavaskar was now only one short of Bradman's record."

That night the two teams flew to Delhi for a one-dayer sandwiched between the Tests. Gavaskar recalled it was not a happy trip. "Some of his players were critical of his [Zaheer's] action, which they felt was unnecessary and unsporting."

Twenty-three years later, Zaheer must have had a feeling of deja-vu as events unfolded at The Oval.

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.

Bibliography
The Burning Finger Madhav Gothoskar (Marine Sports, 1992)
Runs 'n Ruins Sunil Gavaskar (Rupa & Co 1984)
Wisden Cricketer Monthly 1983

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo