May 4, 2009

The main non-event

If a stump falls and no one is around to write about it, does it mean Australia must be playing Pakistan

Broadcast over no radio airwaves, discussed beside no office water cooler, meriting only the skimpiest of newspaper sidebars, these past few one-day outings in Arabia have felt like… well, they feel a lot like most of the other times Australia have played Pakistan at cricket.

The week before Christmas 1981 was when Zaheer Abbas chose to decorate the game's least memorable genre with the most memorable of shot-making. Or at least it would have been memorable had more than a bored, redneck handful turned up to see it. The SCG was the venue, stomping ground of Trumper and Kippax, and Zaheer essayed off-drives, cover-drives and the latest of late cuts. One-hundred-and-eight he made, with hands so soft that the thwack of ball on bat sounded more like a whisper.

"The greatness of this innings," reported Mike Coward the next morning, "was lost on the crowd of 11,413, who by their ill-timed slow handclapping and name-calling again showed they have no appreciation of the finer points."

Three weeks later, on a Saturday in Melbourne, came the glittering sequel. The outfield was beachy. The pitch was the colour of old broccoli and sported a spoon-shaped slope in the middle. Not one boundary did Zaheer strike. Still he made 84, more than anybody else, at a clip not far off a run a ball.

This being a match versus Pakistan, only 18,000 spectators bothered showing. Next day, a Sunday, the Windies were in town. The caterers ran out of hot dogs as 78,000 flocked. We know nearly by heart the statistics that speak of Australia's distaste for Pakistani soil: how they won not a single first-class game there between 1 December 1959 and 27 September 1998; how on the 1982 tour Rod Marsh watched The Sting 33 times on in-house hotel movie channels to stave off the unbelievable dreariness of the joint. ("The boredom," as Marsh summed it up, "God, the boredom.") Less often remarked on, and perhaps more interesting, is the who-gives-two-hoots shoulder-shrugging that sets in wherever the teams meet, be it there, Arabia or here.

The history of Australia-plays-Pakistan reads like a pretty shabby sort of history. No rich Tied-Test heritage. No old Ashes urn - no tinpot trophy whatsoever. No 90,800 spectators cramming in to see the fourth-last day of an epic five-Test series. No five-Test series at all, in fact, other than in 1983-84, and the board bean-counters and time-servers considered that summer such a colossal blunder that for a long while it looked like Pakistan might never be invited back.

No, the things that tend to jam the brain first when we think of Australia playing Pakistan are Dennis Lillee's flying boot and Javed Miandad's raised palm and bat (witnessed by 2373 WACA-goers). Distant runner-up (seen by 1878) might be Alan Hurst "Mankading" Sikander Bakht, and Sarfraz Nawaz snuffing Andrew Hilditch out handled the ball, all on the same day.

Even the high-gloss moments have failed to half-fill stadiums. Greg Chappell's farewell-to-all-that 182 in Sydney was savoured by only 14,775 - most of whom, judging from the TV cutaways, were extended Chappell family members. In Melbourne in 1978-79, when a rampant Sarfraz left Australia's batsmen looking gormless and nigh-on runless, he attracted neither a decent crowd (3067) nor any kind of friendly agreement.

"An inspirational spell typical of… an intelligent and experienced bowler who knew how to make the most of conditions," adjudged Imran Khan.

"When I realised," scoffed Graham Yallop, "that Sarfraz had captured 7 for 1, I almost fell over. He is an honest trundler."

As a team Pakistan often embody traits Australians like to treasure about themselves: a larrikin spark, a feeling of always being the underdog, a disregard for reputation, a dislike of fuss and convention and formality

The truth, we knew, lay somewhere in the middle, and we knew it because sufficient reporters were on hand to tell us so. It has not always been the way. Only two - radio commentator Michael Charlton and Wally Pugh of Australian Associated Press - accompanied 15 Australian cricketers on their month-long 1959 expedition through Dacca, Lahore and Karachi. By the 1982 trip the number had ballooned to three: Coward, Phil Wilkins and AAP's Ross Mullins.

In 2009 with no Tests and a lot of nurdle-and-dash on offer, only AAP's Sam Lienert and Andrew Stevenson of the Sydney Morning Herald are keeping home readers posted. Even that shrewd, graceful and most ever-present of this Australian team's chroniclers, Peter Roebuck, has put away his laptop and his Shakespeares and exclaimed: "A thousand times good night!" So slim are the options that the Age has cleverly hired Dean Jones - yes, the Dean Jones who used to bat for Australia - to pen columns about what beastly bad luck it is that Warney isn't captain. If a stump falls and no one is around to write about it, does it mean Australia must be playing Pakistan?

Many of cricket's princeliest and most unpindownable individuals have hailed from the country Australia dare not play five Test matches against. As a team Pakistan often embody traits Australians like to treasure about themselves: a larrikin spark, a feeling of always being the underdog, a disregard for reputation, a dislike of fuss and convention and formality. In 1981-82, summer of Zaheer's magical double, Wilkins checked with Salim Malik that that was indeed how he spelled his name. A few weeks later, Wilkins noticed the brash batting tyro autographing a bat: Saleem Malik.

"Oh," Malik grinned, "spell it either way." An Australian could not have sounded more knockabout Australian.

We'd kick ourselves for not paying Pakistan closer attention, if only we hadn't been so busy kicking Javed Miandad.

Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket, published in March 2009

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Chitraj on May 6, 2009, 14:04 GMT

    Ok. First of all- I am a neutral reader. Secondly, has anyone even read the article before making rather unfair comments? Christian is not bashing the caliber of Pakistan or denying the fact that some great matches have been played. If anything he has claimed they are fierce competitors. All he is trying to say is that for some reason, rightly or wrongly, the aura that surrounds the ashes or more recently the buzz around an Australia-South Africa, Australia-India or even Australia-New Zealand clash has not found itself when Australia plays Pakistan! And he is absolutely right!

    There are/have been some great players on both sides, there has been some great cricket, some great moments. The matches deserve recognition, but it aint getting it- end of story.

  • Mick on May 6, 2009, 2:56 GMT

    I agree that this article seems like nothing more than a piece with weak evidence aimed at dividing the readership for cheap gain - a real specialty of Cricinfo blogs in recent times.

    And guess what, it's done the trick on me. Just want to question how Masuud can suggest Christian is naive for his views when he himself wants to suggest there were 60,000 in the Gabba for a match in the late 90s. I question in the absence of everyone in the all-seated crowd having a close acquaintance on their lap how this could have happened.

  • irfan on May 6, 2009, 0:18 GMT

    it is a strange dilemma since historically Pakistan was the only country which managed to defeat every single cricket playing nation at its incipience, surpassing India; but that was a team proud to play under the banner of Pakistan. They were given a great opportunity to build on such a strong and proud foundation, but sadly the pride dissipated in the future generations. i can safely bet that no other country would have had as many existential arguments and conspiracies and mutinies over the authority and desire to be a captain. a pakistani umpire was 'genially' kidnapped by the english visiting team of 1950s. would Lillee have wagged his finger if the player was Richards or Gower? Would Gatting have dared raise his finger on the umpire if Rana was an australian? Could Darrell Hair have so readily accused an English or Zimbabwean team of tampering? lack of education has not helped either. their lack of respect for eachother has laid them vulnerable to a monolithic generalization.

  • Masood on May 4, 2009, 23:26 GMT

    It seems either Christian is too naive to remember the 70s and 80s of Pak-Aus cricket or he's suffering from short term memory loss. The latter could be more the case since Australia didn't have any fierce rival in world cricket from the late 90s to the early 2000s than Pak and SA. He forgets the 99' year where Aus Pak matches in the WC and the C&B were the most talked about, and its the same time where Shoaib Akhtar got the most focus in the mainstream media. Thanks to the 60K odd Gaba standing crowd when Shoaib went up to his bowling mark to mark his return to international cricket after being through the chucking controversy. The author forgets how deep did the phenomenon of Salim Malik ran in the Aussies! Do I need to mention it? Okay back to on-field happenings, the 02-03' ODI series win by Pak (2-1) was rated as the most fearsome Aus had in a while in those times and leading to the 03' WC, Pak was one of the strongest teams in the ratings to challenge Aussies! Enough I suppose :)

  • Saad on May 4, 2009, 20:01 GMT

    I think Christian has given us his, and most probably the Aussie perspective on Aus-Pak matches; we need to take it as it is. Yes, as Pakistanis we followed the series with interest as we have done on all previous series with Aus. When even earthquakes couldn't wake us for school, a cricket match in Australia had us up even before dawn.

    And while everyone is reminding of Pakistani performances down under, I would also like to add World Cup 92, still fresh in our mind as ever... and I dont think there was any dearth of spectators in the final. I would also like to mention Waseem Akram's bowling spells of 88-89 series, and the batting of Ijaz, Imran, and Waseem in the same series or perhaps the series after that one. After being reminded of all these great performances, I am starting to wonder why no interest is generated by a Aus-Pak series... is marketing really such a strong player?

  • Mohamed on May 4, 2009, 19:18 GMT

    Some good points byteh author but.. I remember a full house at the MCG to witness Pakistan's World Cup Victory versus England. Sure there were lots of English supporters, however a lot of Australians showed up and cheered for Pakistan. It was good sportsmanship by the Aussies fans to say the least.

  • Sitanshu on May 4, 2009, 18:29 GMT

    I am confounded and dissapointed by the response of a couple of Pakistani supporters. This is an interesting article (though I am not entirely convinced by Chris's theory of Aus-Pak matches not producing electrifying cricket) and this article has nothing to do with India, but somehow 'Hammad.Fayyaz' and 'cricbytes' seem to hold India responsible for their woes. Instead they should agree that this series has been overshadowed by the IPL and not given enough importance (due to the location, the fact the aussies see this as prep for the T20 w/cup and the ashes, and the fact that Pakistan cricket is not at its healthiest).

    Also, India has been wrongly blamed for Pakistani cricketers not participating in the IPL. It was first the Pakistani govt. that banned Pakistani players from playing in India.

    It is an unfotunate time, not just for Pakistan Cricket but also the whole nation, and I would like to wish them luck for their future.

  • Shahid on May 4, 2009, 15:40 GMT

    The writer has certainly missed many occasions in the history when Pak team made big headlines in Australia. The biggest of all 1992 world cup that Pak won, the mini world cup back in the 80's which Pak lost in the Final against India, the yearly triangular series in Australia back in 1998 under Wasim Akram where Pakistan defeated Australia comprehensively and another defeat to Australia in a winter one day series back in 2002 in Australia that I personally watched in Aus. A big crowed showed up to see the match in Melbourne besides a rugby match going on in Melbourne at the same time. Pakistan has always been a formidable opposition to Australia as compared to many other teams and considering the so many problems they are currently going through, Pakistan still ranks above Endland, Sri Lanka, NZ and West Indies. Unfortunately it seems like the writer is somehow looking for off the field headlines like on racism remarks and threats to scrap the tours in the middle of the series etc.

  • Sydney on May 4, 2009, 13:18 GMT

    The Aussie-Pakistani rivalry though not glamorous as Eng-Aus or Aus-Ind (Of late especially), still has had its moments. Analytically, if we look at the sporting rivalries that Australia have had (Like with US in swimming and tennis, with NZ and SA in Rugby etc.), its in part an extension of a larger rivalry at play. We just relish fighting it out with 'formidable' foes. With US and China (in swimming, athletics), we back our sportsman to fight against these 'big bullies' from veritably the two modern-day super powers. With the English and Kiwis, its due to our historical linkages and the trans-tasman rivalry respectively. The latest addition to this list in India, with all its new-found economic, military and demographic might that provides this sense of intimidation which sparks the fighting instinct in us. However, with Pakistan, its just not the same. Its nothing racist. Vis-a-vis India, we see Pakistan as a similar, yet vastly diminished, inferior South asian alternative.Thats it

  • ianChappellFan on May 4, 2009, 12:28 GMT

    Fine article very well written, surprising that its the first time I have read an article by Christian.

    I think for some strange reason, Pakistan has not had a competitive and memorable series with Austrailia. There have been magical moments and performances, Sarfraz, G Chappell, Imran's sydney spell, Shoaib Akhtar's spell, the Hobart test, Lillee/Miandad etc, but not a full series like both countries have had with other countries.

    Pak-WI (88), Pak-India (many, for example 87), Aus-Eng (too many to list), Aus-Ind (99, Laxman series), Aus-WI (too many to list), Aus-SA (many).

    Actually what Christian said, Younis Khan also touched on this subject recently (although in not as sensible and articulate a manner).

    Hopefully we will have a memorable series soon.

  • No featured comments at the moment.