Rewind to Rewind toRSS FeedFeeds

1977

It began in Sydney

Pakistan cricket's rise in modern times can be traced back to a landmark win in Australia 35 years ago

Saad Shafqat

December 17, 2011

Comments: 64 | Text size: A | A

Imran Khan bowls, 1982
Imran Khan transformed from medium pace to fast and lethal © PA Photos
Enlarge
Related Links

There was no morning television in Pakistan in the 1970s, but early on January 18, 1977, TV sets throughout the country were switched on to catch a satellite feed from Sydney. Thirty-five years later, any reference to that moment still stops people mid-stride. Their eyes grow distant and you can see they have been transported into a trance.

The picture is grainy and fleeting. There is a throng on the Hill chanting Lillee's name. Majid Khan is taking guard; you can't see his face, but there is the unmistakable stance, and atop his head the threadbare floppy hat that he will later bestow on Lillee as a prize for knocking it off. Two Pakistan wickets have fallen, but Majid has also lifted Lillee for six. The target, in any case, is only 32 - too slim to be defended, even by Lillee's venomous arts.

How Pakistan found themselves in this position encapsulates their cricketing ethos. Bruised after a fight with their cricket board, and stung by what some thought was an indifferent reception in Australia, they were determined to make an impact. They ended up with a Test win that transformed their psyche and altered the course of Pakistan's cricket history.

Imran Khan was not yet the Imran Khan of legend. He recently recalled a green wicket, helpful conditions, and a deep itch to win. "That victory represents a watershed moment for Pakistan," he said, emphasising each word in his signature manner. "It was very important for me personally, because I became recognised as a genuine fast bowler."

Indeed, this was Imran's metamorphosis, when he entered a medium-pacer and emerged a fast bowler to be reckoned with among the best. Debuting in 1971, he had been an intermittent presence in the team, and this was only his 10th Test. His incoming record was 25 wickets at 43.52. Considering that the origins of an entire fast-bowling dynasty are embedded in his 12 wickets in Sydney, it is ironic that Imran's ambition at the time was merely to cement himself as the new-ball partner alongside Sarfraz Nawaz.

There was a special significance to the turn of the year in 1976. Test cricket's centenary, it was aggressively promoted in Australia as their 100th home season. Australia's captain, Greg Chappell, was recognised as the national sportsman of the year, beating out stiff competition from compatriots who were Olympic heroes and world champions in other sports. Later in the season there would be a series against New Zealand and a landmark Centenary Test against England in Melbourne. But first, the Pakistanis had to be tackled.

The tour almost didn't happen. A month before departure, Pakistan's top players confronted the cricket board chief, Abdul Hafeez Kardar, demanding better salaries. Controversy erupted on a dramatic scale, resolved only through the intervention of a cabinet minister. An unforgiving disciplinarian, Kardar never got over it. During the opening Test in Adelaide, after some of the dissenting players fell for low scores - including a second-ball duck for the chief spokesman, Asif Iqbal - he sent the team a telegram mocking their efforts. "We left for that tour in a bitter atmosphere," recalls Asif. "Kardar had made us feel small for demanding better pay when all we wanted was more dignity, which was important for the future of Pakistan cricket."

Kardar's sarcastic prod may have been an important motivator, though it was not the only one. Pakistan's previous tour to Australia had left scars; Sydney had been the venue of a particularly bitter defeat. Since then, a number of Pakistanis had excelled for various county teams in the English summer. Pakistan had succeeded in winning their first overseas rubber, in New Zealand in 1973, and the following year went through an entire tour of England without a single defeat - which hadn't happened since Bradman's Australians did it in 1948.

In the autumn of 1976, Mushtaq Mohammad took over the captaincy from Intikhab Alam and immediately led the team to an emphatic home series win over New Zealand. By the time the Pakistanis arrived in Australia, they felt they could win and were dying to prove it.

"We wanted to shake off our sense of inferiority," says Imran, echoing the feelings of his team-mates and millions of compatriots.

Several accounts of the Sydney Test have appeared over the years. Mushtaq, Imran, and Javed Miandad referred to it in their autobiographies, as did Dennis Lillee, who wrote in Menace that he found Pakistan with "a much tougher attitude, more aggressive in every area". A particularly full sketch is present in Greg Chappell's The 100th Summer, an absorbing record of that season. Pakistan's heroes from that match recollect the contest proudly but in broad strokes - the kind of memory you might have if you go through a seminal experience without knowing that one day it will be mythologised.

 
 
Pakistan's heroes from the match recollect the contest proudly but in broad strokes - the kind of memory you might have if you go through a seminal experience without knowing that one day it will be mythologised
 

Even before the first ball was bowled, Sydney's mottled pitch raised many eyebrows. Mushtaq wanted to bowl first and was surprised when Chappell opted to bat. Chappell's reasoning was that Australia would avoid batting in the fourth innings against Pakistan, whose bowling line-up included three spinners. He wasn't worried about Sarfraz and Imran, thinking them medium-pacers who Australia would weather through the morning, after which the wicket would ease up.

Minutes into the match, Sarfraz had opener Alan Turner caught behind. Sarfraz kept a steady fourth-stump line, finding movement both off the seam and in the air. He remembers the wicket as helpful and lively. "Imran and I kept talking to each other and encouraging each other between overs," he says. "Australia's batsmen came under pressure and that kept us going. Imran bowled with express pace."

At the other end, Imran was certainly producing hostile speed and bounce. The pounding in Wasim Bari's gloves told him he had never before collected deliveries of such velocity. Imran kept hitting spots on the pitch from where the ball reared up at the batsman's throat. He and Sarfraz bowled unchanged for a long spell. They were eight-ball overs, but the steady fall of wickets kept them going.

In Pakistan, fans were electrified when Australia were dismissed for 211. After a fighting draw in Adelaide and a one-sided defeat in Melbourne, suddenly there was a beam of hope.

In reply, Pakistan started briskly, but soon wobbled at 111 for 4. Both openers were gone, in addition to captain Mushtaq and the in-form Zaheer Abbas.

Time and again Asif had displayed an ability to be sharply focused in adversity. Here he put his head down and crafted yet another recovery. With substantial help from Haroon Rasheed, who made 57 on debut, and Miandad, who had struggled thus far in Australia but now fought his way to an impressive 64, Asif made an unforgettable century to pull his team ahead.

"It was an innings notable for extreme concentration and application," Chappell wrote. Asif's memory of that knock is dominated by the need to get past Australia. "I had already got a big hundred in Adelaide to save the match," he says. "Now everything was about taking a big lead. I didn't know Haroon then, but he played well. I had more faith in Miandad; he played well too. Playing with these youngsters lifted me up."

Despite a lead of 149, anxiety prevailed in the Pakistan camp. There was fear of an Australian backlash, and the worry that the bowling success in the first innings might have been a fluke. Such worries were short-lived. Sarfraz produced his away movement and dangerous off-stump line again, while Imran had passed into another dimension altogether, from which he would never look back for the rest of his career.

Pakistan's fielding too touched new heights. Bari took seven catches behind the stumps in the match. Zaheer even broke his glasses diving for a sharp chance, and substitute fielder Wasim Raja fired in a throw that ran out Rod Marsh. "The dressing-room atmosphere was of comradeship," remembers Bari. "In order to do well on a tour you have to be enjoying yourself, and we certainly were."

Success in Sydney infused Pakistan with self-belief and a vision. It also unearthed for them an authentic fast bowler, a necessity for any great team, and which up to that point had seemed biologically implausible from the subcontinent. Most important was the shift in mindset. "Top-level cricket demands great physical skill, but 60% of it is psychological," notes Imran. Sydney provided Pakistan with that inner mental advantage, an x factor.

If you track Pakistan's win-loss ratio in Test cricket through time, it forms what scientists call a J-shaped curve. After success in the 1950s, the line dips into a disappointing trough of defeats through the '60s. As you get into the '70s, the team stops losing, which arrests the decline, but since there are few wins, the graph stays flat. It is after Sydney in 1977 that it starts sloping upwards - a trend that has continued into modern times, giving Pakistan the third-best cumulative win-loss ratio in Test history, behind Australia and England.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

RSS Feeds: Saad Shafqat

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by salman_0902 on (December 19, 2011, 22:40 GMT)

If Only Pakistan had good fielders who could take all the chances they were offered.

Posted by kamranwasti on (December 19, 2011, 3:34 GMT)

The fast-bowling competition was held in 1978-1979. The guns did not track the 'release speed' as they do now and showed the speed at the time of the ball reaching the bat. I think the final readings show a cut by at least 10% because it is hard to imagine Michael Holding not crossing 142kph even once. A 10% addition would give him around 155 kph which seems viable because from 1976 to 1981-82, Holding was lightning fast and still genuinely quick in 1983 to blow India away even on the slow, low tracks when he got 30 wickets. The same results show Sarfraz at 121 kph. Even though he was not express, this speed is clocked by people like Paul Collingwood and co. Even Dennis Lillee with a peak speed of 136 is hard to digest. Lillee did reduce his pace after his injury but apart from his famous MCG spells against England in 1979, when he bowled leg-cutter after leg-cutter on a slow, low wicket, he is not known to have bowled medium pace during the 1970s.

Posted by kamranwasti on (December 19, 2011, 3:19 GMT)

The next test was this Sydney test and it was again played on a green wicket - Greg Chappell, in the fact the whole Australian team and media, had no regard for Pakistani pace attack till then and they were justified because apart from Imran's second innings spell at Melbourne, they had bowled very poorly. So he chose to bat first on a green wicket under heavily overcast skies once more as Saad Shafqat put it. Imran criticised the Pakistani team selection for the match in his book as it included just three specialist bowlers with Mushtaq, Asif and Miandad to back up. Given the conditions, Imran notes, Pakistan did bowl well and got them out for 211 with Imran getting six (including Chappell with a lifting leg-cutter). Asif Iqbal then scored another magnificent century - he played some unbelievable innings with the tail and Pakistan led by 149. It was then Imran all the way as he bowled at extreme pace and ended up ripping his shirt apart through sheer effort.

Posted by kamranwasti on (December 19, 2011, 3:06 GMT)

@ vinvashisht Imran always had it in him to bowl fast but was brought up originally as a part-time outwing bowler. An injury in his teens affected a change in action which made the inswinger replace the outswinger as his stock ball. During the 1976-77 New Zealand series, he bowled some fast spells but again looked towards Australia as an opportunity to bowl more medium-paced inswing. During the second test at Melbourne, he was given a fast bouncy wicket that also had grass under a heavy cloud cover and he failed miserably trying to control his swing. After a bad early spell in the second innings, he realised he could not take a beating laying low and decided to go all out, getting five wickets and hitting a few including Rod Marsh on his head. That was his first sustained spell of genuine fast bowling and he felt being 'a complete fast bowler in his eyes'. Some good advice from a holidaying Geoff Boycott and more wickets in the game against Queensland on that tour gave him the guts.

Posted by HellDiver on (December 18, 2011, 22:44 GMT)

@mhb1: Imran changed his action from front-on to side-on during the WSC cricket. Actually Imran was 3rd fastest after Thomson and Holding, not Marshall. If I remember correctly, there were more than 1 category in that competition and in one category, either average speed over the 6 or 8 ball over, or the fastest ball bowled, Imran was second after Thomson. In the other category he was third after Thomson and Holding.

Posted by Venkatb on (December 18, 2011, 21:43 GMT)

This Test may have been the birth of Imran but the Pakistan renaissance had much to do with the grit of Miandad as well. The team from the mid-70s was world-class with Majid, Sadiq, Zaheer, Mushtaq, Miandad, Raja, Asif Iqbal, Alam, Imran, Bari, Sarfraz in the ranks. Indians would jump up and down but those old enough to remember would know the complete humiliation endured at the hands of the Pakistanis. In those days, playing for the English counties was a privilege and Pakistani players were courted, while India had only Engineer, Bedi and Venkat! Further when the Kerry Packer circus began, the best of the world was courted but not one Indian player made it. Let us give these Pakistani players their due credit - they were an equal to the raw power of the Aussies and the Windies teams of the 70s.

Posted by   on (December 18, 2011, 20:03 GMT)

Imran was more than a cricketer. He changed the way PAK played in the years to come. Natural aggression with talent and attitude. I believe no other cricketing nation has produced consistently so many match winners than Pakistan who won them matches with their sheer brilliance on many occasions single-handedly. Imran believed that anything in life, if it is really well done, becomes an art and his bowling art was example to millions in PAK. He was the original transformer and left mark so deep that everybody wanted to bowl like him. Yes even today in the most basic street cricket in pakistan, you're good if you bowl as fast as you can. Secondly, our fast bowlers' lengths are different from others, they like bowling up targeting the stumps. Bowled and LBW are preferred rather than caught behind etc. Can't rely on our fielders too much:) Imran, Wasim, Waqar and Shoaib are shinning examples to the world but all this started by none other than Imran!

Posted by mhb1 on (December 18, 2011, 18:11 GMT)

@vinvashisht he totally changed his bowling action which helped him to become the 3rd fastest bowler after jeff, malcolm respectively in a fast bowling competition !

Posted by   on (December 18, 2011, 18:11 GMT)

wow...thats something cool to hear about Pakistan Test Cricket!!

Posted by vinvashisht on (December 18, 2011, 17:39 GMT)

How does a bowler go from medium fast to fast? I can see it going the other way but what did Imran do to increase the pace?

Comments have now been closed for this article

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Saad ShafqatClose

'Virtually impossible to replace Kallis'

Modern Masters: Without Jacques Kallis you don't see balance in the South African side

    How do you view sporting success?

Do you gauge it by rewards or in terms of the experiences accumulated on the way, Ed Smith asks

    Mesmeric Sachin, sopoforic Boycs

ESPNcricinfo XI: From Mankad to KP, we look at some memorable innings in England-India Tests

    Dhoni wins the first round in the captaincy battle

Ian Chappell: Both Dhoni and Cook have made some inexplicable blunders, but India's captain pulls ahead slightly

When the weak can resist the strong

Jonathan Wilson: Cricket and football give lesser teams and players a chance to hold against stronger opposition

News | Features Last 7 days

India look for their Indian summer

Billboards are calling the series England's Indian Summer, but it is India who are looking for that period of warmth, redemption after the last whitewash, for they have seen how bleak the winter that can follow is

South Africa face the Kallis question

Accommodation for a great player like Jacques Kallis should be made with careful consideration and South Africa cannot get carried away with sentiment

India's bowling leader conundrum

The present Indian bowling line-up will tackle its first five-Test series without the proven guidance of Zaheer Khan, their bowling captain. India had unravelled without him in 2011. Will they do better this time around?

Five key head-to-heads

From two embattled captains to the challenge for India's openers against the new ball, ESPNcricinfo picks five contests that could determine the series

Anderson shines in era of the No. 11

There are few endeavors as silly as No. 11s batting. Anderson's innings was another piece of history for cricket's most comical and undervalued batting position

News | Features Last 7 days

    India look for their Indian summer (87)

    Billboards are calling the series England's Indian Summer, but it is India who are looking for that period of warmth, redemption after the last whitewash, for they have seen how bleak the winter that can follow is

    Why isn't Ashwin playing? (74)

    It's close to inexplicable how India's best spinner is being left out in favour of bits-and-pieces players

    South Africa face the Kallis question (56)

    Accommodation for a great player like Jacques Kallis should be made with careful consideration and South Africa cannot get carried away with sentiment

    India's bowling leader conundrum (44)

    The present Indian bowling line-up will tackle its first five-Test series without the proven guidance of Zaheer Khan, their bowling captain. India had unravelled without him in 2011. Will they do better this time around?

    Anderson shines in era of the No. 11 (34)

    There are few endeavors as silly as No. 11s batting. Anderson's innings was another piece of history for cricket's most comical and undervalued batting position