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Sixty years ago, Fazal Mahmood inspired Pakistan to an incredible triumph against England
August 13, 2014
It had been a long tour by the time the first day of the final Test of the summer, at the Oval ended. In losing only two of the twenty-four first-class games until then and winning as many as five, Abdul Hafeez Kardar's very young and very inexperienced Pakistan side had already done far better than most had expected. This was, after all, only their second international assignment and not even two years since they became a Test-playing nation.
But they had been in England for over three months by then, having arrived on 2 May. It had been the kind of stretched, wet summer that drives men mad. They still had a month to go before returning by sea on the SS Batori, back to Karachi and on 12 August, the first day of the last Test, Pakistan's batting - much their weaker suit - had been hustled out for a paltry 133. England's debutantes Frank Tyson and Peter Loader - the former frighteningly quick - and the experienced Brian Statham shared the honours.
Khalid Qureshi, a tall left-arm spinner, who was part of Pakistan's first Test squad, to India in 1952-53 was in London at the time. He had chosen to take up a Pakistan government scholarship to train in England as an engineer and had thus opted to skip the tour. He probably wouldn't have been picked anyway; Pakistan had a specialist left-arm spinner in Shujauddin Butt and Kardar, as all-rounder, was by then of the same genre.
Though the pair had developed differences during the India tour - Qureshi's father, a first-class umpire wrote pieces criticizing Kardar's leadership - Qureshi dropped by to see his ex-teammates. 'I used to visit the team quite often because I had weekends off,' Qureshi remembers. 'I met Kardar after the first day of the Oval Test and he said to me, "For god's sake, I cannot wait for this tour to finish and be over so I can go back.'''
Kardar had taken particularly badly some of the more patronizing sentiments reserved for his side. They had been crushed in the second Test at Trent Bridge and but for rain would probably have suffered similarly in the first Test at Lord's and the third at Old Trafford. Kardar's book on the tour, published the same year, was called 'Test Status on Trial' and before his retelling of the Oval Test, there was a chapter of the same title. In it, he questioned the dismissive coverage his side received in much of the press (other than newspapers such as The Times or broadcasters such as the BBC), asking whether they shouldn't be more supportive of a young nation.
Even his own didn't given them a chance. On arrival in the UK, at a diplomatic function in London, Anjum Niaz recalls the high commissioner M.A. Ispahani's quite undiplomatic assessment of the tourists. Niaz, a long-standing journalist and columnist, was an eyewitness to the tour, having travelled as a young girl with her father Syed Fida Hasan who was manager of the side. 'He disdainfully called our own team "rabbits" at a reception,' she says. 'He said, "What do you expect from these people who need to be taught table manners?''
Kardar was not one of life's pessimists and never could it be said that he lacked confidence or belief. But such was his concern that on the advice of two senior players - the colourful Maqsood Ahmed and Fazal Mahmood - Pakistan seriously considered issuing a statement ahead of the final Test saying unequivocally that they would win the Test. The trio mulled over it during an informal meeting in the game against Warwickshire in Birmingham just a week ahead of the Test. Stuck between trying to prove that morale within the side remained high and appearing too brash, Kardar chose the conservative option and made no statement.
Play had begun after lunch on the first day and Pakistan's 133 followed scores of 87, 157, 90 and 25 for 4 in the previous Tests; in itself 133 represented a recovery from 77 for 8. The batting in unfamiliar conditions was abysmal: 'unreliable and generally unpredictable' with 'a tendency to let fly in all directions,' in the words of Geoffrey Howard, the popular manager of the MCC side.
The second day was washed out, though not before Kardar's unusually nervy mood came through again. Walking out to inspect the ground with England captain Len Hutton, Kardar said he thought play before lunch was unlikely. Hutton, unsurprisingly, thought otherwise. The umpires agreed and decided to start at 12.30 p.m., but almost as soon as they said it, a cloudburst put the ground under water for the rest of the day. Kardar wasn't keen for his players to be out in such conditions, fearing England may run away with a lead.
|Pakistan seriously considered issuing a statement ahead of the final Test saying unequivocally that they would win the Test|
The next day was the pivotal one where the shape of the Test, if not the balance, became clearer. Fourteen wickets fell, 193 runs were scored and champions did what champions do. Nearly 25,000 people watched it (almost 17,000 were paid admissions, so the gate money for Pakistan would be significant for their future growth), testament in part to the popularity of tourists who had played attractive cricket in good spirit through the summer.
Play began at 11.30 a.m. but the sun had been out since the morning, gradually drying up a soaked surface. Had Fazal been the god of weather himself he might not have produced more ideal conditions for his work. He put on the same kit in which he had run through India in Lucknow just under two years before, to set up Pakistan's only Test win, and settled in to bowl straight through. For nearly three and a half hours he bowled, through the entirety of the innings. When he finished thirty overs and six wickets later, he had secured Pakistan a three-run lead.
It was a typical Fazal spell; long, tight and unyielding, attacking lengths and sharp cut both ways. Resistance came from the class of Hutton, Peter May and Denis Compton, who between them contributed 93 of England's total. But none mastered Fazal. Hutton edged a boundary early on through slips; he then played on, the ball rolling on to the stumps but not dislodging the bails. There was also one confident drive through extra cover but soon after, shaping to play on-side he failed to recognize the Fazal autograph - the leg-cutter. It snaked away, Hutton edging it high for wicketkeeper Imtiaz Ahmed to catch behind slips. At lunch, England were intact but edgy. Fazal meanwhile was in the zone; there were 11 maidens in his first 15 overs.
May and Compton steadied affairs a little thereafter but never with any great conviction. Kardar's athleticism broke the partnership at 56, a one-handed catch at gully sending May back. That was the onset of England panic and three more wickets fell before they reached three figures. Having not gotten far with a more cautious approach, Compton decided to go on the offensive, often improvising greatly. On 31, he was remarkably given two lives. Fazal dropped him off his own bowling first, running back and fumbling a high, mistimed drive.
Wazir Mohammad, comfortably one of the worst fielders in a poor fielding side, then made a mess of a simple chance on the boundary between mid-wicket and long-on the very next delivery. As if that wasn't enough, on 38, Wazir dropped him again, also off Fazal. Pakistan's fielding had hounded them through the entire tour like a determined heckler turning up randomly but persistently to spoil the mood. And they knew the gargantuan folly of dropping Compton; Imtiaz had missed a chance when he was on 20 in the second Test at Trent Bridge and he went on to make 278.
Here, however, he ran out of partners and luck. By the time he reached fifty, Pakistan were into the tail at one end. Soon Compton fell too, stepping out to drive Fazal but only edging another leg-cutter behind. It was, Compton said later, one of his 'most difficult and memorable innings'. With untiring support from the faster but wayward Mahmood Hussain at the other end, Pakistan was able to wrap up the England innings swiftly.
Spirits emboldened, Hanif Mohammad and Shujauddin came out to negotiate the last hour or so - the latter had been promoted following his gutsy, unconquered, near-two-hour 16 in the first innings (and with a brave innings against Tyson and Northamptonshire earlier). Hanif had arrived in England with a reputation, a child genius of an opener blessed with uncommon patience. He had scored consistently against the counties but his Test scores, on paper, looked thin. The substance of his spirit, however, was unquestioned.
In the first test at Lord's, he took over three hours to score 20 while Pakistan crashed to 87. In the second innings, he made 39, constructed patiently over two and half hours. At Trent Bridge he made his only half-century of the Test series, an innings that showcased the naturally attacking game Hanif always insisted was his; in two separate overs from Statham and Alec Bedser he struck three boundaries each, racing to fifty in 35 minutes with ten boundaries.
Outside the Test circuit, there had been plenty of evidence of this aggression; he made 145 in just 205 minutes, with 88 runs in boundaries against Somerset two weeks before this Test. At the end of June, ahead of the second Test, he had raced to 87 in 70 minutes (17 fours and a solitary, rare six) against a Combined Services XI. That was an innings of protest at his demotion in the previous game against Nottinghamshire when Pakistan had to chase a target in quick time.
Now, deep into the third day at the Oval he launched a similar blitz. Statham was hit for three fours in his first three overs and Loader for another; Kardar couldn't understand why Hutton didn't open with Tyson, whose furious pace had so unsettled Pakistan in the first innings. Pakistan raced to 19 without loss in five overs, all the runs coming from Hanif. Hutton switched on just a touch late, turning to the spin of Johnny Wardle and Jim McConnon on a drying pitch now given to turn. Hanif fell immediately edging Wardle to slip and, with the score doubled, Shujauddin went too, a handy, irritating hand in the bag.
Pakistan stumbled at the close of play, losing two more wickets and a lead of 66. But Hanif's mini-innings and Shujauddin's resistance showed, above all, that on the seventh anniversary of the country's birth, Pakistan was up for an almighty scrap.
The fight continued on the Monday after the mandatory rest day, through Wazir, Hanif's elder brother. Known to family and friends as 'Wisden' for his mildly obsessive nose for cricket trivia, Wazir's tour had been a strange one. There had been some resilient contributions from the lower reaches of the middle order, none more than a 69 against Northamptonshire, which took Pakistan from 209 for seven, to 368. He actually ended up topping the batting averages through the summer, but his fielding was so poor - the reprieves of Compton the most recent, damning evidence - he almost didn't play.
'He had been dropping catches and so Kardar decided to drop him for that Test,' remembers Anjum Niaz. 'However, the selection committee headed by my father and the assistant manager [Masood] Salahuddin and Fazal, all outvoted Kardar. So Wazir did play, and his contribution was crucial for Pakistan. They said later that nobody could face Tyson, except Wazir who held his own against him at Northants.'
In front of 24,000 people, Pakistan lost four wickets within the first hour of the morning, three to an increasingly threatening Wardle. Only 85 ahead, with two wickets in hand, fat ladies the world over were singing when Wazir and the spinner Zulfiqar Ahmed came together in a defining ninth-wicket stand. The union was at once cautious and bracing; Zulfiqar, the team jester and Kardar's brother-in-law to boot, took his chances. He cut Wardle, before pulling him for boundaries, happily mixing unorthodox defence with fortuitous runs through slips and third man. The humour stood him in good stead; after every Tyson over that he emerged unscathed, he would turn to the pavilion and wave, making sure his more established colleagues were watching and learning how to play fast bowling.
Wazir played a straight foil, an innings of Karachiite smarts to counter Zulfiqar's carefree Lahori musings. Having taken nearly half an hour over his first run, he stole singles to the covers, to fine leg, to midwicket, some sharp, others downright foolish. Through other moments he simply kept bowlers out, concentrating as hard as his brother was becoming renowned for. In this manner the pair gradually deflated the bubble of England's momentum, over nearly two hours. Hutton made regular changes, the realization slowly dawning upon him that the game might be slipping.
|Wazir played a straight foil, an innings of Karachiite smarts to counter Zulfiqar's carefree Lahori musings|
Eventually Zulfiqar fell for 34, the sixth of Wardle's eventual seven victims but having helped put on 58 priceless runs. That was the cue for Wazir to uncoil, having gathered steadily. He now opted for strokes in front of the wicket, twice driving Loader through covers and driving Statham straight making 18 of the 24 runs of the last wicket stand with Hussain. When Hussain fell after 25 minutes--having done well to go beyond Alf Gover's conclusion that he 'only carried his bat to take guard' - the broad significance of those 24 runs was immediately clear; last-gasp momentum shifts in cricket hold great, almost superstitious, value and more so in a match with so much swing anyway. The exact significance of it would emerge later.
After nearly three hours, Wazir was left unbeaten on 42, worth at least twice as much given the circumstances, having doubled Pakistan's score with the last two wickets. 'There are very few players who have batted so well for their side at No. 8 in a Test match,' Kardar wrote later, relieved no doubt he had been outvoted, possibly chastened that he had to have been. England needed 168 to wrap up the series 2-0.
Again, Fazal had other ideas. Another headstrong character not given to self-doubt, Fazal was convinced the total was defendable. Dismissing Hutton, Compton, May and Tom Graveney - the very meat of England's batting - in the first innings helped. 'This time I had adopted a new strategy,' he wrote in his autobiography. 'I would change the line of the ball every now and again. For instance, I would bowl the leg-cutter from the return crease which was a wicket-taking ball. There was also a hidden in-swinger from the return crease, an in-swinger from the middle of the crease and an in-swinger from close to the stumps.'
In particular, Hutton struggled to pick the variation, playing and missing repeatedly. In the over in which he fell he was hit on the pad three times in four balls. He was almost caught driving just over covers, which induced a quasi-sledge from Fazal: 'This is not Hutton-like.' Next ball he was gone, caught behind, inevitably, to the leg-cutter. Fazal reckoned that over two innings he had bowled twenty-seven different types of deliveries at the great man to dismiss him twice.
But for all of Fazal's incisiveness, England's quality still threatened to come out on top. Two partnerships of substance took the score dangerously close to the target. Reg Simpson and May put on 51 in just 40 minutes and as the surface became harder, May especially settled into an elegant groove with Compton providing support, albeit cautiously. Hussain was proving expensive at one end and the spinners Zulfiqar and Shujauddin were economical, but without bite. May looked authoritative, twice hooking Hussain for boundaries.
When they began the chase, England had 155 minutes of the fourth day left and when May and Compton were at the crease, it looked like the game might finish that evening. The rush was to prove fatal, because at 109 for 2, with an entire day to come there was no need for it. According to Fazal, Kardar looked like he knew the game was up. So he went up to Kardar just as the captain was contemplating a change, snatched the ball from him and arbitrarily told him to stand on the off-side and rushed in to bowl before Kardar could change his mind. Wanting to force matters, May pushed at one that didn't come onto the bat, only lofting it to Kardar: breakthrough.
England's eagerness to finish the game that day - Hutton was said to be worried about the weather as well - then manifested itself in another vital, strategic miscalculation. The wicketkeeper Godfrey Evans was sent in above Tom Graveney because he was thought to be a more flexible option, capable equally of batting out the day but also of finishing off the game; if they chose to go for it, England had just over half an hour left in the day to make 59. Kardar shrewdly called for a drinks break as Evans walked in, sensing that this could be a moment. Bowlers, fielders and the leader took stock.
It paid dividends. Fazal worked away at Evans' legs before knocking back his stumps: 115-4. In came the protected Graveney and minutes later he too was gone, leg-before to Shujauddin to a ball that kept a little low: 116-5. With that, the last recognized batting pair of Compton and Wardle was at the crease. As the threat of an England win on the day receded, the field came in, as many as six close-in fielders crowding around the pair.
Fazal was in the zone, feeling it, dropping ball after ball precisely where he wanted. With a couple of overs remaining in the day, he turned to Kardar. 'Hafeez, what if I get Compton out?' In Punjabi, Kardar replied, 'Then we win the match.' Compton duly edged one behind where once again Imtiaz made no mistake: it was his sixth catch of the game, all off Fazal. England ended the day alive but shaken and dazed at 125 for 6 and looking, as would be pointed out, a batsman short.
An uneasy evening followed for Kardar. He visited Fazal's room to discuss the match, only to be met coldly. 'He asked what I thought about the match,' Fazal wrote. 'What should be the line of action? I said that he was the captain and that he should know better.' The two of them never really got along, a tension between them built on several layers.
Both formed separate power centres in the side, Kardar as captain, Fazal as match-winner. Fazal pointedly called him Hafeez - not Kardar as was now the norm - for that is how he had known him before Kardar went to Oxford. A man rooted firmly in the spirits of Lahore, Fazal sneered at Kardar's sudden transformation post-Oxford into a haughty, snooty and worldly leader. There was also friction from the fierce rivalries of the Lahore club scene; Fazal felt Kardar was biased in not picking players from Mamdot club, where Fazal initially played and Kardar had also before leaving.
Nothing contributed as much, however, as the rivalry between Mian Mohammad Saeed, Fazal's father-in-law, and Kardar. Saeed was Kardar's predecessor as Pakistan captain in their unofficial Tests before they got status; before the tour Saeed had been in the running to return as captain with the support of many players, but eventually lost out after political intervention, possibly prompted by Kardar. On tour, Kardar was constantly wary of Saeed's supporters undermining him - not just the players, even the manager.
Kardar spent much of the night wondering whether to open with spin to support Fazal the next morning or opt for a seam bowler. Wardle was left-handed so Kardar felt Zulfiqar's off-breaks were an option. But he remembered too that Wardle was a capable batsman and had biffed Pakistan around in an entertaining 72 in their game against Yorkshire at the end of June. The team arrived at the Oval for the last morning in a quiet mood, reflecting their captain's pensiveness. Zulfiqar, as he often did, lightened the mood by producing a morning headline pleading with Wardle: 'Oh Johnny can you stop Pakistan?'
|Fazal leapt for joy looking around for someone to hug. Some of the others ran towards Hanif. Some clapped politely as one might after a boring speech. Imtiaz, gloved hands behind his back, looked sheepish as if he might have broken something and was subsequently trying to avoid suspicion|
Fifteen minutes before the start of play and Kardar still wasn't sure of his opening ploy. A senior Pakistani government official arrived in the dressing room, a needless distraction. Only when he left five minutes before play began did Kardar finally decide to back his own instinct for pace and open with Hussain and Fazal. It almost paid off immediately, but Alimuddin dropped Wardle at second slip on 129 - off Hussain - and it seemed the slip might prove costly for Pakistan.
But Kardar's gut wasn't wrong. Tyson fell after a tortuous half hour having added only six to England's overnight total, caught by Imtiaz off Fazal. Wardle now saw the need to farm the strike and bat at both ends. Loader came in and drove Fazal past mid-on for an all-run four. Next ball he drove to cover and stole a single, bringing Wardle back on strike. Captain and bowler had a discussion. Deep midwicket was brought in to a short square leg; Wardle wasn't going to chance slogs right now. Fazal instructed Shujauddin: 'You put your right foot here, left foot there, unfold your hands and stand ready for a catch. The ball will come right into your hands and you just grab it.'
He bowled the leg-cutter - coming into the left-hander - and Wardle duly prodded it straight to Shujauddin who didn't need to move. The game was nearly up now. Loader soon skied the deserving Hussain to cover without addition to the total. McConnon and Statham were the final pair with 30 still to get, the former attempting to keep most of the strike. For nearly 15 minutes they stayed alive. But just before half past noon, not even an hour into the day and having played out five balls of Fazal's 30th over, McConnon bunted the last ball out towards extra cover.
The path the ball followed was perfect for Hanif, running in towards it from conventional cover and towards the stumps. Without stutter he picked up the ball one-handed and in his stride threw at the stump-and-a-half he could see. The ball struck and McConnon was short, adding to the misery by clumsily falling over as he ran on and slid. Umpire Frank Chester, standing behind the stumps rather than to the side to assess line calls, raised his left hand instantly, before McConnon had completed his fall. It was a slick piece of fielding not just for the side but for the time as well. It was over; Pakistan had won by 24 runs, exactly what their last wicket in the second innings had put on.
Fazal leapt for joy looking around for someone to hug. Some of the others ran towards Hanif. Some clapped politely as one might after a boring speech. Imtiaz, gloved hands behind his back, looked sheepish as if he might have broken something and was subsequently trying to avoid suspicion. Others loitered around him not sure what to do. Kardar looked relieved, leading the side off with a beaming Fazal alongside him.
Back home in Pakistan, the result reverberated instantly, for thousands upon thousands had been tuning into Radio Pakistan's daily relay of BBC commentary. Coverage of each day of the Tests would start after lunch in the UK, after 6 p.m. Pakistan time. Either way this last day wasn't going to last beyond lunch. Niaz Ahmed, president of the Sind Cricket Association twigged that the Test would be over before Pakistan got to hear about it, so he got on the phone to Iskander Mirza, then steadily working his way up the pecking order of power in Pakistan as defence secretary (he would soon become Pakistan's last governal-general and first President).
'My father rang up Mirza and told him about the commentary,' says Jaweed Niaz. 'He spoke to Radio Pakistan, who got in touch with BBC and they said they can't do it. Mirza said "What nonsense, who is this BBC?" He then rang up the Duke of Edinburgh directly and complained. The Duke said of course they would do it. And they did, so that on the fifth day commentary started when play began.'
From any angle it was an incredible outcome. Pakistan had become the first - and till now, the only - team to win a Test on their first tour to England and to not lose the Test series. The country had only organized its first first-class tournament the November before, which saw the birth of the Quaid-e-Azam trophy. They'd played their first official Test less than two years ago. In terms of first-class experience, the players were rabbits; only six of the entire 18-member squad had played more than forty first-class games by the time the Oval Test began.
Most of their experience had been built in a competitive club cricket structure in Lahore and Karachi and an even more intense college rivalry between the two great educational institutions of Lahore, Islamia and Government colleges. Ten of the eighteen players, in fact, were products of the two colleges and their games. And it was a young squad, with an average age of 24, with only two players over 30. But only Kardar had played more than 10 Tests and the Oval was only his 12th.
On the other hand, England were a strong side, arguably the best in the world. In the decade between 1951 and 1961, they won 14 of 20 Test series, winning 42 out of 89 Tests. At home they were almost unbeatable, winning 9 out of 11 home series and losing only seven Tests. They'd beaten India 3-0 at home in 1952, Australia 1-0 in 1953 to regain the Ashes after 19 years and they went on to beat Australia 3-1 in Australia after playing Pakistan.
They had Hutton, already a bone fide great; Compton who was among the finest; May who would establish himself as a post-war legend over the decade; Evans who was unparalleled at the time as a pure wicketkeeper; Tyson who was just beginning a brief, but fiery career as a very quick and very smart fast bowler; and Statham, who was well on the way to becoming one of the finest English fast bowlers ever.
They all came from the finest domestic system in the game. They owned the game and were its modern creators. They had ruled over much of the planet, including the territory that was now Pakistan, until very recently. And now Pakistan somehow had beaten them in battle and shared the spoils of war. It was unthinkable. The players celebrated late into the night and early into the morning at a function organized by the High Commissioner Ispahani. Messages of congratulations poured in from all over the world.
Kardar, who had fought tigerishly for Test status and from whom the tour had required so much, was most relieved. 'With this victory, we had confirmed our status as a Test playing nation,' he wrote. The next day, nine members of the team that played at The Oval turned up at Lord's to play Canada. It was another wet, drizzly day though not as miserable anymore.
This is an extract from Osman Samiuddin's book on Pakistan cricket, due to be published by HarperCollins India in November 2014
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