May 1987

Pakistani plunder

John Arlott
John Arlott recalls the surprise maiden victory in 1954, when the team led by Abdul Hafeez Kardar and inspired by Fazal Mahmood humbled England at The Oval


John Arlott recalls the surprise maiden victory in 1954, when the team led by Abdul Hafeez Kardar and inspired by Fazal Mahmood humbled England at The Oval



Fazal Mahmood: 12 for 99 in a match-winning performance at The Oval © Getty Images

Every club cricketer regularly perceives that cricket is an uncertain game: from time to time, too, that truth is demonstrated at the most exalted - Test - level. That was the case when Pakistan beat England in the Oval Test of 1954, the fourth and last of that year's series. Neither was it merely a nine days' wonder; no country had ever before won a Test in their first rubber in England and, in fact, they drew the series. Above all, it was historic in reinforcing national pride in the young country - created by Partition only in 1947 - and it confirmed the previously rather uncommitted public following the cricket there. It also established in confidence some perviously tentative young or inexperienced players.

England had won the Second Test at Trent Bridge by a margin as great as an innings and 129, while the other two were rain-ruined and drawn, with England building a great advantage in the third. In view of the imminent tour of Australia, England brought in two fresh pace bowlers in Frank Tyson and Peter Loader and, to accommodate them, left out two `regulars' in Alec Bedser and Trevor Bailey. In the event, that probably disturbed the balance of the side sufficiently to account for the eventual defeat by 24 runs. The two newcomers could not be blamed for the outcome; between them they took eight wickets for 118 runs; but they were both specialist bowlers and their presence made the England tail uncomfortably long. Bailey's batting was sorely missed at the crucial stage; in fact, he bowled little in that series, only 12 overs in his three Tests: he might have rescued the second English innings; but let us not detract from a boldly-won triumph.

Defeat can hardly have been in English minds when, after rain delayed the start until 2.30, Kardar gave Pakistan first innings; and they lost seven wickets for 51. Statham and Loader, with two wickets each, and Tyson, who bowled quite fast when he settled down, with three, were responsible. Of those 51 runs, Imtiaz Ahmed (23) and Abdul Hafeez Kardar (eventually 36) were largely responsible: of the other batsmen in the first eight, only Alimuddin (10) scored double figures, and there were four noughts. In catching Kardar off Statham, Godfrey Evans passed Bert Oldfield's Test wicketkeeping record of 130 dismissals.

After tea, though, the tail gave gallant trouble. Shuja-ud-Din hung on for nearly two hours for his 16 not out, while the other spinner, Zulfiqar Ahmed (16), and the fast bowler Mahmood Hussain (23) batted well above their station. So, given a good example by Kardar, the last three wickets put on 82 runs that were to prove crucial.

This was to be Fazal Mahmood's match. His action was not prepossessing; but he was strong, immensely fit, built like the policeman he was and, in many ways, was the ideal fast-medium bowler. His length was consistently accurate, he took punishment well, his stamina and determination were such that he never flagged and, given the opportunity of a breakthrough, he would persist untiringly. His stock in trade, like his pace, was similar to that of Alec Bedser; although originally a wrist-spinner, he developed sharp swing; but probably his keenest weapons were his cutters, which, particularly from leg, he bowled outstandingly and, in helpful circumstances, with deadly effect.

He comes from Lahore and had played effectively for Northern India. He was as immensely successful a bowler on matting as he later was on turf; and was unlucky not to tour England with Pataudi's side in 1946. He was, in fact, chosen to go with the 1947-48 Indian team to Australia, but Partition prevented him from making the tour. So he became one of the first few major `pure' Pakistani Test cricketers and, although he did not play his First Test until 1952 (against India), when he was 25, he went on to appear 34 times for his country and to take an impressive 139 wickets (an average of over four a match) at 24.70. He often hit hard and usefully in the lower part of the batting order and had a safe pair of hands: a cheerful, good-hearted cricketer.

There was, though, only time for him to bowl a single over before the close on that first evening; and a short but violent cloudburst in the morning washed away any possibility of play on Friday. When play was possible on Saturday - before the second-largest post-war crowd at The Oval - Fazal Mahmood and Mahmood Hussain could barely believe their luck; unused to such conditions in their own country, they had only to bowl a length and the pitch did the rest; one or two balls an over rose disturbingly; the batsman's skill often lay in leaving rather than in playing.

Very early, Mahmood Hussain found the edge of Reg Simpson's bat, for a catch to slip; meanwhile Fazal drove into his long stint; he bowled throughout the innings - 30 overs. Mahmood Hussain got through 21; he was twice briefly spelled by Zulfiqar and Shuja; but the pitch was not yet ready for spin. At 26 Hutton was taken at the wicket ( Imtiaz) off Fazal, who then addressed himself to what promised to be - and proved - England's main resistance; the partnership between Denis Compton and Peter May.

Fazal had poor luck; at least three close catches went down; but, typically, he showed neither irritation nor disappointment, but simply seemed eager to bowl the next ball. The pair put on 30 before he had May caught at slip, Tom Graveney went almost as soon as he came; so did Evans; and Pakistan went through to the tail at one end. At the other Compton, in one of his bravest Test innings, often by ingenious improvisation, contrived 53 out of England's eventual 130. Otherwise, Jim McConnon (11) was only the fourth England batsman to reach double figures.



Fazal Mahmood at The Oval © Oxford University Press

Fazal's 6 for 53 was magnificent; but the figures might have been even better if the catching had been sharper; Mahmood Hussain bore him good company with 4 for 58; and jubilantly Pakistan marked their seventh Independence Day by taking a lead of three on the first innings. There were, too, many and vocal Pakistanis present in a rare but happily bi-partisan crowd for The Oval to hail the achievement.

As the pitch continued to dry out, the ball began to turn, and Wardle used the conditions skilfully. This was the point when England could - probably should - have done enough to win. Jim McConnon, the offspinner, though, proved ineffective. This was no matter of lack of ability; from a good height, he could spin the ball hard and flight it most subtly; and his length and line were good. Certainly Wardle was the more experienced of the two; but from the time he came into the county game - late of 27 - in 1950, McConnon was clearly a talented cricketer. In only his second season he was fifth - effectively fourth - in the first-class averages with 126 wickets at 16.07. For this match he was again - to the surprise of some shrewd judges - preferred to Jim Laker. He lacked, though, not to his human discredit, the killer urge. Here he failed to destroy the Pakistan batting; and in addition dislocated a finger, and he never played for England again; he was taken on the following Australia tour - of 1954-55- but returned early after injury.

This was one of the few major Pakistani Tests of his time in which Hanif Mohammad - most deservingly dubbed. `The Little Master'- a national hero in his own country, did not play a major part. Recognising that, after rolling, this was going to become a turning pitch, he rattled away against the opening pace bolwers and made all the 19 runs scored for the first wicket before Wardle came on, and had him caught at slip. His opening partner, promoted after his success in the first innings, was Shuja-ud-Din; who again defended doggedly. There was another large crowd on Monday when Wardle, with the aid of a wicket apiece from Tyson and McConnon, and a run-out, brought them down to 82 for 8, a lead of only 85, and England seemed in a winning position. Once again, however, the Pakistan tail saved them; Hanif's eldest brother, Wazir (42 not out), batted with immense aplomb. The pitch had improved and, again, Zulfiqar (34) and Mahmood Hussain (6, but sharing a stand of 24) did more than could reasonably have been expected of them: improbably, but gamely, the last two wickets exactly doubled the score.

England needed 168 to win and, against these same bowlers, they had scored 558 for 6 at Trent Bridge and 359 for 8 at Old Trafford; their task seemed relatively simple. Two-and-a-half hours were left that day and, though Hutton nicked the pertinacious Fazal to the wicketkeeper, Simpson batted with his usual impression of ease, May with absolute confidence, and only Compton with any - intuitive? - suggestion of anxiety. May rolled out some regal strokes and, with Simpson, put on 51 at better than a run a minute; when he was out England needed only 59 to win with seven wickets left. At this point the game was running so well for England that Hutton sent in Evans, presumably in the hope of finishing the game that night. Evans, though, was fired out by Fazal; Graveney was beaten through the air by Shuja and, when Compton touched Fazal's legcutter to Imtiaz, just before the close, England were, suddenly, struggling. There was no Bailey to give the innings an anchor.

Next morning, with an unexpectedly large number of Pakistanis turning up for what could only be a short period of play, England, with four surviving wickets - including that of the injured McConnon- needed 43 to win; the game had somersaulted. Now Fazal seized the opportunity he had himself created by taking the wickets of Wardle and Tyson. McConnon was run out, Loader caught off Mahmood Hussian, and the junior Test-playing country had achieved the unexpected. Fazal this time had 6 for 46: in all, 12 for 99; but so many had contributed to their triumph that the euphoria was shared, not least by those supporters of the winning side who managed to turn up for the winning moment. It would have been a mean Englishman who did not grant Kardar's young men credit for creating their piece of cricket history.