With one exception nothing went right with England's 1968-69 touring plans. Cricket was unhappily caught between two bigoted groups exploiting an opportunity to further their political aims, and the proposed tour of South Africa had to be abandoned. It was then planned to visit India and Pakistan, but finance caused the Indian half to be abandoned, and the Pakistan tour was a fiasco. The one exception was a twelve-day visit to Ceylon, which opened up new prospects for touring there.
Previously, M.C.C. teams on the way to Australia were accustomed to play whistle-stop games in Colombo, which were satisfactory to neither side. There are not enough cricketing centres in the island to justify a full stage tour. Yet their playing standard and organisation are such that they qualify on all counts for short tours. One of the touring problems in the age of jet air travel is acclimatisation for players switched, almost overnight, thousands of miles from winter chill to summer heat. M.C.C. could with advantage stay ten days to play three games in Ceylon and Kandy on the way to Australia. They would then not need such a long period for practice and acclimatisation on arrival in Perth. They could, too, start the Test series earlier in Australia after having had match practice in comparable conditions before arriving there. Ceylon now have the players to make such practice profitable, considerable batting strength and an attack containing, in Sahabandu, a slow-medium left-arm bowler worthy of comparison with Underwood.
From excellent organisation by considerate Ceylonese officials M.C.C. moved to the chaos of Pakistan. The country was in political upheaval, students and others rioting, law and order breaking down, bloodshed and destruction. Again cricket became a pawn in an unsavoury political game. When trouble erupted throughout the country before M.C.C. arrived in Karachi, the tour should have been called off. That it was kept going from crisis to crisis was due to the ruling politicians of Pakistan and the diplomats of Britain. They seemed anxious for the cricket to be played regardless of the safety of the players. If they hoped the games would exert a calming influence, their calculations were sadly awry. The Test matches rather served as rallying points for the agitators. The tour programme was changed when M.C.C. arrived. It was further changed to restore Dacca to the fixture list after days of political manoeuvring.
Rioting broke out on the first day of the Test in Lahore, and the match was never free from disorder. In Dacca, law and order had broken down completely. The police and military had been withdrawn, and left wing students claimed to be in control. The Second Test was understandably disturbed by rowdiness. Finally the trouble reached breaking point, even for the politicians and diplomats who were so long-suffering at the expense of others, during the Karachi Test. The match was abandoned before the first innings had been completed and the tour abruptly ended, an outcome which had long appeared inevitable.
From the turmoil one man emerged with much honour. Leslie Ames, the M.C.C. manager, carried the burden of this unpleasant experience. He remained calm throughout. He received worthless assurances from Pakistan officials and misleading advice and information from British sources. He had to deal with a Pakistan Board of Control disorganised by internal quarrels and dissension between East and West Pakistan, a body thus incompetent to manage its own affairs. Somehow, Ames steered the team through the chaotic difficulties of this ill-starred venture. The responsibility fell increasingly on him, for Cowdrey, the captain, found the making of decisions more and more difficult in the bewildering circumstances, and Graveney was a sad disappointment as vice-captain. English cricket owes much to Ames for the dignified and sensible part he played amid so much incompetence, and worse.
Politics meant more than cricket during the six weeks spent in Pakistan. The members of the team needed to be diplomats rather than cricketers, aware that they had to play up to a rabble of spectators to avoid greater excesses. Inevitably crowds were much smaller than would have been the case in normal times. The respectable, peaceful cricket followers kept away from grounds liable to become scenes of disorder. Young agitators accounted for the majority of the spectators.
The less experienced tourists in the M.C.C. team came through the ordeal with credit. Two who were new to touring with a Test team, Cottam and Prideaux, were particularly keen and loyal throughout. They and some of the other young players found their own opportunities for practising, when the most experienced tourists were finding excuses to avoid doing so. Inevitably Knott and Pocock were, as in the West Indies a year earlier, as eager to play and practise as Cottam and Prideaux. Despite his keenness, and despite having prepared and trained hard throughout the winter for the venture, Prideaux unfortunately had a lean cricketing tour. He was batting well in the early stages, but he was the victim of particularly good deliveries, and was once run out when seemingly set. His confidence waned, he became tense at the wicket and got into one of those bad runs which only time cures. On such a short tour the necessary time was not available.
Cottam, however, was a decided success. He is a thoughtful bowler who worked out the recipe for success on the slow paced Pakistan wickets. He took more wickets than any other bowler in the first two Tests and did not deserve to be discouraged by being dropped for the third. Fletcher also did splendidly, batting consistently and raising the fielding standard considerably. At Lahore, where he was playing only his second Test, Fletcher had the task of saving England when the first five wickets had tumbled miserably for 58. He did so superbly with an innings of 83 in the company of Knott, whose Test average for his first two tours was 82.
Cowdrey's finest hours came in the early stages of the First Test. Despite all the worrying distractions from the crowd, Cowdrey scored 100 and set his players an example of how to concentrate in such circumstances. d'Oliveira followed with a match-saving century in Dacca, where the mud surface of the pitch broke up even before the end of the first Pakistan innings. It was at its worst on the second day, when d'Oliveira stood firm while English wickets fell fast. Subsequently, the pitch was so slow that bowlers could not enjoy their anticipated feast. Snow, Underwood and Cottam gave d'Oliveira such help that the last three wickets added 144. These two matches had been reduced to four days each, when the programme was changed. The Third Test lasted less than three days before the final riot of the series cut short the proceedings. Graveney, who otherwise did little in Pakistan, followed a sparkling century by Milburn with one of his own, and Knott was four short of his first Test hundred when the trouble occurred. Milburn, a surprise omission from the original team, was flown from Western Australia by a roundabout route to Dacca, when Cowdrey's fitness was in doubt.
The other main batsman, Edrich, was not so well in tune with touring cricket as in the West Indies, and after playing a massive innings in Ceylon he had, for him, a modest tour. Knott enhanced his growing reputation both as stumper and batsman. While he remained fit the reserve wicket-keeper could act only as ballast. That was Murray's role. In the attack Brown and Snow did all that could be expected of them, and Underwood further developed his craft on true batsmen's pitches. Hobbs played little, and Pocock was rather disappointing. He has all the necessary ability but is proving slow to learn how to apply it intelligently.
Teams touring Pakistan are now well-housed in the big cities. Up-country the conditions are sometimes far from acceptable. M.C.C. should be more particular when agreeing to tour programmes. The Pakistan Board puts out matches involving a touring team to tender. The local Association making the highest guarantee gets the game, irrespective of playing and living conditions. Thus M.C.C. were condemned to play at Sahiwal, where the facilities were grossly inadequate. Two years earlier the England Under-25 side played at Sahiwal. Ames was the manager then also, and his report to M.C.C. condemned Sahiwal as unsuitable for future fixtures. Yet, here it was in the programme again. Players are often spoon-fed today. By contrast they are sometimes condemned to suffer living conditions not conducive to the playing of good cricket. That happened more than once during this tour. This is a matter which M.C.C. should not overlook in the future.
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