October 26, 2014 2 Comments
The Karachi test of 1973 arrived and could not have done so sooner. It was the first international match at the National Stadium in over 2 years. In the previous match of the series, at Niaz Stadium Hyderabad, Greig and Knott had batted almost two sessions to save England on the last day. We all had felt very frustrated to see England escape once more. To us luck was a rare commodity. We had been waiting for victory since Oval 1954. So anticipation was high for the 3rd test of the series.
The pitch, as is often the case in Karachi, was bare and dead. One looked at it and said runs. Majid (Captain) sent Pakistan in and Sadiq and Talat gave a good start. Later Majid and Sadiq (89), and then Majid and Mushtaq carried Pakistan to a good score. Those who have followed Majid’s career would know that at crucial stages in his career, his nervousness could be a challenge. Approaching his third century, there should have been no real worries. But clearly there were; nervousness against good line and length bowling, meant Majid went for 99 to Pocock. Innocuous and totally unnecessary! Nevertheless, it was to leave us with a strange record eventually.
Later Mushtaq kept piling up the runs and with Intikhab looking good at the other end, Pakistan approached two landmarks simultaneously – 400 team total and Mushtaq’s hundred. Now those who saw Mushtaq play, know he was totally unflappable and the best person around when things looked difficult. But then you reckoned without the Karachi crowd.
With the match meandering along and Pakistan looking quite safe on the second afternoon, the crowd decided that it needed to have some fun. Fun meant a lot of noise as the bowler came in to bowl to Mushtaq. Lewis (England Captain) played along with this, seeing an opportunity. So line and length bowling and single saving fields, meant Mushtaq was stuck on 99. Finally, Mushy sent the ball down to mid off and set off, carrying his ample bulk down the pitch in a hurry. In came the throw; off went the bail; a roar and the umpires finger went up simultaneously.
The figure of Mushtaq, clearly disgusted, walked back. The picture of Mushy head banging and champing his jaw is vivid in my mind. The crowd at first a bit taken aback was soon laughing and quite chuffed with itself. Surprisingly even Mushy was laughing as he entered the pavilion. Two 99s!
Pakistan declared at 445/6 and England’s reply was normal and without problems. However, as Dennis Amiss approached his hundred, a rather bored and slumbering crowd became more vocal. I guess many in the crowd were hoping to repeat their achievement. Amiss obliged, by being tentative in his 90s. Finally he stood on 99.
Majid also played along and brought Sarfaraz Nawaz up to forward short-leg. Amiss became even more nervous. You could tell, by the way he paced up and down between balls. Denness, the other batsman, went down and had a word with him. I think it only served to make him more nervous. Next ball an innocuous leg break from Intikhab, which normally could be played down the wicket, was patted into the hands of Sarfaraz. The whole world froze. Amiss, Sarfaraz, Intikhab and the crowd! Then Sarfaraz was leaping up and the umpire’s finger also went up. As Amiss walked back distraught and in shock, the crowd brought the house down. Three 99s!
A record; never been repeated. All the three cricketers probably talk about it till today. Years later when I met Majid, I asked him about several things, but never dared ask about his 99. He was also to be bowled around his leg after a beautiful 98, the next year at the Oval.
The match itself came to life briefly, around lunch on the last day. Pakistan 105/2, 160+ ahead, suddenly lost focus. In half an hour, post lunch, we collapsed to 129/8 and were looking down the barrel of defeat. Not so! Some beautiful batting by Wasim Bari and Sarfaraz took the score close to 200 and safety.
Rightly so, as the test match 40 years ago in Karachi was all about the three 99s, its significance should not be diluted by a result in the match. Forever, I shall picture three great batsmen walking back crestfallen, not knowing, that years later one of their major identities will be the three 99s.
Providence works in strange ways!