1971, the flavours changed

imageThis was the year when I stopped hunting for jungle jalaybees. When the large garden we played in became too small, as the ball reached the window panes. When I gave away my Biggles books. This was the year when the magical taste of life changed into the spicy, reality taste, which exhilarates and then in a flash can burn also.

Somewhere in this life, early or late most of us come to some sort of awakening. It can be one large moment or a series of smaller awakenings leading to a flash of the light bulb moment.

I had spent a childhood thinking in terms of hours and days. Life was a series of random events revolving around myself and those immediately around me. In this serene environment, 1971 came as a crescendo. A series of small seminal events taught me that life is real, has a larger context and it is not just designed to fulfil my story.

1971 was the year when Pakistan cricket almost touched gold and then lost its grasp on it. This was in the month of July; at Leeds we lost. For a young sports fanatic kid, it was open and shut that we would get 231 in the fourth innings against England. I now cry for the confidence of a boy, who did not know better. That we ended up losing 6 wickets in quick order and missing the target marginally, was cataclysmic. It was the second sledge hammer blow in a couple of months. Earlier a young Liverpool team lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup final, when leading in extra time. It all hurt that the world did not follow in natural order, my desires and perceptions.

February of 1971 saw a major worldwide hit song by George Harrison “My Sweet Lord”. GH was singing solo; it dawned on me that the Beatles had disappeared and something permanent had gone from life. It brought a reality to the fore. Nothing is forever, no matter how good, and the transient nature of this life was grounded in my mind.

1971 was also the year when I figured out that school and freedom will not last forever. Life had existed on a daily basis and the maximum length of plans were while wondering how not to get bored in the summer holidays – there were very few international or local vacations in those days. So as I saw the previous years prefects and seniors disappear out of school, it finally drove home how things are supposed to be.

That summer saw the Summer of 42 being a big world wide hit and I could relate to teenage Hermie. A picture of love and tragedy formed and filters created in one evening in the Palace cinema, have formed an idyllic image of life’s tragic romance.

In October, I also realised that in this Allah’s world, optimism and hope are the final barrier to despondency and defeat. An ageing and bedraggled Pakistan hockey team, somehow miraculously struggled past India to win the inaugural Hockey World Cup. It created some fervour at a very crucial moment in our history, as you shall see next.

Simmering in the background since March was a political crisis, which vaguely created uneasiness in many of us. Stories coming out of the Eastern half of the country were not good and it seemed blood had flowed. Those were the days of no internet and a tight media code. So basically all accounts were anecdotal. As the year subsided, it was clear we were going to war with India. Only we did not know when. For a kid, it was very black and white. We were right and we will win the war. There was no second argument here.

My personal descent into adulthood started on Dec 11th, eight days into the war. Dennis Lillee produced a crazy spell for Australia at Perth of 8 for 29. The local papers celebrated that on the back page. I was enthused and pointed out the performance to my father. Only his reaction was very unusual. Teary eyed, his sharp reply was “Stop! Where are you? This country is being destroyed and you are talking of cricket”. In that moment, that whole year of self realisation fell into place. I withdrew into my corner and went into a deep dive within. The next ten days, I can tell you were the worse days of my life. Tears, prayers, self-reproach were the order of the day. It was not very different for many in this country, who in those few days came out of a stupor which had lasted a long time. I too came into my own. My personal graduation into adulthood, had commenced. I had been lucky till then, but my magic kingdom had disappeared in a flash. Life was never the same again. All the flavours had changed.

*picture is from dreamstime.com

The 99s in Karachi

imageThe 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!

THE NAQSH OF AN AFTERNOON IN EDGBASTON

imagePakistan arrived in Birmingham in 1982, a rag tag bunch and inexperienced Imran in lead. I had been away from Pakistan for some years and recently only seen Pakistani players in the county games. To watch Imran make England hop, skip and jump made one salivate at the mouth. But, 32 years later, the memories of Edgbaston, revolve around the image of that Saturday afternoon, when a miracle transpired. But, more on this story later.

A new captain after a rebellion against the previous one (Miandad), made us apprehensive. Not much has changed in Pakistan cricket in the ensuing 32 years. At the time our worry was whether the team will knit. A vague recall of the first day is of Tavare and Gower pulling England out of a hole. By the time I found a TV to watch, the match hung in balance with England at 250/6. I should have sat down earlier, as Imran coming back for a spell demolished England at 272. The jubilation was slightly tempered, as Mudassir was given LBW for 0 – a rather questionable decision in pre DRS days.

Next day Pakistan threatened, but never got away. Mansoor Akhtar with a fifty, Zaheer forty and Miandad thirty, eventually brought the score within reach at 251. But our bowling was strangely innocuous late in the day and England passed 50 without loss.

That Friday evening, we collected together for the next day- Saturday being crucial. We were all rather apprehensive and on edge. You have to be a Pakistani, living in England, to realise the pain and loss of face in a defeat.

Saturday dawned! Little did we know that the image of July 31st 1982 will be permanently etched on our minds. The match meandered along. Strangely, England were reticent to press their advantage. But, Randall was resolute at one end. That chord of tension, with two Goliaths facing a fight to death, was in the air and in the stands. England was close to reaching 100, Imran and Sikander Bakht had been resisted. Then the ball was tossed to little known Tahir Naqqash. Slim, tallish, a mop of hair and a nice run up, that is what I remember. He did the trick and Lambs resistance was ended. England passed 100 with 3 down. We were left biting our nails. Will we restrict England below 250?

Our miracle hour finally arrived after lunch. In the most exhilarating and, definitely, surprising post Lunch session I can remember, unknown Tahir Naqqash went down in our memory forever. The same run-up and bowling, by magic, became a couple of yards faster and his in-swing (probably reverse, though we did not know it at the time) just rolled over England. Gower, Gatting, Miller and especially Bothee (aka Botham) were disposed off in an incredible hour – 5 for 40 to TN.

The Pakistani crowd section had gone berserk and cries of Allah-u-Akbar were ripping across the field with flags waving. You had to be with us to realise what had happened. For the first time in 28 years, Pakistan had stood, looked England in the eye and driven them back. It had taken a slip of a young man to do a David.

Later events were a bit of a downer. Having got them against the wall at +200/9, we let it slip. Imran, Tahir, Qadir tired, Sikander off length, Wasim Raja might have been an answer. Only Imran error prone and inexperienced realised it too late. Raja finally got the last wicket at 291. I think it was a record stand between Taylor/Willis for England v Pakistan. We knew the match was lost.

Next day, the pressure told and we were 77/6 before Imran and Tahir carried us to 199. We lost by 113. A match much closer than the end result and a harbinger of a great series ahead. And it was a great series! On the final day of the series at Headingly Leeds, late in August, England sneaked across by a couple of wickets in the last test match. We might have lost 2-1, but the Englishmen acknowledged they were lucky to win.

This series under Imran, commenced a 10 year period of dominating cricket, culminating in the World Cup 92. Imran was destined never again to lose another test to England. The next English test victory was at Leeds, against Miandad’s Pakistan in 1992.

What of our hero of the Saturday in July 82? Alas, whatever magic woven into him on that day, never returned and his day was done. His career ended in 1985 and he never made future headlines or achieved a 5 wicket haul again. A sad end to a great afternoons work.

Nevertheless, some of us will remember Tahir and the naqsh of that warm July afternoon 32 years ago will always belong to him.

Tahir Naqqash wherever you are, salaam to a former hero of Pakistan.

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