Stress Test

imageWhat is common between Karachi 1973, Edgbaston 1987, Karachi 2000 and Abu Dhabi 2015. Well if you want to have a real live stress test, with all its elements, you need to be alive and watching the events happen. I am one of those unfortunate few, who have actually lived and passed this stress test.

The commonalities are that its got to be a Pakistan versus England Test Match. The first innings of both teams have to be strong innings. It should be the fifth day of the match. Everyone considers the wicket is lifeless. All think it is a foregone conclusion, that the match is a draw. Pakistan is batting in its second innings (the third of the match, so England have still to play its second innings). Our batsmen and our dressing room is relaxed, maybe too relaxed. They think its a done deal.

Except that all hell is about to break lose. Pakistani batsmen will throw away their wickets, in a stupor of carelessness and apparent safety. Then pressure is going to be created and we will end up putting the game squarely in England’s hand and so will have to fight like mad to try and save it.

You really don’t believe this do you? But the truth is that this is exactly the way it turns out and we just don’t seem to learn from our history. So to recount.

Karachi 1973. With Majid as captain, this match is more famous for the three 99’s which were scored in the match. Majid, Mushtaq and Amiss (https://sarfarazar.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/the-99s-in-karachi/). Going into the fifth day with a 59 run lead and 105 for 2 before lunch, we looked safe. Then we collapsed to 129 for 8. A very brave partnership between Wasim Bari and Sarfaraz Nawaz rescued us and we were able to escape, what looked like certain defeat some hours earlier. The anger all of us felt was utterly useless and all one could do was watch and pray.

Edgbaston 1987. Imran as captain. We had just thrashed England at Headingly and for most of the match had looked good in this, which was the forth test of the series. Two big first innings and we were 79-1 at lunch on the 5th day. We seemed comfortable with Shoaib looking excellent. Post lunch we collapsed. Miandad, Malik et al. Imran dug in and resisted. We left England 124 to make in 18 overs. Simple in T20 days, but England with three run-outs squandered their chance and ended up 109 for seven. Phew! The close proximity to a mind blow out. I shall remember that late evening forever. I lost five years somewhere during it.

Karachi 2000. Moin Khan as captain. This was the Steve Bucknor match. The chase in the darkness of a Karachi evening. Again we looked okay. Match not in contention. Muhammad Yousuf and Saleem Elahi playing, 128/4. Then we collapsed to 158. Still the target looked unreachable at 176. But we reckoned without Steve Bucknor and his peevishness. He took exception to our slow over rates. So if you are angry, warn the captain. But no, he stretched the game to a time when no one could see the ball. Clearly a flagrant violation of the principle of bad light. England got to 176 in the darkness and Pakistan lost our 45 year old unbeaten record at the National Stadium. Most of our anger was directed at Bucknor. But this disguised the fact that we had lost a drawn match through our own carelessness.

Abu Dhabi 2015. Well you do not need details of yesterdays match. Suffice to say, that watching before lunch, I kept thinking of the three matches mentioned above. I promise you, that if I had Waqar’s number, I would have called him up to relate all the above to him. Might have stopped the sorry shots which emanated. Hafeez out to a needless runout. Younus and Misbah to awful heaves, which belie their experience and maturity. Asad Shafiq and Sarfaraz also not really thinking and adjusting for the changing situation. Awful. It was deja vu. A friend of mine shut his television as he could not take the stress.

Forty two years and they will not learn. I have come from school to retirement, a whole work-life. But, yet our people do not learn. In the future, I shall personally send this write-up to the Pakistan coach, before the next Pakistan versus England series. Please have a heart and think of us long time supporters.

*picture is from pictures.cricket.com.pk

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The moment is gone

imageIt was the 1996 World Cup Quarters at Bangalore and two older stalwarts of Pakistan, who singly and together had done it so many times, were fighting it out in the middle. They were trying to retrieve a lost game. They failed. As Javed Miandad walked off late in the innings, his very last departure from the international arena, a highly partisan Indian crowd, let him know that his moment was gone.

This happens so often. In my history of following sports and really even watching life, there comes a time when your moment is gone. It actually happens to all of us in life. Just that some recognise it and deal with it, while others fight on desperately, slowly losing this battle, till one day they depart with less than grace. Nevertheless, it is a riveting sight, sad, melancholy and yet, the spectators watching almost one and all are wishing for success to happen again. It would be a great human story. Alas it almost never happens.

The statement which typifies this journey was made about Rod Laver. Master and king of tennis, and dominant for a decade. At 37 in 1973, he was playing the Aussie Open, and the newspaper wrote, ‘Lavers mind was making appointments, which his body simply could not keep’. That is the spectacle. A former king, not recognising his ageing, his mind still forming the visionary pictures, yet his body gives out.

For me the greatest of these stories, was the one of Muhammad Ali. Boxer, brash, believing, crusader and darling of the world, other than the old conservative red necks. He was not simply a boxer, he was the icon of the 60s and 70s and people pinned hopes of revolutions on him. It was the most instantly recognisable face in the world. He did what few ever did. Reached a pinnacle, sacrificed it on a principle, took on the US government, won, came back from the wilderness, and reached the pinnacle again, not once but twice more. No wonder we thought he was invincible. Maybe he believed it also. But, in the background a wasting disease was already working. In the slow decline spread over years, Ali kept trying to climb the pinnacle once more. He got beaten and only then the body gave out enough for him never to return to the ring. It was a terrible spectacle, yet it was fascinating as a human story, played out in front of the worlds billions. Very few of those did not wish him one last success, but this never happened. What a man and what a tragic decline. What a human story.

There have been many others in our sports, in politics and even conquerors in history. Stanley Matthews played football till fifty, losing his magic in the end. Adlai Stevenson fought elections till no one would vote for him. Alexander went on conquering lands till his army gave out on the banks of the Beas. Napoleon fought till he was washed away by the hordes of his retreating army at Waterloo. None of these and others like them grasped that for reasons of age, or of changes in circumstances, or belief, their moment is gone. But, they add fascination, colour and history, in this life of ours and are part of the effect of the nature of life.

So to today. In the sporting world two such stories are being played out nowadays. Roger Federer, king and master of tennis for long, has been struggling for years for that one last big moment. Its has eluded him these many years and so many of us want him to have that. Only nature is matter of fact and has no sympathy or emotion about this. Similarly, in the world of golf, Tiger Woods, revolutionary golfer, has not won a major in seven years. He is desperate and works and enters all the four majors. Yet at almost forty, is his time past? So many want him to have one last big day, before he goes off in the sunset. One hopes that both the above do not descend to the level of ordinary mortals, as they have been kings in their domain for long. Such a sight is generally unbearable. One prays that they have their day in the sun and then fade away gracefully.

To all I would suggest there is a time and space for success and the limelight. Then the moment is gone.

*picture from countermail.com.au

The Anatomy of a hero – Wahab Riaz

imageNow that the World Cup is done and dusted, our team on the way back home, Misbah (sadly) and (hopefully) Shahid Khan Afridi duly retired, we can relax. Our interest is now peripheral and really involves the future of one or the other surviving teams. But, out of the tournament we have found a couple of heroes and the main man is Wahab Riaz.

First of all, I find a slight similarity of looks between him and our tennis player Aisam Qureshi. Must be a figment of my imagination. Maybe because both hail from Lahore. Anyway, here was a fast bowler who for almost seven years has been hovering at the edges. A few brilliant performances, including one in the English summer 2010, and one electric one in the previous World cup semis against India, have not facilitated his claim to a place in our hearts. Unfortunately, a donning of a con mans jacket in the English summer of 2010 and a rather strong belief that our Government manipulated us out of the 2011 World Cup semi-final, just sidelined those performances. So we the Pakistani cricket followers, ready to give our heart and faith, never have quite believed.

When WR woke up the day of the quarter finals, he must have looked at the World Cup and felt that he had done enough to leave the impression that Pakistan’s bowling carries our team. A bowling which fights as in old days and has enough quality to hold its own and represent the nation on a large stage. Remember this bowling was without Amir, Junaid, Ajmal, Irfan and Hafeez. That is a lot of firepower to have lost and yet maintain strength. What transpired on the stage during the day, further confirmed that belief, and as usually happens, a couple of dropped catches and a particularly pedestrian batting performance, put paid to it all.

On the day, the particular bowling performance now is being hailed as the stand out moment of the World Cup. In a tournament when the bat has dominated and 400 sixes have been hit, the bowlers have rarely got a look in. In that background, a 150 kilo plus performance, on a friendly Adelaide surface has caught the imagination of the world. The dismissal of Clarke shall remain a vivid memory, as it is really an Aussie fast bowlers method, rather than a Pakistani reverse swing dismissal. Brian Lara, Warne and many others have eulogised the bowling spell. Even Watson, the victim, has lauded it and talked about those moments. The fact that WR has been fined for his orchestration of his animosity, has somehow added further value to it.

We now apparently have a hero in the mould of many traditional Pakistani heroes. Imran, Miandad and Wasim come to mind immediately. Stand up characters, who love adversity, have the capability, and like all great sportsmen, rise to the occasion when it is required. These sort of stars up their game and have the will to impose themselves on their surroundings. This is the anatomy of our new hero – Wahab Riaz. May he encounter future success and hence bring plaudits to our country also.

*picture taken from zimbio.com

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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