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

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!

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