Trailing 0-1 in a tough series against possibly the strongest contemporary Test side, Pakistan managed to pull it off, thanks to some quality hostile fast bowling from Imran Khan in a Test that ended on January 18, 1977. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a spell that marked the beginning of Pakistan’s ascent in the world of cricket.
Australia went into the final Test 1-0 up. They had defeated Pakistan by a whopping 348 runs in the previous Test, thrashing their fast bowlers all over the huge Melbourne Cricket Ground. True, Pakistan had a fast bowler called Imran Khan, but he was scarcely fast, and had taken only 25 wickets from nine Tests at 43.52 going into the final Test – that too over a span of six years. His partner, Sarfraz Nawaz, seemed slightly more dangerous, but the duo could be dealt with. It was the spin department, led by Iqbal Qasim, which was expected to be a factor.
As a result of all these speculations, Greg Chappell surprised Mushtaq Mohammad by electing to bat on a pitch full of cracks and patches. Sarfraz bowled the first over, and when it was Imran’s turn, the openers did not seem too bothered about the “medium-pacer”.
From the very beginning Imran bowled at express pace – several yards faster than what he usually bowled – which took the Australians by complete surprise. Not only was he fast and extracted an incredible bounce off the pitch, he was extremely accurate. His in-swinger – the weapon that would become his greatest asset in the coming years – proved to be lethal. He also found movement off the pitch, and together with Sarfraz, ripped the Australians apart.
Both fast bowlers bowled with extreme hostility – something Pakistan had failed to manage earlier in the series. They had snared two wickets each, and Australia were reeling at 38 for four. Both bowlers bowled brilliantly, but Imran was definitely the more lethal of the two. He and Sarfraz had conversations after almost every over, and Imran never seemed to tire. If anything, he kept on increasing his pace as the heat increased. One should remember that these matches involved eight-ball overs, which wore out bowlers faster. However, Imran was relentless.
Chappell and Gary Cosier tried to resurrect the innings, but Imran struck again. Chappell fell as he tried to fend one, and then Imran had Cosier nick one just after he had reached his fifty. Sarfraz also kept striking, but he was not as tireless as Imran. Mushtaq used Asif Iqbal to rest Sarfraz, but he could not get the ball off Imran.
Pakistan lost their ninth wicket for 159 when Dennis Lillee and Max Walker managed to get a partnership going that took the Australian innings into the second day. It took the leg-breaks of Javed Miandad to finally break the partnership. Imran had returned figures of 26-6-102-6 (out of an innings total of 64.2 overs), and Australia were bowled out for 211. The spinners Chappell had been circumspect of had bowled 7.2 overs between them.
All of a sudden Imran was metamorphosed into a serious factor to reckon with, and the Pakistan sensed that they had a realistic chance of squaring the series. The Australians struck back, Lillee and Walker removing the top four with only 111 on the board (Lillee also famously hit Majid Khan on his head to win a bet – and the hat – from Majid), and it required a special innings to bail them out. That innings came from Asif Iqbal.
Asif had earlier scored a match-saving unbeaten 152 of the highest quality at Adelaide. It was hardly believable that someone could have an encore of a performance that good in the series, but Asif did exactly that. He put on 94 with Haroon Rasheed and 115 with Miandad, and it was his 120 that helped Pakistan take a substantial lead of 149.
There was always a hope that the Australians would fight back. The conditions were smouldering and the run-up was rock-hard; it was not easy for any fast bowler. But Imran, once again assisted by Sarfraz, lifted his levels to beyond potential. He tore down the lush-green Sydney Cricket Ground, and with every falling wicket, added an extra yard or two to his pace.
Imran bowled unchanged on the third day; he sent down 19 consecutive eight-ball overs in four hours of extreme conditions at express pace. The balls thumped into Wasim Bari’s gloves with a thwack that was clearly audible from the stands. And he broke the backbone of the Australian batting order as they collapsed to 180 for nine at stumps, despite a 62-run ninth wicket partnership between Rod Marsh and Lillee.
His aggressive bowling charged up the entire Pakistan side. Sarfraz took three wickets, just as he had done in the first innings, Bari took four catches in addition to his three in the first innings, Wasim Raja, the substitute fielder, ran out Marsh, the top-scorer with a direct hit (though not before Marsh got involved in a verbal tussle with Imran and showed him his bat, Zaheer Abbas broke both his nose and spectacles while taking a spectacular catch to dismiss Gary Gilmour. Towards the end, Imran bowled with such venom that he had to be warned by umpire Tom Brooks for bowling an excessive number of bouncers. Lillee was warned earlier in the day for bouncing by Reg Ledwidge for the same reason.
Imran removed the last wicket next morning without much ado, and finished with 19.7-3-63-6, leaving Pakistan to score 32 for what would be their first Test victory on Australian soil. The spinners, once again, bowled only seven overs between them.
Lillee took two quick wickets, but a furious assault from Majid meant that things were wrapped up quickly, and Pakistan returned home with the series drawn. After a dip in the 1960s and an involvement with the board over payments, Pakistan had finally found their groove in world cricket with this victory.
The victory came as a landmark in both Imran’s career and Pakistan cricket. From a pedestrian medium-pacer, Imran never looked back, and went on to become one of the most feared fast bowlers and possibly a contender for the greatest cricketer of all time. And Pakistan had a steady ascent, from being an ordinary side to the only team that could challenge the mighty West Indies of the 1980s on a consistent basis, and rose to even greater heights in the 1990s.
It all began with that single Test – which should simply add to the numerous reasons Pakistan cricket should be thankful to the legend.
Brief Scores: Australia 211 (Gary Cosier 50; Imran Khan 6 for 102) and 180 (Rod Marsh 41, Imran Khan 6 for 63) lost to Pakistan 360 (Asif Iqbal 120, Javed Miandad 64, Haroon Rasheed 57, Majid Khan 48; Max Walker 4 for 112) and 32 for 2 by 8 wickets.