At one point, Sarfraz Nawaz took 5 for 0 runs from 13 balls and 7 for 1 before finishing with 9 for 86 © Getty Images
At one point, Sarfraz Nawaz took 5 for 0 runs from 13 balls and 7 for 1 before finishing with 9 for 86 © Getty Images

On March 15, 1979 Sarfraz Nawaz ran through a totally perplexed Australian batting line-up to snatch an incredible victory from the jaws of defeat. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a path-breaking bowling spell that not only won a Test for Pakistan, but has gone down as one of the most spectacular of bowling spells in history.

There are spells that win matches. There are spells that win series. There are spells that define careers. And then, there are spells that change the course of history, revolutionising an art, etching its mark in the annals forever. Sarfraz Nawaz’s 9 for 86 at Melbourne in the 1978-79 series was one such spell.

It was this spell that made the world realise that the ball could be made use of even when it was old. This changed the concept of pace bowling drastically, and had gone on to shape the 1980s (to some extent), the 1990s (to a greater extent), and the 2000s (where seamers are as effective with the old ball as with the new).

But, interestingly, there was not much reverse-swing involved.

So, what really happened?

The first four days

Graham Yallop had won the toss and decided to put Pakistan in to make use of the early moisture. In the absence of the usual giants, Rodney Hogg and Alan Hurst (Hogg had picked up 3 for 9 in his first 6 overs) moved the ball around to a great extent to reduce Pakistan to 40 for 4. They made an attempt towards recovery, but were eventually dismissed for 196. Not a single batsman crossed 40, while Hogg took 4 wickets and Hurst 3.

The Pakistanis fought back hard; Imran Khan bowled beautifully with the new ball, picking up three early wickets. Australia recovered to 140 for 5 thanks to the debutant Dav Whatmore’s well-grafted 43, but Mushtaq Mohammad brought on Wasim Raja at this juncture. This triggered a collapse, and Australia were bowled out for 168, 28 runs in arrears. Imran finished with 4 for 26.

Pakistan started well on the third day, with Majid Khan and Zaheer Abbas put up 135 for the third wicket. At 204 for 2 it seemed that Majid and Javed Miandad would help Pakistan amass a big score, but Yallop brought on Allan Border, who removed both batsmen in quick succession. Majid had scored a swashbuckling 108 with 16 fours.

Some stubborn display by the lower middle-order, led by Asif Iqbal, helped Pakistan reach 353, leaving Australia with a target of 382: Hogg and Hurst were the spearheads yet again, taking three wickets apiece.

Whatmore opened the second innings with Andrew Hilditch in place of the injured Graeme Wood, who had collided with Hilditch during a mid-pitch collision while attempting a single. Sarfraz bounced to Whatmore, and the ball took the glove and hit the stumps.

And then, after Hilditch and Border had put up 60 for the second wicket, Sarfraz took his second wicket, bowling Hilditch round his legs (as the batsman had kept his leg-stump exposed) for 62. Australia were 117 for 2 at stumps, with the game poised well for the final day.

The fateful final day

Early on the final day, Yallop hit one to point; Border called for a single, but Yallop was late to respond: Asif picked up the ball in a flash, and threw it straight to Imran at the bowler’s end. Yallop began late, and was out by a mile. Australia were 128 for 3, and in trouble of sorts.

That was Pakistan’s last hurrah for some time, though: Border and Kim Hughes seemed inseparable. They batted past lunch, and saw off till tea. They even saw off the second new ball. Border went past his hundred, and Hughes was approaching another — when Sarfraz took over the mantle with the score on 305 for 3. At this stage Australia needed only 77, and it was only half an hour past tea. The partnership had already added 177 — going past the 175 added by Ian Chappell and Ross Edwards to register the highest fourth-wicket partnership in Australia-Pakistan Tests.

Earlier, Sarfraz found he could swing the old ball just as well as he could the new one. He bowled off a short run-up now, and bowled slower than usual. But reverse-swing (the term was yet to be invented) was not required. As he has maintained, he bowled straight, and got normal movement. He bowled one to Border that cut back sharply, took the edge, clipped his pad, and rattled the stumps. Border had scored 105.

The injured Graeme Wood walked out to join Hughes. The first ball moved in awkwardly, and Wood could only edge it. Wasim Bari completed the formalities behind the stumps. Australia were 305 for 5 with Sarfraz on a hat-trick — and suddenly Pakistan smelled victory.

Peter Sleep walked out now. He somehow managed to survive the hat-trick. He hung around, for a few uncomfortable moments, and then Sarfraz cleaned him up for a duck as the unplayable yorker hit the stumps. Ken Wright hung around, though, while Hughes tried to find some runs.

He could not, though. Sarfraz was virtually unplayable with his late swing with the old ball, while Imran bowled with a relentless accuracy at the other end, giving nothing away and not allowing Hughes to play any kind of expansive stroke. Frustrated, Hughes tried to hit Sarfraz out of the attack, and ended up holing out to Mohsin Khan at mid-off. Hughes had scored 84, and the scoreboard read 308 for 7.

The rest followed in a blur. Wayne Clark misjudged the length and played on the back-foot, and was clean bowled to Sarfraz’s late in-swing first ball, allowing the bowler to have another go at a hat-trick. This was also the first time Sarfraz had taken seven wickets in a Test innings, going past his previous best of 6 for 89. At this stage Sarfraz’s spell figures read 5 for 0 from 13 balls.

Once again the hat-trick turned out to be elusive as Hogg managed to survive a huge leg-before appeal. Wright and Hogg hung around for a few overs before Sarfraz brought one in to trap Hogg leg-before with 12 overs still to go. Two balls later, Hurst edged one to Bari off Sarfraz, and Australia folded for 310.

The crowd sat dumbfounded. Sarfraz finished with 9 for 86 (Yallop was run out), and his spell on the fourth afternoon read 7 for 1 from 33 balls. His match figures read 11 for 125, and he was the obvious choice for the Man of the Match award.

Never had the Melbourne crowd witnessed swing bowling of such finesse — that too with the old ball. Five of the nine wickets were bowled, two caught behind, and one leg-before — and only one was caught in the field. Australia had lost the last 7 wickets for 5 runs. Wright, unbeaten on 1, was the only batsman from the bottom six to get off the mark.

It was a spell for the gods — something that has been matched by few in the history of the sport.

Brief scores:

Pakistan 196 (Rodney Hogg 4 for 49) and 353 for 9 declared (Majid Khan 108, Zaheer Abbas 59, Asif Iqbal 44) beat Australia 168 (Dav Whatmore 43; Imran Khan 4 for 26) and 310 (Allan Border 105, Kim Hughes 84, Andrew Hilditch 62; Sarfraz Nawaz 9 for 86) by 71 runs.

Man of the Match: Sarfraz Nawaz.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)