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After the 17-year-itch: The historic 1978 Indo-Pak cricket series

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NADEEM F. PARACHA

 Pakistan and India haven’t played a Test series for almost eight years now. As always, the reasons have been largely political.

Before the current stalemate, there was a 10-year-break (in the 1990s). When Pakistan toured India in 1999, the two cricket-crazy nations hadn’t met in a Test series since 1989.

However, the longest gap between a Test series involving these two countries lasted for almost 17 years!

There was no series between Pakistan and India from 1961 till 1978. Both the countries had played three 5-Test-rubbers from 1952 till 1961, but none for the next 17 years.

India was set to tour Pakistan sometime in the mid-1960s, but the 1965 War between the two South Asian countries scrapped any possibility of an immediate future series.

Such a possibility was further dampened when the two nations once again went to war in 1971.

In 1975, the cricket boards of the two countries began to discuss the revival of cricketing ties and it was tentatively decided that both the nations would prepare to organise a full Test series soon.

But, the Indian board did not fully commit itself, mainly due to the political turmoil that had engulfed India at the time. In 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed an emergency in the country.

Talks between the two boards picked up again in late 1976 and it was decided that the Indian cricket squad will be touring Pakistan in the near future because during the last series (17 years ago), it was the Pakistan team that had toured India.

However, the situation took another turn when political unrest now erupted in Pakistan.

Whereas some stability had returned to India when Indira lifted the emergency and held fresh elections (in which she was ousted), in July 1977 a military coup toppled the populist government of Z A. Bhutto in Pakistan.

Nevertheless, the new regime went ahead with the plan to host the Indian cricket squad.

In early 1978, the two boards finally penned down the dates during which the tour would take place: From September 27 till November 19 (1978).

The agreement was big news. And when the Indian squad arrived in Lahore, there were a number of foreign correspondents present at the Lahore airport, assigned to cover the series for various international newspapers.

Two of the five Pakistani WSC players Zaheer and Imran

Before the 1978 series, Pakistan and India had played each other in 15 Tests (all between 1952 and 1961). India had won two, Pakistan one, and the rest were all drawn.

The Indian squad was led by the classic slow left-arm leg spinner, BS Bedi. Bedi had been leading India since late 1975 and had in his squad a number of leading spinners: The unorthodox leg-break/googly man, BS Chandrasekhar; the highly experienced off-spinner, EAS Prasana; and another effective off-break bowler, S. Venkataraghavan.

These three (along with Bedi) had taken over 700 Test wickets between them and were considered to be the best spinners in the game at the time.

The Indian squad’s batting too was a strength, led by the plucky Sunil Gavaskar and his brother-in-law, GR Vishwanath. The Indians were thus depending squarely on their famous battery of spinners and on the squad’s long and dogged batting line-up.

The only apparent weakness in the team was its fast bowlers.

Madan Lal was experienced and K. Gharvri had been rapidly improving, but both were no more than medium-pacers whose job it was to wear out the new ball so the spinners could come into play.

However, in the squad was also one 19-year-old Kapil Dev. Quicker than Lal and Ghavri, he would, of course, go on to become a world-class seamer in the 1980s.

The Pakistan team on the other hand was in a quandary. This was the era when Australian media tycoon, Kerry Packer, had signed up a number of international players for an exclusive series of games (in Australia).

The international cricket body, the ICC, had refused to recognise the legitimacy of Packer’s ‘World Series Cricket’ (WSC), and had prompted the cricket boards to ban the players who had signed up to play in the WSC.

For example, Australia lost almost its entire squad, so much so that it had to recall the retired 40-something former batsman, Bobby Simpson, to lead a brand new squad for two series!

Gavaskar and Miandad Making up.

The then mighty West Indies too, lost a number of its leading players, and England banned five of its players (including former captain, Tony Grieg).

Five Pakistani players who had joined the WSC had also been banned. These included, Mushtaq Mohammad, Asif Iqbal, Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas and Imran Khan.

No New Zealand or Indian players were part of the WSC and Sri Lanka had yet to gain Test status. In the absence of the banned players, the Pakistan team had looked extremely weak.

Mushtaq, who was made captain in 1976, had successfully led the team in three series before he was banned in mid-1977.

Wicketkeeper Wasim Bari replaced him as skipper but struggled to draw a home series against England in late 1977. He then went on to badly lose against the same opponents in England (mid-1978).

Conscious of the fact that the Indian squad was just too strong for an under par Pakistan, the government gave the cricket board the green signal to allow the return of the banned players.

The outcasts were suddenly given a hero’s welcome.

Pakistan captain Fazal Mahmood third from left with Indian journalists and famous Indian film star Raj Kapoor (first from left) at a party during Pakistans 1961 tour of India

The reception that the Indian squad received on its arrival too was a hearty one.

Hundreds of Pakistani cricket fans turned up to greet the Indians and dozens followed the players all the way to their hotel.

Bedi and Pakistan skipper, Mushtaq, also appeared in a popular TV show,Studio 9. Both stole the show with their candid talk and wit.

After a few warm-up games in Karachi and Peshawar, the Indians arrived at Quetta’s Ayub Stadium to play the first of the three scheduled ODI matches. The small stadium was packed to capacity.

Scoring a little over four runs an over, the Indians notched up 170 in their allotted 40 overs. All-rounder M. Amarnath struck a fine 51.

Pakistan fumbled in chasing the modest total and fell short by just 4 runs to give India the match. Majid Khan top scored with 50.

The second ODI took place at Sialkot’s Jinnah Stadium. On a lively green-top track, Pakistani seamers, Sarfraz Nawaz, Salim Altaf, Sikandar Bakht and the promising Hassan Jamil, shot out the Indians for just 79.

Bedi

Bowling all-rounder, Hassan Jamil, was most impressive, viciously swinging and seaming the ball both in the air and off the wicket to grab three for 18. Imran Khan was left out of the playing eleven due to injury.

Pakistan chased down the tiny target in 16 overs and at the loss of just two wickets. Zaheer was ruthless, smashing 48 at a strike rate of over 100.

The ODI series was now squared with the decider to be played in Sahiwal, but after the 2nd Test.

The three-Test series kicked off in Faisalabad at the newly constructed Iqbal Stadium.

Though, the outfield was lush green, the pitch was gray. There was not even a hint of grass on it.

The Indians played three spinners and just one regular seamer (Kapil Dev). The new ball was shared by Dev and batting all-rounder, M. Amarnath, who bowled gentle medium-pace. The bulk of the bowling was done by Bedi, Parsana and Chandra.

Pakistan, on the other hand, picked three fast men (Imran, Sarfarz and Sikandar) and one spinner, the left-arm leggie, Iqbal Qasim.

Qasim was supported by batting all-rounder, Mushtaq Mohammad’s right-arm leg-breaks. And the bulk of the team’s bowling attack was to be carried by the quick bowlers.

Winning the toss and batting first, Pakistan amassed a mammoth 503.

Zaheer and Javed Miandad smashed big centuries. Mushtaq declared the innings at the tail end of the second day after Pakistan lost its eighth wicket.

India responded with a slow, grinding 462 that included a century by Vishvanath. Though the wicket remained to play flat, Pakistan did not do so well in the fielding department. It dropped at least six catches.

What’s more, Imran, after failing to extract any pace from the docile wicket, kicked and cursed the pitch during one of his many overs.

Out of frustration he (along with Sarfraz), began to bowl a torrent of short-pitched deliveries, but to no effect.

Asif Iqbal cracked a century and Zaheer made 96 in the second innings, but the game ended in a dull draw.

The pitch remained flat throughout the five days of the match. It was vehemently criticised by Imran during a post-match interview that he gave to PTV in the below video.

Both the teams flew into Lahore for the 2nd Test (at the Qaddafi Stadium). Mushtaq’s two main fast bowlers (Imran and Sarfraz) implored him to get a quicker pitch made for the match.

Mushtaq impressed upon the board that since Pakistan’s bowling strength lay largely on the shoulders of its fast bowlers, a more sporting wicket needed to be prepared in Lahore.

The board agreed and ordered the ground’s man to lay a quicker track.

The enigmatic leggie, Chandrasekhar.

When streams of spectators began to pour into the stadium at the start of the 2nd Test, they noticed that the pitch bore almost the same colour as that of the outfield. It was green and promised a lot of bounce and movement to the quick bowlers.

The author of Majid Khan’s biography quotes him as saying that Mushtaq was one of the best judges of a cricket pitch.

Before accompanying Bedi to the middle of the pitch for the toss, Mushtaq told his Vice-Captain, Asif Iqbal, that it was imperative that he won the toss and bowled first because he didn’t think the apparent liveliness in the pitch would last long.

The toss went Mushtaq’s way and he immediately put India to bat. The Indian playing eleven remained unchanged, but Pakistan made two changes.

It dropped the out-of-form opener Sadiq Mohammad and brought in Mudassar Nazar. In the bowling department, Mushtaq pulled in veteran swing bowler Salim Altaf in place of Sikander Bakht.

The Pakistani quicks had a field day on a lively pitch. They bowled out India for just 199. Imran and Sarfaraz picked up four wickets each. Only Dalip Vengsarkar hung around for a resolute 76.

  1. Amernath was hit on the side of his face by a vicious Imran Khan bouncer (see video below). He was carried away on a stretcher for medical treatment.

As predicted by Mushtaq, the pitch began to ease up at the end of the first day. By the second day, Pakistan batsmen had begun to pile up the runs, scoring a huge 539.

The famed Indian spinners were treated with disdain, especially by Zaheer who amassed 234, which included 29 fours and 2 sixes. He was supported by night watchman, Wasim Bari, who cracked a rapid 85, and skipper Mushtaq chipped in with a quick 67. Pakistan gained a healthy lead of 340 runs.

With the wicket becoming increasingly docile, the strong Indian batting line-up responded well, refusing to cave in.

India’s first four batsmen all managed to go past 50, occupying the crease to make sure that the game would end in a draw.

India were 407 for five, half-way through the final day of the match and the stubborn Vishwanath was still there at 83. The Indians just needed to bat through another session and a half to save the game.

Mushtaq now threw the ball to the occasional medium-pacer, Mudassar Nazar. Nazar struck gold right away, going through the dogged defense of Vishwanath, with an in-cutter bowled from the edge of the crease.

Pakistan had found the opening they were looking for.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Syed Kirmani launched a counterattack. He wagged well with the tail to push the score to 465 with less than an hour and a half left in the game. Imran finally cleaned up the number eleven batsman, Chandra, and Pakistan was left to make 125 in about 25 overs.

Sensing that the Pakistani batsmen would be going for the target, the crowds began to swell in the stands.

Bedi kept an extremely defensive field and the bowlers were asked to bowl a negative line. Majid and Mudassar walked in to open the innings.

Kapil began by bowling tall bouncers and leg-side deliveries, but Majid finally got hold of him and began chasing his deliveries, tapping them to the boundary.

At one point, Majid got so angry with Kapil (and the umpire), that he pulled out the leg stump from his hand and gestured that it should be placed way down the leg side! He was warned by the umpire.

Majid and Mudassar kept the runs flowing as the sun began to go down behind the stadium. Mudassar was bowled by Dev when the score was 57.

Amarnath then finally took out a rampaging Majid, caught and bowled. Pakistan still needed another 36 runs in a possible seven overs. The light was fading and the crowd was getting jittery.

But then, so were the Indians, especially when Zaheer and Asif Iqbal began to play their shots with ease.

Pakistan finally reached the target with Zaheer hitting the first ball of the 21st over for a tall six over long on. Pakistan galloped home with at least seven overs to spare. In the era of limited ODI games and no T20 cricket, this indeed was quick going.

Pakistan had beaten India in a Test after 26 years. Their last victory had come in 1952 (under Kardar).

The government got so excited by the victory that it announced a holiday!

The Test series so far had been played in good sporting spirit. But after Pakistan’s dramatic win in Lahore, the gloves began to come off.

The slide started during the 3rd ODI at the Zafar Ali Stadium in Sahiwal.

The ODI series was locked at 1-1 and both the teams had planned to go all out to win it. The wicket had some grass and looked bowler-friendly. India won the toss and put Pakistan to bat.

Pakistan played aggressively and reached 205 for seven in its allotted 40 overs. Asif smashed a quick-fire 67. He was particularly severe on Kapil Dev.

India began aggressively as well. They had lost only two wickets when the score reached 180 in the 35th over. They just needed 25 in five overs and had eight wickets in hand.

They were cruising towards the target, with A. Gaeakwad tearing into the Pakistani bowlers.

Mushtaq brought back his two main quick bowlers, Imran and Sarfraz. Sarfaraz had already been sledging the Indian batsmen, cursing them (in Punjabi), and now he began to bowl tall bouncers.

The wide rule in those days wasn’t as well-defined or tight as it is today, so the umpires remained unmoved as one bouncer after the other began sailing over the Indian batsmen’s heads.

Imran began bowling short-pitch stuff as well. Though, he mostly aimed his bouncers at the bodies of the batsmen, many of his deliveries too lifted and shot way over their heads. The bouncer barrage succeeded in holding back India’s run chase.

Gaekwad finally gestured to the umpires. The umpires had a word with Mushtaq and asked him to tell his bowlers not to bowl ‘a negative line.’

Mushtaq responded by suggesting that his bowlers were bowling an ‘aggressive line’ and were well within their rights to do so.

When Sarfraz’s fourth delivery of the 37th over too, flew over Gaekwad’s head, Indian captain Bedi came out of the dressing room to have a word with Mushtaq.

It is not clear what transpired during the ensuing argument between the two captains, but it did make Bedi call back his batsmen.

Mushtaq went inside the Indian dressing room and tried to get Bedi to send his batsmen back in. But Bedi did not budge, accusing Mushtaq of allowing his bowlers to bowl relentless bouncers and for exhibiting bad sportsmanship.

He also complained about the ‘abusive language’ that Sarfraz and Javed Miandad had used against the Indian players on the field.

After Bedi refused to send back his batsmen, the umpires awarded the game to Pakistan.

Both the Indian and Pakistani media criticised the Pakistan team for soiling the series, even though some also added that Bedi had overreacted. No one mentioned the umpires.

The dust seemed to have settled a bit when the Indians reached Karachi to play the last Test of the series.

After the Sahiwal game, India had played two side matches (in Bhawalpur and Hyderabad).

The last Test took place at Karachi’s National Stadium. The wicket was brown and seemed flat.

According to Imran Khan, the board had decided to make a placid wicket to secure a series win for Pakistan and that this time Mushtaq did not insist for a levier track.

Talking to Sunil Gavaskar (during a 1987 TV show), Khan said that after looking at the track he was sure the game would end in a dull draw.

He said: ‘I was sure (the pitch) would only produce a draw, so I thought I was free to party! And I did party hard with my friends in my hotel room …’

Khan was correct in his reading of the pitch, and the game indeed was heading for a draw until Mushtaq’s decision to go all-out for a near-impossible win in the last session of the Test turned the match on its head.

India dropped Parsana and brought in left-arm swing bowler, K. Ghavri. Pakistan left out Salim Altaf and recalled the lanky medium-pacer, Sikandar Bakht.

India batted first and struck a respectable 344. They should have made more on the docile track, but some sustained tight bowling by Imran and Sarfaraz held the Indian batting back a bit, even though they couldn’t stop Gavaskar from notching his second century of the series.

Pakistan in its first innings was in trouble at 187 for five.

For the first time in the series the enigmatic Indian leg-break bowler, Chandrasekhar, was proving difficult to handle.

But, just when the Indians believed they had Pakistan on the ropes, Javed and Mushtaq steadied the innings with a big partnership. Both had taken the score to 341 when Mushtaq fell for a well-played 78.

Miandad upped the tempo and reached his century with a straight six over the bowler’s head. Pakistan’s tail wagged strongly and helped the side gain a valuable 137 runs lead.

The Indians began strongly in their second innings. They were 132 for two at the end of the fourth day. The wicket was still placid.

On the fifth day, Mushtaq asked his fast bowlers to put in a bit more effort, and shortly after lunch, India slipped from being 132 for one to 173 for six.

But, the stubborn Gavaskar was still there, playing out time. He found a resolute partner in Gharvri and both began to frustrate the Pakistani bowlers.

Sarfaraz and Miandad began their sledging routine. Sarfaraz let out a volley of abuse at Gavaskar.

At one point, Gavaskar walked up to Mushtaq and asked him to stop his fast bowler from passing remarks against India.

He said he didn’t have a problem with Sarfaraz hurling abuses at him, but he will not take any abusive language directed at his country.

But Sarfaraz carried on, directing choice Punjabi words at the plucky little batsman.

Miandad was constantly placed near the batsmen by Mushtaq and (according to Gavaskar), Javed would whistle, sing Indian and Pakistani film songs and ‘instruct him (Gavaskar) on how to bat’ to distract him.

Pakistan finally plucked Gavaskar (after he had scored yet another century). He chased an around-the-wicket out-swinger delivered by Sarfaraz and India were 246 for seven.

But time was running out. Kapil Dev joined Ghavri and both saw India survive till tea.

India was 160 runs ahead and still had three wickets in hand. Pakistan just had 30 minutes and then the last 20 overs to take the remaining wickets and chase a target. A draw was still a stronger possibility.

But the situation changed quickly when right after tea, Imran and Sarfaraz grabbed India’s last three scalps in quick succession. Now Pakistan needed 164 runs in a possible 25 overs.

In his autobiography, Mushtaq writes that although he wanted to go for a win, he was cautioned by Zaheer who told him that they should not take the risk of going after ‘the impossible target’ and instead, play for a draw and secure a series win.

Mushtaq consulted with Asif and Majid and both agreed that since the wicket was still playing straight, Pakistan should go for a win.

Asif was promoted to open the innings with Majid. The crowds roared when the Pakistan openers emerged.

Majid fell early. Pakistan was way behind the required run rate when Javed joined Asif.

Both took charge by mainly disturbing the composure of the Indian fielders by sprinting some near-impossible runs. Ones were converted into twos and twos were turned into threes.

But India struck by ousting Asif for a quickly compiled 44. Pakistan still needed 46 runs in just five overs.

Zaheer was expected to be the next man in but Mushtaq gambled and sent in Imran. Imran had struck a hard-hitting 32 in the first innings.

Khan was not a sprinter like Javed and he almost got run-out trying to steal a quick run. He was visibly angry, asking Javed to call clearly.

But just when it seemed India might be able to pull back Pakistan’s charge, Imran exploded, hitting Bedi for two huge sixes.

Pakistan eventually galloped to victory with just an over and a half remaining. The stands erupted with wild celebrations.

A series that was expected to produce dull draws, had swung Pakistan’s way in the most theatrical manner.

(Courtesy: Dawn Magazine)

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com