Memories of Raja, Asif, Safraz, Zaheer, Javed and the Khans

In this week’s edition of In Search of West Indies Cricket, Roger Seymour remembers the visit of the 1977 Pakistani side to the Caribbean.

 

‘Back in the day’ there was no television coverage of cricket throughout the West Indies and serious cricket fans walked around clutching their transistor radios as if they were family heirlooms. These precious items came in all shapes, sizes and colours, and it was accepted practice for complete strangers to enquire as they hurried past, “What’s the score?” In the first few months of 1977, everyone was listening to cricket.

The Caribbean was abuzz with anticipation for the start of the season which began in the first week of January, with Jamaica hosting Barbados in Montego Bay in the annual Shell Shield tournament. The West Indies were beginning to ride the crest of the waves. In the previous 12 months, they had departed from Down Under, heads bowed, following a 5-1 thrashing, edged India 2-1 at home, and then defeated England 3-0 in the summer. The latter series saw the emergence of the four-pronged pace attack of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel and Vanburn Holder. Into this cauldron of excitement arrived the Pakistanis for their second visit to this part of the world, their initial trip having been in 1958.

Members of the 1977 Pakistani team featured in the April 16, 1977 edition of The Star newspaper.
Members of the 1977 Pakistani team featured in the April 16, 1977 edition of The Star newspaper.

Cricket has always reflected the way Pakistan society is at that moment in time. In the 1960s, cricket was basically a Karachi-Lahore sport. In Lahore, it was an elite activity played at such institutions as the Lahore Gymkhana Club and Government College, whereas in Karachi, the sport was dominated by the middle-class immigrants from India who settled there after 1947. In the 1970s, the Lahore-Karachi rivalry still dominated the sport which always seemed to attract political interference from the highest levels, and the inevitable controversy.

The Pakistan side that arrived in the Caribbean in 1977 is arguably one of the strongest teams ever to set foot here. The team was an amalgam of experience, youth, talent and bravado. Intikhab Alam, Asif Iqbal, Majid Khan, Captain Musthaq Mohammad, Safraz Nawaz and Wasim Bari were wily veterans from the 60s, and then there was the emerging talents of Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Mudassar Nazar and Haroon Rashid. At that time, Pakistan had the best batting line up in the world.

In the autumn of 76, Musthaq (very few of these cricketers were referred to by their surnames as was the practice in the Caribbean) replaced Intikhab as captain. He was assertive from the inception, demanding the team he wanted, and standing up for the players in unimaginable ways. In his first series in charge, against the New Zealanders at home in October 1976, he led Pakistan to a 2-0 win.

The inevitable controversy soon followed, with the top players confronting the cricket board chief, Abdul Hafeez Kardar over the subject of better salaries for the 1976/77 tour of Australia and the West Indies. The matter was finally resolved with the intervention of a cabinet minister.

“We left for that tour in a bitter atmosphere,” Asif, the leading spokesman recalled. “Kardar made us feel small for demanding better pay when all we wanted was more dignity, which was important for the future of Pakistan cricket.”

The Pakistanis arrived in Australia more determined than ever to win. They drew the First Test at Adelaide and then lost the Second at Melbourne by 348 runs. The Third Test was played at Sydney and Pakistan defeated Australia by eight wickets to level the series. Scores: Australia, 211 & 180. Pakistan, 360 & 32 for 2.

Every Pakistani fan remembers where they watched the grainy satellite feed from Australia on the morning of January 18, 1977.  It was the first time an overseas series had been broadcast live in Pakistan. Their Cricket was on the rise.

The visitors arrived in the Caribbean brimming with confidence. The five-test series was closely fought and could have gone either way. In the First Test at Kensington Oval, Barbados, the West Indies last pair of debutant Colin Croft and Roberts survived the last 8.3 overs to draw the game.

In the next Test in Trinidad, the West Indies won by six wickets, after Croft had the amazing bowling returns of 8 for 29 in the first innings. The Third Test at Bourda was drawn, as Pakistan won the Fourth by 266 runs, to level the series.

Holding and Daniel were unavailable for the series, and their places were taken by Croft and Joel Garner, who along with Roberts proved to be the slight difference between the two teams. The hosts won the deciding Test at Sabina Park, Jamaica by 140 runs.

Wasim Hassan Raja is the first name that springs to mind from that tour. Raja was only drafted into the side when Zaheer Abbas got injured on the eve of the first Test. He was a swashbuckling left hander, later described by Imran as reckless, who rode his luck to good fortune against the West Indies. He had scored his maiden Test century versus the West Indies in 1975 at Karachi, and relished the challenge of the fast bowling. Raja had initially been picked for the Test at Sydney, only to be later told that Haroon Rashid was taking his place. His rage erupted in the team’s hotel lobby and the Pakistani media screamed for his dismissal from the tour, only for Mushtaq to defend his player.

Batting seventh, he seized the opportunity with both hands. His 117 not out was the anchor of Pakistan’s first innings total of 435, and he would continue to be a thorn in the home team’s side for the rest of the series. In the second innings, Pakistan was precariously perched at 158 for 9, when Wasim Bari joined Raja, and they contrived to set a tenth wicket record of 133. Raja top scored on five of the ten occasions he went to the wicket, and headed the averages on both sides. He plundered 14 sixes in the tests, not hesitating to dispatch the loose ball regardless of the score. It was only at Bourda he failed with scores of 5 and 0.

My lasting memory of Raja was his clever and effortless approach to fielding, once accelerating pass the ball, giving the impression that he was still chasing, trying to lure the batsmen into a second run, then suddenly scooping the ball backhanded, and turning in one motion, and firing a sharp return to the bowler’s end.

Majid Jahangir Khan arrived in the Caribbean as one of the five best batsmen in the world at the time and left with his reputation intact. Pakistan started their second innings of the Third Test at Bourda 254 in arrears, having collapsed for 194 in their initial knock. The crowd was buzzing as the home-town fast bowler Croft charged in from the Regent Road end, only to be greeted by four thunderous cover drives to the boundary from Majid in the first over.

Under a white, broad-brimmed sun hat, ‘Majestic’ Khan appeared outwardly cool and calm, in complete contrast to the savage manner in which he hammered the bowling. After Sadiq Mohammed retired hurt, courtesy of Roberts, with the score on 60, Abbas strode to the wicket.  The crowd on that Sunday afternoon of March 21, were fortunate (sorry folks, no video available) to witness two of the world’s best stroke players in full cry. Off 27 overs, the visitors clipped 19 fours on the way to 113 without loss, going into the rest day.

Majid’s innings of 167 lasted six hours as the tourists posted 540 to save the match. Majid’s numbers for the tour were 896 runs, for an average of 52.70, with 530 coming in the tests at an average of 53.00. Elegant, poised and graceful are the words attached to the memory of Majid.

Zaheer: bespectacled, slim, imperturbable temperament; a great believer in net practice and a true student of the game. My memory of Zaheer is his beautiful timing of the ball and his wonderful cover driving during innings of 80 at Bourda, as he added 149 with Majid.

The disappointment etched on Javed Miandad’s face when he was bowled for 85 in the second innings of the territorial match against Guyana was a sight for the ages. Upon returning to the pavilion, he came out of the dressing room and sat by himself against the outer wall, staring blankly at the game on the field. Scores of 2 and 1 in the first Test had cost him his place in a side packed with the likes of Asif Iqbal, Mushtaq, Haroon Rashid, Zaheer and Raja in the middle order.

The then 19-year-old wonder boy from Karachi who had scored a century (163), on his test debut at Lahore, followed by 206 at Karachi, the previous October against New Zealand, would spend the rest of the tour watching the tests from the pavilion. It’s his eyes that I remember, that determined look.

First Test, WI versus Pakistan, April 2 – 6, 1988, Bourda. Pakistan, 435 in their first innings, Miandad, 114.  Pakistan won by nine wickets.

Safraz Nawaz, the 6’6” gregarious fast bowler is the kind of person whose presence is immediately felt the moment he strolls into a room. A flamboyant character, he was labelled with the tag of leading the Pakistani brigade in the pursuit of night life after cricket. Safraz developed a reputation as a party animal who broke curfews but arrived at the ground the next day before everyone.

Built like a cart horse with a huge upper body, Safraz bowled at a deceptive pace and competed hard at all times. His legacy is the pioneering of reverse swing, which he passed on to Imran, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. His role in Imran’s development as a supreme fast bowler should be noted.

My memory of Safraz is sitting near the visitors’ dressing room and this huge tidal wave of energy bursting out on to the balcony, all smiles, voice booming, arms flaying in all directions actively engaged in a conversation with members of the women’s pavilion.

Just observing the Pakistanis on and off the field back then, it was obvious that Imran Khan was a future captain of his country. On the field, the competitiveness and all-out approach to batting, bowling and fielding couldn’t be missed. He wore the green Pakistan cap with unabashed pride, adjusting it with the utmost care.

His 12 wickets in the Sydney Test marked his metamorphosis from medium-fast to genuine fast bowler. His hostility was experienced mostly by Wasim Bari, the wicketkeeper who was amazed at the pounding he was receiving in his gloves, as Imran and Safraz imposed their will on the match.

His fierce appeal for lbw against Kallicharran, 72, and upheld by umpire Cleophas Paynter is my memory of Imran. All and sundry thought the ball was down leg side, as Kallicharran  missed a hook shot and was struck very high on the leg.

Asif Iqbal was of those cricketers who made the game look very easy. Medium built, with flair and dashing appearance, he always looked like he had just changed his clothes and was getting ready for the game. An excellent stroke player, he played a cameo of 35 in the second innings at Bourda, but never quite got going. Asif was the type of player one wanted to film for a coaching video on how to play the game.

Asif was at his best in a crisis. At Adelaide, he scored a century to save the match, at Sydney, Pakistan were 111 for 4, when Asif took over. He guided the emerging talents of debutant Haroon Rashid, 57, and Javed, 64, in match-turning partnerships, as he scored 120. Chasing 441 in the last Test at Sabina Park, Asif’s 135 provided the spark of hope. It was not to be.

And then there was the old wise one sitting thereby himself, hardly speaking, always watching the field, Intikhab Alam. It is pity we never had a chat about the game of cricket.

Describing the side, Jamaican newspaper, The Star, said, “The visitors were a hearty lot. They played hard and they partied harder.”

Thanks for the memories.

When Pakistan played their 400th test recently, Cricinfo invited readers to vote for their All-Time Pakistan XI. I ‘m not really a fan of these kinds of teams, but I glanced at the proposed names. Of the 29 nominees, 9 were members of the 1977 team.

Trivia Question: How many members of the 1977 team captained Pakistan in a Test?

 

 

 

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