It has been the backdrop of many a myth; it houses the famed Bermuda Triangle, where planes and ships have reportedly gone missing without a trace. It has been part of many a pirates’ song and hideout. It has been a ‘new world’, discovered, conquered, enslaved. Ian Fleming based some of his bestselling Bond thrillers here, as did Earnest Hemingway. And it became more famous with a memoir by a wrongly-convicted felon and fugitive Henri Charrière titled Papillion. It is where hammerheads and barracudas roam the seas for human flesh; and where the piranhas can feat up a human in a matter of hours. This is the Caribbean.
But then this is also the place where the gentleman’s game spread once the British took over from the Spanish. From here C.L.R. James penned his iconic Beyond the Boundary and from here came the fastest bowlers of all time; tall, dark and fearsome.
On many a tour to these islands, players would bid goodbye to wives and girlfriends with smiles that hid their trepidation over facing the likes of (Sir) Constantine, Wes Hall, Roy Gilchrist, Charlie Griffith, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Malcolm Marshall; to mention only those considered to be above 90-95 miles per hour.
Factor in the fact that in those days you had none of the protective armour that a batsman hides himself in and you can imagine what the Pakistani batsmen went out to face right up to the mid 1970s. A century then was worth probably a double today and to have the courage to come in line would win you the Sitara-i-Imtiaz today for bravery.
As I wrote in Dawn in late 2006, after being incensed over Inzamam claiming Yousuf to be the greatest batsman the country had produced, all within earshot of Hanif Mohammad standing a few yards away:
“Hanif Mohammad batted in an era of fearsome fast bowlers. There were no fancy laboratories at Perth to decipher how much the fast bowler’s elbow was bending on delivery. When you toured in a place like West Indies, there were home umpires who smiled at you when you were hit on the chest. Remember, there were no chest guards, wrist protectors and, would you believe it, no helmet; just a cotton cap that helped to shade the searing heat from burning your skin.
“The pads had no backside padding; the nylon adhesive was years away from being invented and you had to tie your pads with tin buckles that would rub against your flesh as you ran.
“There was no match referee to prepare a charge sheet. So if the bowler crossed to your side in mid over and told you with a mixture of expletives where he would imbed the next ball, he would be clapped all the way back by the mob on the boundary line. You evaded one bouncer, there would be three more in a row. No ICC pansies to make rules about two bouncers per over and statutory warning for intimidatory bowling.
“And holding the bat with gloves that were thinly made and rubber stubs on the finger parts, you could perspire profusely from not just the unbearable heat but the thought of a ball being flung at you from the same 22 yards at speeds touching the same 95 miles an hour (as today). Proof of performance for these six foot, six inch, 140lb fast bowlers was not through the speed gun but the number of bruises on the batsman’s upper body and neck.
“These were the conditions at Bridgetown when Hanif Mohammad, the full five feet, four inches of him, batted for more than three days (16 hours 10 minutes to be exact) to score a mammoth 337. It is said by his colleagues that he did not come even close to an lbw or edge, which was enough for home umpire dismissal in those days. I urge Inzamam to go and talk to those who were on that tour and he would be humbled by how Hanif was vomiting from the effort but refused to leave the pitch.
“Pakistan had been bowled out for 106 in their first innings and was following on 473 behind. By the time he returned, Pakistan was 153 ahead with just over an hour left in the match. Two hundred and forty-one of his runs had come from running between wickets.”
There were many subplots of bravery and patriotism on that tour that would each make an academy award screenplay on its own today. Saving Private Ryan would be no arduous a job than batting through the first session with the new ball.
There are still gutsy batsmen from Pakistan out there, but that will be more like Stuart Little getting out of the way of a diving eagle. That was a different blend of men.
Imtiaz Ahmed, who was opening partner of Hanif in that Bridgetown match, and who put on 151 for the opening wicket scoring 91 blistering runs laughingly, and with obvious pride, recounted to me once:
“After the first innings, our first ever in West Indies, I decided that we had to fight fire with fire. Just as Gilchrist would start his run up to bowl I would move down the pitch with my bat raised, urging him to bowl at me short. The first couple of times he stopped thinking I was coming down to pat the pitch. Then he bowled at me short; I hit him over mid on a couple of times as well as hooked and pulled. We were really charged up.”
Pakistan, who eventually drew that first Test, (and I wouldn’t be surprised if they became the first team to score over 650 in their very first Test match in West Indies) would go on to win the last Test by an innings, with Wazir Mohammad scoring 189 and both Fazal Mahmood and 16-year-old series debutant Nasim-ul-Ghani taking eight wickets each in the match.
There were some battles to be won when Pakistan toured the Caribbean for another five Test series. This was when Michael Holding, by then the fastest bowler in the world, had had a year of decimating India and England; to the extent that Indian captain Bishen Singh Bedi declared his second innings in the final Test at Jamaica with only five wickets down at 90-odd. By so doing he literally conceded the Test with India only 11 runs ahead. As Bedi said later, apart from being annoyed at intimidatory bowling aimed at Indian ribs he had no one else left fit enough to bat. Those who didn’t come in included batsmen like Vishwanath, Gaekwad and Patel; the last two having retired hurt in the first innings.