Was there ever a time when the Pakistan cricket side was actually able to successfully negotiate quality quick bowlers on a fast track?
Yes, there was. Read on.
The Eternal Debacle
Recently, the Pakistan Test side faced a humiliating 3-0 series defeat against South Africa in South Africa.
A defeat was always on the cards but not a debacle, considering how well the Pakistanis had done against England, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh under the captaincy of Misbah-ul-Haq.
However, the three series that Pakistan won were all played on flat tracks in the UAE and Bangladesh that also begun to take turn in the latter half of the Tests.
But the tracks in South Africa were almost the complete opposite of what the Pakistan side had relished in the UAE.
They were hard and fast and some even had enough grass on them to help the quick bowlers get prodigious seam movement. With the ball coming in at rapid speeds at their chests and faces and also moving, the Pakistani batsmen seemed all at sea. It’s amazing how even after decades of failing on fast tracks; all Asian teams continue to struggle on such strips.
But the good news (for Asian sides) is that today, South Africa seems to be the only country where almost all Test centres have wickets that overwhelmingly favour fast bowling.
Otherwise, apart from the wicket at Perth’s WACA Stadium in Australia, and the one in Headingley, Leeds in England that is notorious for aiding swing and seam bowling, wickets across the cricket-playing world these days are mostly flat, slow and low, or at best, turners.
That’s why wickets in South Africa remain to be refreshing exceptions.
But this was not always the case.
In the 1970s and a good part of the 1980s, though wickets in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka were somewhat exactly the way they are now, almost all grounds in the West Indies and Australia offered hard, fast and bouncy tracks.
In England the ball used to move more (off the wicket) than it does today, mainly due to the fact that even until 1978, wickets were largely left uncovered and most of them would turn into slippery monsters after receiving rain.
Someone (on TV) recently asked, “Was there ever a time when the Pakistan cricket side was actually able to successfully negotiate quality quick bowlers on a fast track?”
Well, yes, there actually was a time. Two series come to mind in this respect: Pakistan’s tour of Australia and West Indies (under Mushtaq Mohammad) in 1976-77, and Pakistan’s tour of the West Indies (under Imran Khan) in 1987-88.
When Khan’s team squared the series in West Indies in 1988 (1-1), the Windies had already peaked (in the mid-1980s), even though they still boasted of quality fast bowlers and the wickets in the West Indies were still relatively quick.
Nevertheless, the West Indies side would gradually begin to decline after this and the wickets in the Caribbean would get slower and lower by the year.
That’s why the 1976-77 series against Australia and West Indies remains to be one of the best examples of a time when a Pakistani side played some of its finest cricket on fast wickets.
But this is not the only thing that made this series iconic. Imran Khan (in both of his books, 1984’s ‘Imran’ and 1992’s, ‘An All Round View’), considered the Pakistan squad of the 1970s to be the most talented he has played in.
He wrote that though this was a highly talented side, it had been underachieving until the 1976-77 series against Australia and West Indies.
It was only after these series that Pakistan cricket finally managed to be taken a lot more seriously and the international worth of a number of their cricketers grew two-fold.
Secondly, Australia and the West Indies were the top two Test sides in the world. And most of the grounds in Australia and the Caribbean islands had some of the quickest wickets – quicker even than the ones found today in South Africa.
Both the sides also had the fastest bowlers of the period: Dennis Lillie, Jeff Thomson and Gary Gilmour (Australia); Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Colin Croft (West Indies).
These quicks had devastated an assortment of Test sides and sent numerous players to the hospital when the Pakistan team arrived to face them.