“The crowd at Melbourne was stunned. The cricket experts and critics were left thinking about the mysterious behaviour of the old ball. It was the first time, the cricketing fraternity witnessed the devastation created by reverse-swing”
He was tall. He was strong. He had a Punjabi-style mustache. His hair used to fly like Hercules while running towards the batsman with the ball in his hand – for the young and enthusiastic female followers of cricket, that sight was a sheer joy. He was aggressive and played the game hard. He was introverted and never wanted to share his plans and views about the game. A complex character with very few friends.
In his decade-long cricketing career, Sarfraz Nawaz hit the headlines more due to his controversial acts rather than his in-cutters and in-swing with the old ball. His in-cutters came back so sharply, the batsmen could hardly realize when it had beaten his defence and left the stump cartwheeling towards Wasim Bari, the wicketkeeper. Meanwhile, he would not dish out the incoming deliveries against someone like Sunil Gavaskar, who played those very well. For Sunny, Sarfraz’s weapon was either outswing or leg-cutters, which challenged his top of off.
But, above all, he could move the old ball. How Srafraz learned this art still remains a mystery to many. Several sources mention the name of Farrakh Khan, a leading light of the Lahore Gymkhana in the late 1950s and 1960s, and suggest that he passed the secret to the young Sarfraz. In 1966, in the Lahore Gymkhana nets, he showed it to a 17-year-old Sarfraz Nawaz.
Peter Obrone in his column at the Daily Telegraph wrote, “Sarfraz discovered reverse swing by bowling with balls of all conditions, new, semi-new and old. He began on matting wickets, where he could cut the ball. “One day I shone one side of a very old ball and it swung. It was rough on both sides, but I shone one side and it swung towards the shine – it should not have done this.” In that Eureka moment, reverse swing was born. He refined the new technique at the Mozang Link Cricket Club in Lahore. His opening partner Saleem Mir also knew how to reverse swing, but they kept it a secret from other bowlers”.
In 1974, during the England tour, Sarfraz discovered, Imran Khan might be his bowling partner in the upcoming days and thus, he shared such secrets and the art of reverse swing. In an interview, he said, “Imran Khan didn’t know about the reverse swing. In 1974 when we (Pakistan) were playing against West Indies, Imran Khan came to me and asked how to swing the ball in reverse.”
“I told him ‘not during the match’ but will teach you ‘during net practice’ the next day”.
In the early and mid-70s, whether Sarfraz was able to use reverse-swing effectively could not be understood as in those days, matches were not telecast live on television and Pakistan hardly played enough Test cricket to showcase their talent in the international circuit. Moreover, the wickets abroad did not suit Sarfraz to use the art and while playing in his own country, the wickets were dead as a pancake as in those days, Pakistan captains were defensive and avoided defeat.
The eventful day at Melbourne
After a stupendous tour in Australia in 1976-77, Pakistan, led by Mushtaq Mohammad, set foot on Australian soil for a two-match Test series. But this time around, the Australian team was hit by the Packer series. Still, the likes of Rodney Hogg, Graham Yallop, Kim Hughes, Graeme Wood, and Allan Border were available to give the home team the confidence to challenge Pakistan’s might.
Australia’s fighting spirit was evident in the first innings when Rodney Hogg and co, ended Pakistan’s first innings below 200. None of the batsmen could get past 40. Yallop’s decision to field first after winning the toss was proven right. But, Imran was too hot to handle when Australia came out to bat. It was an Imran Khan, who used to bowl with pace and less movement. He could still bang the ball short and brought it back in at an astonishing pace. Australia experienced the Imran of Sydney in 1976-77 as they trailed by 28 runs in the first innings.
Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas, and Asif Iqbal’s bat shone at the right time and Pakistan declared at 353 for 9 in their second innings to give the home team 382 runs to score in the fourth innings. Australia ended Day 4 with 117 for 2 on the board.
In those days, chasing such totals was not easy, but still, Australia ran Pakistan for their money.
In the morning session of the final day, Graham Yallop was run out. Border called for a single but Yallop was too late to respond. Asif picked the ball quickly and threw it to Imran at the non-striker’s end. At 128 for 3, Australia were in a bit of a bother, but the fear and anxiety of the home team ebbed away when Hughes and Border came together at the crease.
Sarfraz bowled tight, Sikandar Bhakt was threatening while Imran attacked all the way. The Pakistani pacers were aided by the legspin of Mushtaq and Wasim Raja and Majid bowled nine tight overs to break the partnership between Hughes and Border.
But nothing happened and it seemed nothing was going to happen.
Border and Hughes batted past lunch and saw off till tea.
Mushtaq took the new ball and Border and Hughes weathered the storm very well. Their partnership of 177 for the fourth wicket was the highest in an Australia-Pakistan series.
At 305 for 3, it was Australia’s match to lose from there.
Pakistan’s shoulders dropped.
Mushtaq threw the ball to Sarfraz. Earlier, he was relying more on the conventional swing and pithced the ball up more from a straighter line. Neither did he feel the need of using the angles nor variation in lengths as in the first two days, the track was aiding movement off the pitch. But the track lost its juice in the last three days and required something extraordinary to register a win.
Sarfraz started to use the art which he learned at a young age. The shiny side was seen on the right giving Border the impression, it would move away, but when it landed on a fuller-length to cut back in and nail Border, it left him and others astonished. This is not something normal, but a bolt from the blue – the old ball was moving like a boomerang and none of the Australian batters were familiar with it. In fact, hardly anyone had an idea about this phenomenon back then.
Wood came out to bat. Sarfraz delivered one which pitched full again but moved the other way. Wood edged it and Bari took the catch. Peter Sleep avoided the hat-trick but was an uncomfortable figure in the middle. Sarfraz dished out a Yorker to nail him. The movement of the ball was unconventional.
Hughes needed someone to hang around. Ken Wright tried to give him support, but the ball was moving awkwardly to make life tough for the batsmen. At one moment it left the bat and moved in on other occasions – you don’t expect the old ball to behave like this. But Sarfraz was making the ball talk. He was in a different momentum.
Hughes tried to attack Sarfraz to break the shackled but holed out to Mohsin Khan. Wayne Clarke was outclassed by another reverse-swing and Sarfraz was on a hat-trick for the second time. At this stage, Sarfraz’s spell figures read 5 for 0 from 13 balls.
Hogg managed to avoid the hat-trick a big appeal for lbw was turned down by the onfield umpire. Hogg and Wright tried to hang around, but it was not an easy task to face Sarfraz in the final session of the final day. Sarfraz brought one back in to trap Hogg lbw with 12 overs still to go. Two balls later, Hurst edged one to Bari off Sarfraz, and Australia folded for 310.
Sarfraz finished with 9 for 86 and his spell on the fourth afternoon read 7 for 1 from 33 balls. His match figures were 11 for 125.
The impact of display at Melbourne
The crowd at Melbourne was stunned. The cricket experts and critics were left thinking about the mysterious behaviour of the old ball. It was the first time, the cricketing fraternity witnessed the devastation created by reverse-swing. Sarfraz had unleashed a weapon that would be regarded as one of the greatest discoveries in the history of cricket. It would have a great impact on the game and even though the elites spoke against it at first, with the progress of time, this Pakistan-made art became the part and parcel of their cricket culture.
Sarfraz’s spell at Melbourne on the final day was a revolution.