“The Pakistanis among the sparse final day crowd broke into a roar. Amongst them sat commander-in-chief General Ayub Khan, Lieutenant General Azam Khan and Justice Cornelius, Vice President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan. But among all exuberant celebrations, there was Alf Gover of Surrey and England as well, jumping up and down in joy, screaming, “We have won.”
Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Tom Graveney, Peter May. And then there was a platter of great bowler to choose from.
Pakistan, who had drawn the first Test, mainly due to a stubborn Hanif Mohammad and an equally stubborn English rain, had been decimated in the second Test and had been saved by rain yet again in the third.
Voices were being raised against them. They were not really ready for Test cricket, said many. Neville Cardus joined in, with a customary flourish of his metaphors. Abdul Hafeez Kardar’s captaincy was on the line.
As the two sides met at The Oval for the fourth and final Test, hardly anyone gave them a chance. One man did. The wise old Alf Gover. He always said Pakistan would win a Test on the tour. But from the Pakistan High Commissioner to Indian cricket great Vijay Merchant, from the English public, not many of whom knew of a country called Pakistan, to the English and Pakistani scribes … everyone expected them to roll over.
There were rumours of rifts within the team as well. Kardar and Fazal seemed to fall out too often. The archetypal Pakistan side seemed to have been etched on a template that would stand the test of time.
Rain was a player in this Test too. The players had to wait before Hutton and Kardar went out to toss. Kardar won and decided to bat.
The England side that filed out was not their strongest. It was a series of experiments. Jim McConnon was the off-spinner, even as the Surrey great Jim Laker sat out. Alec Bedser and Trevor Bailey made way for two debutants, Frank Tyson and Peter Loader. Well, now we know what a terror Tyson was, but at that time he was a greenhorn.
But the assembled side did boast Hutton, Reggie Simpson, May, Compton, Graveney, Godfrey Evans, Wardle, Statham, Tyson … all of them would go down as great, great names.
When Statham dismissed Hanif with the final ball of the first over, it seemed that the visitors were going to be dished out even more than their share of woes. Hanif had been the pillar of their batting, and now he was gone for a duck. Fazal Mahmood’s melodramatic Urdu biography notes: “This was the biggest blow for the Pakistan team. It was as if a bolt of lightning had struck my heart and for a moment our balcony was frozen into silence.”
And soon Tyson was spewing fury with his pace, and the stumps and bails of Alimuddin and Maqsood Ahmed were flying all over the place. Loader sent Waqar Hasan’s stumps on a stroll and Pakistan were 25 for 4.
They ultimately reached 133, thanks to a resolute 36 by the captain and an unbeaten 16 made over 113 minutes by left-arm spinner Shujauddin. The England openers had just started their innings when the day ended.
The rain had saved Pakistan all through the series. Now it helped them in their counter-offensive manoeuvre. A spectacular cloudburst just before the start of play lasted only 10 minutes, but left a great deal of the ground under water. It was only on the third morning that England were able to resume their innings. On this day, the seventh anniversary of the Independence of Pakistan, Fazal and Mahmood Hussain made the balls rise awkwardly.
Hussain got Simpson. Hutton tried to turn one from Fazal to the leg, and was caught behind off the outside edge. It was a late-outswinger perfected by Fazal after long sessions at the Alf Gover academy.
After the great Hutton had fallen, Fazal added the supreme triumvirate of May, Compton and Graveney to his list of victims. Compton, dropped twice, batted two hours for 53. The rest of them fell away. Fazal went on bowling, unchanged for 30 overs, finishing with 6 for 53. Given the number of catches dropped off his bowling, they were extraordinary figures. Hussain picked up the remaining four for 58. After the first exchanges, Pakistan led by 3.
But by now the pitch had dried and was rendered almost unplayable by Wardle. If Laker was at the other end, one wonders how many Pakistan could have got. McConnon could not quite make use of the conditions in the same way.
Shujauddin, after his long vigil in the first innings, had been sent in to open the batting with Hanif. This time he batted almost an hour for 12. Hanif was snared by Wardle. Pakistan ended the day at 63 for 4. The match was poised on the edge of a knife.
The following morning, Imtiaz was sent back by Tyson almost immediately on resumption. Kardar and Alimuddin turned ultra-defensive, hardly bothering with the scoring. The former spent almost an hour over 17 before driving a full-toss back to Wardle. Alimuddin batted half an hour for a duck.
It was 82 for 8 when a bit of play-acting helped stage a recovery. Wazir Mohammad, the elder brother of Hanif, was hit on the front foot by a swinging full toss from Statham. Painful as it was, Wazir exaggerated it tremendously. He lay on the ground as the supports staff treated his leg. Even wicketkeeper Evans was convinced that he had been critically injured. On the advice of the stumper, the bowlers pitched up to prey on the injured front foot. This did away with the short balls that were incredibly difficult to play on that wicket. Wazir kept grunting, grimacing, but played the balls pitched up quite comfortably.
With Zulfiqar Ahmed refusing to get out at the other end, the ninth wicket put on 58. After Wardle got the tail-ender for 34, Mahmood Hussain stuck around for another half hour and 24 more were added. Wardle finally had Mahmood holing out, to end with figures of 35-16-56-7. Wazir walked back unconquered on 42. The last two wickets had doubled the score.
The Fazal Finish
Yet, England needed just 168. Fazal did dismiss Hutton early yet again, but the rest of the formidable top order could not be knocked over that easily twice.
Simpson and May got 51 in just 40 minutes. The hosts looked eager and increasingly likely to finish the match by the fourth day. The weather could always prove dicey if the match was allowed to run into the fifth. They had already been robbed of victory by the vagaries of the elements in Manchester.
Simpson was dismissed at 66, driving one back to Zulfiqar. But May kept ‘rolling out regal strokes’. Compton looked as if continuing from the first innings. After two hours of batting, England were on 109 for 2.
If we are to believe Fazal Mahmood’s autobiography, it was at this moment that Kardar tried to take him off. And the fast bowler grabbed the ball from the captain, saying, “Do you want to lose the match?”
The ball that followed was a slower one. May’s drive sailed to Kardar’s hands at gully. The young master walked back for 53.
In walked Evans, promoted to push the scoring along and end it that afternoon. Fazal knocked his stumps over.
Tom Graveney came in now, and was trapped leg-before by Shujauddin. And as the shadows lengthened, Compton edged Fazal to Imtiaz behind the wicket. Suddenly, as Tyson and Wardle batted out the day, England were seen struggling at 121 for 6.
Fazal’s biography reads, “I had that kind of a feeling, backed by determination, perseverance, application, concentration and motivation, and I knew I could turn the tables.”
Wardle was an experienced bat among the tail, with plenty of good scores under his belt. He averaged more than 30 in Tests at that time. And as soon as play started on the last day, he was put down by Alimuddin off Mahmood Hussain. The young man was too upset to even mutter an apology to the captain.
Even as Fazal bowled his heart out, Tyson and Wardle inched the score along. In the midst of all this, Wardle was dropped three times off successive deliveries.
And then Fazal bowled another away swinger. Tyson played at it. Imtiaz held the catch.
What followed has two versions. Kardar maintained that he made the field change; Fazal claimed that it was his brainchild. Whatever be the cause, the effect was that in the next over from Fazal Shujauddin was brought in from deep mid-wicket to a short backward square. And Wardle turned the very next ball straight into his hands.
At the same score Loader fell to Mahmood Hussain. England were 138 for 9.
I will leave the rest to Fazal’s autobiography:
“…I started to bowl to McConnon. I had bowled five deliveries to him, but this servant of God played defensive. I was very unsettled by his attitude and felt troubled. I was eager to see the final scene of this drama. I felt only McConnon as now between the ground and the victor’s balcony. To get rid of this last impediment, I bowled my sixth ball with full force. Perhaps McConnon was so bored with his lifeless play or maybe he wanted to show some fury like a dying candle. Therefore, he tried to hit the ball and score a quick run. The ball went straight to Hanif who promptly threw it on the stumps. McConnon was run out. On watching this I ran to Hanif in frenzy, took him in my arms and started dancing. My dreams had been satiated. England was defeated by 24 runs and Pakistan’s name had come prominently on the map of international cricket. There was a commotion in the Pakistan stand. Everyone was jumping for joy.”
Fazal had captured 12 wickets in the match.
The Pakistanis among the sparse final day crowd broke into a roar. Amongst them sat commander-in-chief General Ayub Khan, Lieutenant General Azam Khan and Justice Cornelius, Vice President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan. But among all exuberant celebrations, there was Alf Gover of Surrey and England as well, jumping up and down in joy, screaming, “We have won.”
It had taken the West Indians 22 years, the South Africans 28, and it would take the Indians 39 the New Zealanders 55. Even the Australians, who had started off in Test cricket on almost equal footing, had to tarry till their second official Test tour to win their first Test, and it gave birth to the lore of The Ashes.
In contrast, Pakistan managed to beat England in their very first series in the Old Country, in their very fourth Test in the land. And in the process, they shared the series during the summer of 1954.