What is common between the greatest ever batsman cricket has seen, the Australian Sir Donald George Bradman and our own portly leg spinning all-rounder of 60s and 70s Intikhab Alam? Apparently, nothing comes to mind instantaneously. Let us resolve this mystery for you though. Don Bradman made his last tour of England in 1948 where his side won the Ashes by a comprehensive 4-0 margin including the first ever 400 plus successful run chase on the final days at Leeds. The team led by the great batsman himself, remained unbeaten for the entire duration of the tour brushing aside county sides in addition to hammering the national England squad in test matches.
Hence the term ‘Invincibles’ was coined for Bradman’s 1948 Australians. This mighty team apart from Bradman, included great names like Arthur Morris, Lindsay Hassett, Neil Harvey, Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and Bill Brown to mention a few. It was truly a great side which overcame an equally good English side led by Norman Yardley and comprising legends like Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Alec Bedser and Jim Laker.
In 1974, twenty-six seasons later, a Pakistani side led by Intikhab Alam became the first side to emulate the feat of Bradman’s Invincibles and achieved the distinction of remaining unconquered throughout a tour of England. The comparison however ends here as there was a vast gulf between results achieved. A batting heavy Pakistani side did not manage to win any of the three Test matches, all ending in a draw but did beat England 2-0 in the two match series of One-Day Internationals apart from annihilating the county oppositions in tour games.
Another important aspect was that in 1974, Pakistan was not the only team to visit England. Their arch rivals and neighbors India toured in the first wet and cold half of the English summer and were crushed 2-0 by England in the Test matches including a 42 runs all out rout at the hands of Geoff Arnold and Chris Old at Lords.
The Pakistanis were fortunate to get a much better deal with latter part of the summer with drier pitches and generally better weather.
In early 1970s international cricket tours for Pakistan were far and few. Their previous international commitment was also against England in March 1973 when Tony Lewis lead MCC side, as England’s touring teams were known as in those days, played out three stalemates on Pakistani featherbeds. In between two English Test series the only competitive cricket came in the shape of a World XI led by West Indian Rohan Kanhai which came to Pakistan to help the flood relief efforts.
When the team for the 1974 English tour was announced there were three major surprises. Sadiq Mohammad’s regular opening partner, PIA’s bespectacled opener Talat Ali was dropped in favor of National Bank’s prolific Shafiq Ahmed who later went on to be known as Shafiq Papa (elder brother). The second one to lose a place in the squad was Saleem “Bobby” Altaf, arguably Pakistan’s fastest bowler in those days in favor of another National Bank rookie Naseer Malik. Lastly the biggest surprise came when left-arm spinner Pervez Sajjad was left out and replaced by a hitherto unknown Maazullah Khan from Peshawar who was plucked from obscurity and dumped swiftly after this trip.
Most Pakistanis in the squad used to ply their trade in the green pastures of England playing for different counties as professionals. Zaheer Abbas and Sadiq Mohammad used to represent Gloucestershire, Intikhab Alam and Younis Ahmed played for Surrey, Mushtaq Mohammad and Sarfraz Nawaz were at Northamptonshire, Imran Khan was serving apprenticeship at Worcestershire, Asif Iqbal at Kent and Majid Khan was leading Glamorgan in the county championship. This gave the Pakistani side an invaluable insight and experience of playing in the English conditions.
The Pakistanis started the tour in a whirlwind fashion winning their first four games. Shafiq Ahmed announced himself by achieving the rare feat of batsman scoring a hundred in his maiden first class match on English soil. The only close encounter came against Botham’s Somerset where Pakistanis managed to scrap home by a five runs margin. A deluge at Northampton resulting in a wash out broke their winning sequence but they picked up once again and before the first test won eight out of ten tour games. Sarfraz’s 8-27 against the hapless Nottinghamshire was the pick of the bowling performances and sounded the warning bells for the English batsmen.
The first Test match at Leeds provided a typical see-saw battle between two equally matched sides. Pakistan batted first and were held together by Majid Khan’s stylish 75 against the English quartet of seamers Arnold, Old, Hendrick and Greig plus the crafty master Derek Underwood. A last wicket partnership between opening bowlers Asif Masood and Sarfraz Nawaz on second morning lifted Pakistan to a respectable total of 285. England found going tough against the spirited Pakistani attack who were much superior to Indian new ball pairing of Abid Ali and Eknath Solkar milked by the Englishmen in the earlier part of the summer. England lost the last five wickets in a heap to end at a paltry 183 and conceded a 102 runs advantage on a dicey wicket. Pakistanis were equally in adept in their second showing with the bat and succumbed to the English pace trio folding for 179 and thus setting England a 282 runs target. Sarfraz restored parity by removing both the openers late on the third evening making the match evenly poised. The cat and mouse continued the penultimate day with England fighting initially through John Edrich, Mike Denness and later Keith Fletcher. A tight day ended with England 44 runs away with four wickets intact including an unbeaten Fletcher. All the excitement built over four exciting days of vintage Test match cricket was washed away in heavy rains on the last day and teams had to walk away with a draw.
The first Test was followed by a match against DH Robbins XI which included the famed South African duo of Barry Richards and Clive Rice and an unknown exciting West Indian by the name of Cuthbert Gordon Greenidge. A toothless Pakistani attack san their frontline seamers was taken apart by Greenidge who announced his arrival on the international scene by hitting a then record of 13 sixes in an enterprising knock of 273. Pakistan led by a Majid Khan hundred chased a 300 plus target in the last innings to win the match and followed it up with another now customary win over a weak Glamorgan side to enter the second Test at Lord’s.
In the second Test match Pakistan opted to bat first and opened for the first time with the fabled pair of Sadiq Mohammad and Majid Khan. The going was good till rain stopped play and according to rules of the series the wicket was left uncovered exposed to the vagaries of rain. Derek Underwood was regarded as a master of bowling on rain affected drying wickets and once the play resumed, he took charge of the situation and had Pakistanis on the run. From a comfortable 91 for 1 Pakistan spiraled to a miserable 130 with Underwood taking 5 including one of the best boundary lines catches ever seen by Tony Grieg to dismiss Wasim Raja. England too initially went down to 118 for 6 but were rescued by their chirpy little keeper Alan Knott who made a crisp 83 and lifted his team to a potentially match winning score of 270. Pakistan’s second attempt at the batting crease was better but no different. They fought back on the third day through Mushtaq Mohammad and Wasim Raja, who guided them to 192-3, but on a rain marred fourth day were once again Underwood-ed to a 226 all out. The English master added another eight wickets to bring his match tally to 13. By the close on the fourth day English opening batsmen had reduced the winning target to 60 runs on the final day. Once again, the rain gods smiled on Pakistan and the final day was washed away keeping the series hanging in balance.
Compared to these two nail biting encounters, the final Test at The Oval proved to be an anti-climax on a dead track. Zaheer Abbas woke up from his deep slumber and notched up his second double ton in three years in England as Pakistan piled up a huge 600 before declaring. England riding on contrasting centuries by Dennis Amiss and Keith Fletcher replied with an equally gigantic 545. While Amiss played a stroke filled knock, Fletcher did a Tavare special and put the entire Oval crowd to sleep with his snail paced 122 spread over 513 minutes. When English innings finally ended in the middle of the fifth afternoon there was nothing left in the match and series honors were shared.
The following two match Prudential One Day Cup was won convincingly by Pakistan with Majid Khan making easy meat of a 244 runs target set by England. In the second one dayer it was the turn of Pakistani bowlers to bring the hosts on their knees by reducing them to 28 for 8 before England recovered to set an 82 runs target.
Pakistan maintained their winning sequence in the following tour of Netherlands and returned home unvanquished by any opposition.