Some matches remain alive in the memories of fans, players and sports historians. There could be a variety of reasons. One such match in Pakistan`s cricket history was the first test of the three-match series between Pakistan and New Zealand in Christchurch in 1978-79 which is remembered for a number of reasons.
The Kerry Packer affair dominated the game of cricket during that period. Kerry Packer, an Australian media tycoon, owned among others, TV Channel Nine. After the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) refused to accept Channel Nine’s bid to gain exclusive television rights to Australia’s Test matches in 1976, Packer set up his own series by secretly signing agreements with leading Australian, English, Pakistani, South African, and West Indian players.
They were offered lucrative contracts. Five Pakistani stars contracted were all- rounder Mushtaq Mohammad (captain), batsmen Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas and Asif Iqbal, and young fast bowling all-rounder Imran Khan, who later developed into one of the greatest all-rounders the game has known.
Initially, Pakistan took a hard line, and like England and Australia refused to select their Packer players. The West Indies selected their Packer players against the Packer less Australian team for a 5 Test home series in 1977-78.
However, the relations between the Packer players and the West Indian board soured after the second Test overpayment and other issues. The West Indian board also discarded the Packer players.
Pakistan first hosted England in 1977-78 in a three-Test series. Incidentally, both the sides were missing five players to Packer`s World Series Cricket. Pakistan Cricket Board prepared lifeless tracks resulting in one of the most boring test series; all three matches were dull draws.
It was altogether a different story when Pakistan visited England for a return three test series a few months later during the summer of 1978. Pakistan’s mostly inexperienced batting lineup couldn’t cope with the seaming wickets during a wet English summer and lost the first two tests by an innings margin. The third Test which was badly affected by rain ended in a draw.
Next was an eagerly awaited and highly sensitive series against India in Pakistan in Sep-Nov 1978. Two wars in the intervening years meant that the neighbours were playing after a long gap of 18 years. Pakistan’s good showing against the traditional rivals held great importance for the new martial law government. Hence, on the government`s instructions, the cricket board included all the Packer players.
One of the most memorable Test series on the Pakistani soil saw the home side defeating India 2-0. Pakistan won the second and third Tests in thrilling manner, chasing the target against the clock. In fact, that series, televised live across the country, increased cricket`s popularity in Pakistan to new heights.
A few months after the epoch-making Indian series, Pakistan had a three-Test series in New Zealand in early 1979. A full-strength side reached New Zealand. The visitors fared well in the matches leading to the first Test.
But the World Series Cricket (WSC) scheduling meant that not all the Packer players were available for the first Test at Christchurch. Three teams competed in the breakaway WSC that season, Australia, West Indies, and World (comprising of Pakistanis, English, and South Africans). The world had made it to the final of the super tests against Australia. WSC authorities wanted the top Pakistanis for the all-important match whose dates coincided with that of the first test between Pakistan and New Zealand.
Imran, Zaheer and Asif left the team for Australia. Majid was with the team but he hadn`t recovered fully from an injury caused by an Andy Roberts bouncer during a WSC match just before the New Zealand tour. He hadn’t played in any tour match till then. That left Mushtaq Mohammad the captain, as the only one from the five original Pakistani Packer players available for the first Test.
Even his participation was in serious doubt. When he arrived in New Zealand, Mushtaq had a very sore right heel. He already had six cortisone injections in Australia for no relief. Oil suggested by a chiropodist didn`t help either. All this meant he had to miss all but one of the lead-up games before the first Test. Now, he was having serious thoughts about quitting the tour.
During the match against Wellington, Mushtaq was sitting on the balcony with his foot up when he was approached by a local cricket administrator who had read about his injury in the newspaper.
He told Mushtaq about the sulfur water pools in Rotorua where the next three-day game was scheduled. According to him, people from all over the world with pains, rheumatism, arthritis, etc. go there because of the healing powers of the local sulfur water.
On reaching Rotorua, Mushtaq visited the medicated bath and had three 15 minute baths as recommended. It was magic as he could walk normally without any pain. Still, he decided to skip that penultimate game before the first test and instead have more sulphur baths. He fully participated in team`s afternoon sessions where he batted, bowled, fielded, and ran around before telling the team manager, `I will be fit for the first Test“.
But with the four Packer boys not playing, there was a lot of pre-match tension in the Pakistani camp. Mushtaq tells in his autobiography `Inside Out`, ‘I discussed the game plan with Majid and we both agreed that with four main players missing, we should play safe and just try to bat out for a draw; defensive batting and tight bowling. It all sounded negative but we basically didn`t have much faith in the team that was there`.
21 year-old paceman Sikander Bakht, the youngest member of the team recalls, “Team had been doing very well in the side games. Before leaving for Australia, the senior players told us at the dinner, `go for the draw. We will be back for the remaining two tests and Pakistan will demolish the Kiwis`. Our batsmen Javed Miandad, Talat Ali, Mudassar etc. were given long practice sessions in the nets“.
Christchurch wicket is traditionally a green top favouring the fast men. Kiwis` attack was spearheaded by legendary Sir Richard Hadlee, their greatest cricketer. Mark Burgess must have seen something special in the wicket when he invited Pakistan to bat after winning the toss. Hadlee did look dangerous and Pakistani batting was also defensive and the scoreboard read 220 for six when the first day drew close. Hadlee took four of the fallen. 21-year-old Javed Miandad’s responsible innings of 80 held the Pakistan innings together. He got support only from Talat Ali and Haroon Rasheed, both scoring 40. Talat and Haroon hadn`t featured in the preceding Test series against India.
On the second day, Pakistan’s first innings stretched to 271 with tail-ender Sarfraz contributing an unbeaten 31. Hadlee, who had excellent figures of 5-62, exploited the conditions well but lacked quality support at the other end.
New Zealand began well with left-handed opener Bruce Edgar looking full of confidence. They were 142-2 with Edgar unbeaten on 70 when the stumps were drawn for the second day.
Next day, Edgar continued and showing remarkable temperament batted for seven hours. He scored his maiden Test century while wickets kept falling at the other end. He was the seventh man out after making 129 laced with 14 fours. Other notable contribution was Hadlee`s 41. The home side`s total of 290 gave them a token first innings lead of 19 runs.
One encouraging development emerged for Pakistan. The Kiwis appeared suspect against the leg-spin. On a wicket known for favouring seamers, Pakistan`s most successful bowler was leg spinner Mushtaq (4-60). The other leg-spinning all-rounder Wasim Raja also chipped in with two cheap scalps.
Still, the captain was in a defensive state of mind. Mushtaq: `I wanted us to just bat a long time in the second innings to ensure we didn`t lose`. When the third day ended, Pakistan were well placed at 99/1.
But it was Javed Miandad`s magnificent batting and his great cricketing brain that made the captain rethink the strategy.
He batted magnificently for an unbeaten 160. As in the first innings, opener Talat Ali (61) and Haroon Rasheed (35) were the other main contributors.
About Miandad`s confidence and assessment of the situation, Mushtaq tells, “At tea on the fourth day, he came to me and asked about my plan. I said we would bat on. ‘no’ he said. ‘we should declare’. This was coming from a cocky 21 years old who added, ‘the ball is turning and we can bowl them out. You and Raja could exploit the rough which Brendan Bracewell was creating with his run-up.”
The captain was convinced but not the second senior-most member of the squad.
When Mushtaq told Majid on the balcony about the change of plan, latter replied, “No way; you know about the plan. We agreed we would bat on and on until the match was safe”.
While the conversation was going on, Miandad looked up at his captain at the end of every over asking if enough had been put on the board for the declaration.
Eventually, Mushtaq left Majid and instructed the 12th man to take a message to Miandad to bat for another three overs. Miandad let loose at left-arm spinner Boock to take the lead over 300. Mushtaq declared at 323 for 6.
New Zealand who were set a target of 305 had about half an hour to survive on the fourth day.
Majid was still moaning that Pakistan didn’t` have enough runs. As Mushtaq was going to give the pep talk to the team, he told Majid, “I believe we will win this game. So when I go into the dressing room to talk to the boys, I don’t want to hear any of your negativity”.
Pakistanis were expecting to take at least one wicket but the Kiwi openers managed to survive and the penultimate day ended with New Zealand 23 for no loss. Majid said to Mushtaq, “you are stupid”.
That night, Asif, Zaheer and Imran rejoined the team from Australia.
Mushtaq spent a restless night, “I couldn`t sleep; the pressure was getting to me. Mudassar, one of the junior players, suggested, “Skipper, go and rest in your room for an hour and we will then have a drink in the hotel bar. Wasim Raja joined us. Three of us discussed the match situation.
Mudassar and Wasim Raja tried to ease my nerves with their positive thinking. We called it a night at about 10. No sooner had I reached the room than I felt tense again and wasn`t ready for bed.
I went down again to the bar and sat there with a drink until the wee hours of the morning. Majid`s constant moans about the declaration had unsettled me. I was worried if I had allowed myself to be carried along by the youngsters; leading to a needless defeat so soon after those memorable victories against India. But deep down, I always had a feeling we would do it, with the pitch turning”.
Before the start of play, Mushtaq gave a brief pep up talk. Sikander Bakht, most successful of fast bowlers in the first innings with three wickets, provided with an early breakthrough at 31, dismissing first innings centurion Edgar.
But Mushtaq soon replaced Sarfraz and Sikander with himself and Wasim Raja. Left hander Wright and Coney coped well with the all leg-spin attack to take the score to 62 for 1. Keeper Bari reading Mushtaq’s tension said to him that there was no way they could play him on that wicket.
Almost immediately, Mushtaq sent the ball of the match. He describes, “my delivery that bowled left-hander John Wright through the gate probably did as much for our confidence as much for their anxiety. I floated him a leg break well outside the off-stump and he shaped to drive it through the cover. The ball spun 45 degrees as if hitting an apple or a stone, to hit the stumps. “
Very next ball, Geoff Howarth, their best batsman, was sort of yorked off a dipping Mushtaq leg break. There was no looking back. Wickets fell regularly. Mushtaq and Raja bowled till the end, finishing with five and for wickets respectively. Both had their career-best test match figures. New Zealand`s second innings folded at 176 giving Pakistan a 128 runs victory.
The three Packer stars Asif, Zaheer and Imran who had returned the previous night showed mixed emotions of joy and surprise. Imran was in fact on the field when the match ended as a substitute fielder.
What about Majid who opposed Pakistan going for a win till the end?
Mushtaq tells, “As we were heading back to the dressing room, Majid came out to embrace us and with a big grin said, ‘don’t say a word’.
But it was primarily a victory of the younger brigade who had defied odds, winning a Test on a green top wicket without the four mega stars.
Sikander Bakht`s performance 3-88 and 1- 14 can be termed good but certainly not outstanding.
Later in his career, he had five wickets in an innings thrice and ten wickets in the match once.
Yet, he remembers the 1979 Christchurch Test as the most memorable of his career.
Haroon Rasheed was the unluckiest of the players dropped for the second Test to accommodate the returning stars. With scores of 40 and 35, he was the only batsman apart from Talat Ali to give support to Miandad in either innings. He terms his exclusion for the next Test as the biggest disappointment of his career, “I made my Test debut in 1977 and scored runs in Australia and the West Indies and at home against England. I had failed in England in 1978 and wasn`t considered for the Indian Test series.
Therefore, the first Test in New Zealand was important for me to reclaim a regular place. I did very well and my contribution was widely praised. Yet, I was dropped. That said, I admit that the team management had no choice but to include batsmen rated higher than me.”
About Javed Miandad’s remarkable role, Mushtaq writes, “I can’t forget Javed’s contribution. It was his innings and his confidence that changed my thinking, which was quite something for a youngster. He has a great cricketing brain and it was no surprise that he went on to become one of the best batsmen ever.’
Apart from the great team performance, there were also individual highs.
Mushtaq Mohammad’s match figures of 9-119 remains the best of his 57 Test career Wasim Raja also appeared in 57 Tests and his match return of 6-86 in this Test was his best ever.
Talat Ali scored his Test highest 61 in the second innings. His match aggregate of 101 runs is also the best in the 10 Test matches he played.
Javed Miandad, for many Pakistan’s greatest ever batsman, scored his first overseas century in his eighth away Test. His previous four centuries had come in nine home Tests.
What Happened Next?
Pakistan entered the second and the third tests with the first choice XI; not only with Asif, Zaheer and Imran but also Majid, who had recovered from the injury.
Both the Tests ended in draw with neither team in sight of win.
Hence, Pakistan won the series 1-0. It was their only second overseas Test series victory and they owed it to the first Test win by a side sans the superstars. Pakistan had to wait eight years for the next Test series win away from home.
It was indeed a remarkable Test match.