Almanac Cricket: Memories of Australia v Pakistan tests
As we await the start of the twelfth test series between Australia and Pakistan in Australia a look back over the records shows that the visitors have managed only four test wins since their first tour here in 1964/65. That Pakistan do not travel well is widely documented. That controversy often follows in their footsteps is well known. And importantly, that they have produced many wonderful cricketers is indisputable.
My memories of tests between Australia and Pakistan in this country are ones of humour, dismay, doubt, surprise and disgust. I’ll leave the humour for a moment and start with the other sentiments.
The third test of the series in January 1973 at the SCG produced an unlikely win for Australia as Max “Tangles” Walker swung his side to victory taking 6 for 15 in Pakistan’s second dig. But an earlier performance in the game helped open the doorway for the home team. An 83 run ninth wicket partnership between tailenders Bob Massie and John Watkins gave Australia a lead of 158 and a slim chance. A great diving catch by Ross Edwards triggered the collapse and then surprise surprise enter Mr. Walker with his match winning performance.
It is March 1979 and pre-season footy training is getting into full swing. Before taking to the training track, the cricketers among us stop “Hang on, how is the cricket going?” In 33 balls, Sarfraz has just taken 7 for 1 and Australia has totally capitulated. Even the notorious last day MCG pitch can’t be blamed for this performance. Sarfraz takes 9 for 86 and leads his team to its second test win on Australian soil. From my point of view, dismay and disgust in equal measure.
Two years on and the scene is the WACA. A gold headband can’t keep a brain explosion from DK Lillee happening. Bowling to Javed Miandad, and getting mighty frustrated with the exploits of the star Pakistan batsman, Lillee engineers a mid-pitch collision with his tormentor as he takes a cheeky run. Not too impressed, the Pakistani raises his bat swordlike poised over the head of the fast man. Fielders and the umpire intervene to prevent further blows, but the damage is done. My reaction is disgust in the actions of both.
Most recently, it was January 2010 at the SCG and a chance for a father to take his son for his first taste of test cricket. Drizzling rain prevented any play until after lunch on the first day and the young fellow was struggling to look interested. With the lack of cricket action he was obviously dreaming of a day in the surf tomorrow.
Tim waits for some action alongside a well known SCG spectator
Play finally got under way and shortly after Phillip Hughes slashed at one outside off stump and was taken in the slips. The batting did not get any better as Australia was dismissed for 127. Pakistan replied with a solid 333 and looked to be in total command of the test when Siddle joined Hussey in Australia’s second innings. With a lead of only 51 it looked all over bar the shouting late on day four. The next morning Pakistan appeared nervous and defensive, much like the Pommies at Adelaide on the last day a few years earlier. The Aussie pair took full advantage of defensive field placements and missed chances (‘sitters’) to build the lead beyond 100. When finally dismissed with a lead of 176 Australia still had its work cut out. To everyone’s dismay the Pakistan batsmen managed to throw their wickets away in a crazy collapse and fell short by 40 runs. Looked suspicious. In the wash-up, with match fixing allegations rife, much doubt was cast over Pakistan’s implosion. If they did throw it, I am disgusted that test cricket could come to that.
Now for the humour. Let’s go back to the Sydney test in 1973. The Newcastle leggie John Watkins was selected from obscurity, along with several other fresh faces, as a trial for Australia’s upcoming tour of the West Indies. Sitting in the Sheridan Stand I witnessed one of the most embarrassing debuts a sportsman could experience. Nerves overtook the normally relaxed and nonchalant Watkins as he could barely land a ball on the square. He bowled wides down both sides of the wicket. In fact the square leg umpire was seen back tracking at one point. Even some of his deliveries that landed on the pitch bounced twice before reaching the batsman. A question from the Hill soon followed. “Hey Wocko, which bounce was ya wrong-un?” Shocked spectators felt his pain but with a touch of humour at the sight that unfolded during his memorable six over spell.
On the previous day, when Australia were batting in its first innings, the tall Pakistani paceman Sarfraz Nawaz was fielding near the boundary on the ‘hill’ side of the ground. One wag in the crowd noticed that the fieldsman’s creams did not quite make it to boot length, actually not even ankle length, and summing up the problem called out “Hey Sarfraz. Pull up your shorts!” My Dad often recalls that one-liner when we reminisce about days spent watching test cricket.
So to the ‘Gabba for the First Test today. Will the recent travelling form of Pakistan in New Zealand be a portent for their fortunes or will we be served a treat by the riches of their slick fast bowlers, skilful spinners and world-class batsmen? How will both teams go under lights and with the pink ball? Will Australia’s resurrection be short lived? Can the new guns perform under the Brisbane sky?
Let us hope there is plenty of entertaining, absorbing, hard and honest test cricket, plus one or two moments of good humour.