Vol. 5 Num 400 Tue. July 12, 2005  

Lighten Up
Test status on trial?

Pakistan's first captain in Test cricket was AH Kardar. He was a genuine all-rounder who batted and bowled left-handed; an Oxford blue, who later played briefly for Warwickshire in county cricket. He was good enough to be selected for the Gentlemen vs Players match of 1949. Kardar never quite realised his potential as a player -- his figures in Tests are modest at best. Test matches in the 1950s, when Kardar played his cricket, were few and far between. He did play a few sparkling innings in his time, but it was as a bowler that he had perhaps greater potential. Tom Graveney, one of the finest post-War batsmen to play for England, made a generous reference to his bowling skills in one of his books. As captain, Kardar may have tended to under-bowl himself. His greatest contribution to Pakistan cricket was as captain. He led a fledgling, unweaned team and set it firmly along the path to maturity by the time he called it a day.

Pakistan achieved its first Test victory in only its second official Test match, against India in 1952. It lost the 5 Test rubber narrowly by a margin of 2-1. Kardar then led the babes of cricket to England where Pakistan drew the series 1-1. Pakistan's victory at the Oval in the 4th and final Test made cricket history of sorts; no other team had won a Test match on its first tour of England. Pakistan, of course, was not the equal of England in the true sense. At Kennington Oval it enjoyed a generous slice of beginner's luck. Rain came at the opportune time early in England's first innings and the state of the pitch after rain was tailor made for the fast medium swing bowling and deadly cutters of Fazal Mahmood, Pakistan's main strike bowler. As a bowler Fazal was of the mould of Bedser and Tate. An England team, with a longish tail, simply could not cope with him in their second innings either, when the wicket was plumb. It was a fully deserved victory, against a team that included Hutton, Compton, May, Graveney, Evans, Statham and Tyson.

Kardar led Pakistan on three overseas tours, to India in 1952-53, England in 1954 and the West Indies in 1957-58. He had the happy habit of writing a book at the end of each tour. Pakistan did not win any of these Test series but was not disgraced either. Pakistan's record in Tests played at that time on home ground was better. This may be attributable to three factors: First, the psychological factor of playing before a supportive home crowd. Secondly, Pakistan persevered with matting wickets, when every other country had turned to turf, almost certainly because matting afforded congenial conditions for its one genuine match-winning bowler, Fazal. The persistence with matting, however, probably also impeded Pakistan's progress to the higher echelons of the game. And thirdly, it has been alleged, mainly by some visiting players, that Pakistan invariably received the benefit of close, or even not so close, umpiring decisions. That was before the era of neutral umpires and instant television replays. Similar grumbles were heard about India, the West Indies, England and Australia as well. This led eventually to the institution of neutral umpires at the highest levels of the game. Umpiring errors, of course, have not been eliminated but this particular aspect of luck in cricket has been appreciably reduced. Paradoxically it is the more vulnerable or weaker teams that seem to suffer more often from dubious decisions.

Kardar's book on the England tour was titled "Test Status on Trial". Kardar himself, and possibly others, may have felt that Pakistan proved itself fully deserving of Test status only after defeating England in a Test on that tour. Perhaps they had a point. The fact remains though that appreciable differences between Test playing countries have always existed and have often enough been the subject of both debate and unkind ridicule. New Zealand played its first Test in 1929-30 and won its first Test only in 1955-56 against the West Indies, in its 45th Test. In 1932-33 Walter Hammond, an outstanding player then at the peak of his powers, scored 227 and 336 not out in two Tests against New Zealand. New Zealand in reply scored 223 and 35 for no loss, and 158 and 16 for no wicket. Both matches were drawn. Hammond averaged an incredible 563 for the series, a world record. He also broke Bradman's then record of the highest individual Test innings of 334 against England in 1930. Without detracting from Hammond's feat, no one then or later was prepared to place his 336n.o. on a par with Bradman's earlier feat.

New Zealand did in those times produce the outstanding individual player, like Martin Donnelly, but as a team could not compete with the best. On its England tour in 1949, New Zealand was given a series of four 3-day Tests. Though nowhere near England as a team, New Zealand was good enough to draw all 4 Tests. A fitting response, I suppose, to what was certainly perceived as a slight. Australia never played New Zealand at the Test level until 1945-6 and even that one match rubber was accorded Test status only retrospectively in 1948. Bradman opted out of that rubber, concentrating instead on regaining full match fitness for the resumption of the Ashes series that was to follow. The locust-eaten War years would have taken their toll of even the great man's phenomenal prowess and resources. His absence did not materially affect the outcome of the match, which Australia won with ease by an innings within two days. It did mean though that Bradman never played against New Zealand in his entire career.

India toured England in 1952 for a four Test rubber and next in1959. It lost both series, by margins of 3-0 and 5-0 respectively. In the third Test in 1952, India was bowled out twice in one day. Pakistan, in its second tour of England in 1962 did not perform much better; it lost the 5 match rubber, 4-0. Such grotesquely lopsided matches provoked both acid comments and genuine concern. One suggestion mooted was for weaker sides to play only 3-day Test matches on tours to England. A more biting observation was an invitation to the MCC to make the logo of the England team's cap variable, the traditional three lions for matches with Australia, two lions for matches against South Africa and the West Indies, and for games with others, a pussy cat!

It is an axiom of cricket that matches are won by bowlers and not batsmen. Cricket in Pakistan began to mature, somewhat belatedly, after it had switched to turf in domestic games, after it began to produce match winning bowlers and after a number of their top players began playing county cricket in England, when rules for overseas players were relaxed.

India and Pakistan were difficult to beat on home ground. They still are. Both, however, performed ridiculously below par or potential abroad. Pakistan incidentally did not qualify automatically for Test status after partition. It drew an unofficial Test with the West Indies in 1948, lost the sole unofficial Test with a Commonwealth side in 1949, and in 1951 won a two match unofficial series with a visiting MCC team, 1-0. The MCC team was without its top players but was good enough to draw an official five Test rubber with India at 1-1. India's victory in the 5th Test was its first in an official Test, in its 25th Test match, 20 years after achieving Test status. It was after the victory over MCC that Pakistan became a full member of the ICC and received Test status, which came with membership.

The predicament of Bangladesh cricket at this time is not too different from the harrowing experiences of India, Pakistan, New Zealand or even the West Indies in their early years in the game. Bangladesh in its five years of Test cricket and after close to 40 official Tests, has won only once, and that too against a depleted Zimbabwe XI. There is an excess of Test cricket today, which brings out in sharp relief Bangladesh's discomfiture. Perhaps cricket in Bangladesh would have been better served if the country had achieved Test status via the strenuous route of success in unofficial Tests. In Bangladesh the talent is there, the promise is there, and for sheer enthusiasm the country is second to none. There is, however, more to cricket than these admittedly vital elements. Cricket has to do with endurance, stamina, mental strength and, of course, basic skills, all of which need at times to be laced with liberal infusions of luck. There has been the occasional outstanding individual performance from Bangladesh in contests with other sides. This is assuredly welcome and augurs well for the future.

As a team though Bangladesh is not yet equipped to compete credibly with the better teams, especially in Tests. To improve -- the experience of others would suggest -- Bangladesh must continue to compete with established teams. On the other hand, wholly lopsided contests cannot be good for the game, nor can it afford much by way of entertainment or pleasure to the spectator. There is also the possibility that the game's records, almost sacrosanct to innumerable aficionados of cricket, may be devalued. Hammond's feats against New Zealand in 1932-3 come readily to mind. What is needed is a delicate balance between concerns that do not pull in the same direction. In Bangladesh there are great expectations of coach Dav Whatmore. In the coming months and years he desperately needs to hone the team's talents and produce match-winning bowlers. Certainly this will call for sustained effort and application from his team. Whatmore performed a miracle of sorts when he guided Sri Lanka to victory in the World Cup. A second such miracle for Bangadesh is what is much needed now.

Fazal Mahmood, who featured prominently in every one of Pakistan's early victories, passed away recently. Not long before Fazal's death, Omar Qureshi also passed on. He, alongside Jamshed Marker, Pearson Sureta, Vizzy, Devrajpuri and Berry Sarbhadikari, among others, did much, through ball-to-ball, live commentary on Test matches over radio, to bring cricket to the homes of countless cricket lovers in the sub-continent. This was at a time when coverage of the game by television, or for that matter television itself in the sub-continent, was still some time in the future. Both Fazal and Omar Qureshi gave much to the game they loved. May the earth rest lightly upon them.