My article on the website of ‘Cricket World’, (one of the leading Cricket magazines of England), published on 16 April 2008
Pakistan won its first ever Test in Australia in Sydney in 1976-77. With this victory, Pakistan managed to draw the three Test series 1-1. The main architect of Pakistan’s victory was their fast bowler, Imran Khan, who took 12 wickets in the match.
But there is something more to Imran’s heroic bowling performance in that game.
Until then, the general impression was that Pakistan could not produce a genuine fast bowler. Pakistani new ball bowlers were fast-medium or medium fast. Fazal Mahmood did produce match winning performances in 1950s but apart from his 12 wickets against England in 1954 the rest were achieved on matting wickets. Then he was never a genuine fast bowler, medium-fast and occasionally fast-medium. His 12 wickets against England were taken in a very low scoring game in which the highest team total in the four innings was 164. All the main bowlers of England also had their moments at least in one innings.
On the other hand, Imran in 1976 outshone all the other bowlers including Australia’s legendary Dennis Lillee who had taken ten wickets in the previous test where Aussies pulverized Pakistan.
This Test victory helped Pakistan drew the series thus becoming the first country other than England and South Africa to draw a Test series in Australia.
Australia was the supreme Test nation at that time. They had demolished a formidable West Indian side 5-1 the previous season. And the Windies’ side included in Andy Roberts and Michael Holding two of the greatest fast bowlers in the history of the game.
Apart from Fazal Mahmood, some other fast mediums like Khan Mohammad and Sarfraz Nawaz, a contemporary of Imran Khan, had served Pakistan well but neither of them was a genuine fast bowler nor had won a Test match single handedly in the way Imran did.
Imran’s performance at Sydney in 1976-77 dispelled the impression that people from sub-continent can not be genuine fast bowlers. Up until then Pakistan had mostly flopped on foreign tours. Their only Test series victory away form home was 1-0 win in New Zealand in 1972-3. At home, they prepared slow wickets resulting in an astonishing number of drawn matches.
Imran’s Sydney show had a multi-dimensional effect on Pakistan cricket which has lasted years. More and more youngsters started taking to fast bowling seriously. The cautious approach of the administration also changed. They started preparing fast pitches at home.
Two seasons later, Imran was the third fastest in a competition in Australia which tested a number of well-known fast bowlers of the time for speed. This augmented the impetus.
Within a few years came the emergence of Wasim Akram, arguably the most talented fast bowler in the history of the game. Then Pakistan started producing genuine and world class fast bowlers most regularly: Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar and now Mohammad Asif.
While a few others such as Mohammad Zahid, and Mohammad Akram shone for brief periods. Imran’s performance was the spark that lit the generations of Pakistan quicks. Pakistan started winning abroad and victories at home also started coming via pace men.
It all changed after that Sydney Test of 1977 which made millions of people all over Pakistan wake up early in small hours of cold January mornings to listen to the radio commentary.