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The Zaheer Abbas Dossier – 2

Kamran Wasti

Pakistan in Australia 1977

Zaheer is dismissed off the first ball he faces on the Australian tour as Pakistan play Western Australia at Perth, a tour match that would increasingly develop as a game as hard as test cricket. The bowler is Dennis Lillee and the fielder is one Mr. Ric Charlesworth, MBBS, better known as a successful captain of the first truly great Australian Hockey Teams. He has a productive time in the second innings scoring a fluent 69 but Pakistanis suffer a heavy defeat as the state team chases the 333-run target in just 44 8-ball overs (equivalent to 59 six-ball ones) at almost a run-a-ball.

The Adelaide Oval, hosting the first test, sees Pakistanis start off shakily with Thomson and Gilmour removing the openers. Zaheer, already dropped twice, is visibly in trouble when he skies a third catch and Thomson, in trying to grab it, rams into Alan Turner and loses his shoulder. With him gone and Lillee already bowling with an infected toe, Zaheer has a lucky break and scores a fluent 85. In the second innings, Pakistan start off with a deficit of 182. Majid Khan, with the debutant opener Mudassar Nazar, provides a crucial opening start of 74 and then faces Dennis Lillee, shielding Zaheer from the paceman. By the time he is dismissed, the Kookaburra ball has gone soft, the seam flattened and Lillee visibly tired and labouring through his overs. Zaheer then prospers and compiles a studied hundred on a flat batting wicket. However, his celebrates his milestone with an poorly executed hook of Lillee and is caught. Nevertheless, this is a successful and welcome return to form for Zaheer. The standout performance though is delivered by Asif Iqbal whose unbeaten 152 is part of Pakistan cricket folklore.

The Melbourne Test is played on a wicket which is initially green and the conditions at the start too are overcast. However, Pakistanis bowl poorly and the sun comes out and Australians prosper on a flat wicket in bright daylight. By the time Pakistan bat, the wicket has eased up and Zaheer arrives at the wicket after a brutal 76 by Majid Khan (out of a stand of 113) and he proceeds to score an effortless 90 before Gary Gilmour beats him. He is part of a sensational Lillee-inspired collapse which sees Pakistan lose 8 for 65 in a match-defining session. He scores a chancy but aggressive 58 in the second innings before falling to Walker but Pakistan and handed their worst defeat in test cricket.

The Sydney Test, to most the most important single event in Pakistan cricket history, sees Imran Khan take 12 for 165 in perhaps the greatest show of fast-bowling by a Pakistani. Asif Iqbal scores another outstanding hundred and backed by the debutant Haroon Rashid and the rookie Javed Miandad, Pakistan score enough runs to win the test. Zaheer is fired out for single digit scores in both innings by Dennis Lillee. He does snap up three fine catches, one of which, a fine diving effort results in broken spectacles. This is the only incident that Zaheer has mentioned in his autobiography Zed ghosted-written by David Foot.

Zaheer, on the whole, has a successful series scoring 343 runs at 57.17.

Pakistan in the West Indies 1977

Faced by fitness blues, he does not appear in the first two tests but returns to the squad for the third game at Guyana. Facing an innings defeat, Pakistanis lose Sadiq Muhammad to injury in the middle of an important opening stand. Zaheer walks in and plays possibly the best innings of his career – a buccaneering 80 with 13 fours as he and Majid Khan share a stand of 159. Ironically, this would be the only he crossed 50 against the West Indies. He scores 51 in runs in the other five test innings he plays and a return of 131 runs at under 22 is not promising. The West Indies tour on the whole is not very encouraging either.

Packer Rebel – Career span: November 24, 1977 to February 2, 1979

As the news of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket surfaces, Zaheer is found to be one of the signatories. He would play in both the seasons but his returns are mediocre – in 43 completed innings in all types of games (limited overs, Supertests and the test), he has a total of 1017 to show for at 23.65.

His 129 in a game again the second string WSC Cavaliers in a 2-day 100-over match at Albury at towards the end of World Series Cricket is his only hundred. WSC Cavaliers consisted either of aged players well past their shelf-life or those who could not make the first XIs for the Australians, the West Indians and the World.

In addition there are just four 50s:

  1. 87 against WSC Cavaliers (2-day 100-overs match)
  2. 91 against WSC West Indies (Supertest at the SCG)
  3. 57 against WSC Australians at the Sydney Showgrounds (40-over day-night one-day, 8 ball overs)
  4. 52 against WSC Australians at the VFL Part, Melbourne (40-over day-night one-day, 8 ball overs)

The 1977 English Season

Has an extremely profitable time in the English season, scoring 1584 runs at 52.80 with 5 hundreds. Only one of his hundreds is a big one, an unbeaten 205 versus Sussex that features the Pakistani duo of a troubled Imran Khan (over his move from Worcestershire to Sussex) and Javed Miandad. Predictably, he scores another unbeaten hundred in the second innings. His one-day returns though continue to remain modest.

Loyal Rebels

Zaheer joins Mushtaq Muhammad and Imran Khan as the three travel to Karachi to participate in the test match against England. However, they are given a cold shoulder from everyone to the airport staff to Wasim Bari, the Pakistani captain. England announce a boycott should Pakistan include the three Packerites.

On paper, this is a ‘principled’ stance. In reality, this is merely out of fear of defeat. Two years later, Mike Brearley, the English captain, would lead his team against an Australian team with a host of declining Packer players. Brearley’s reputation was built on thrashing two Packer-affected Australian second XIs. Here, England suffered a humiliating whitewash at the hands of an Australian team that decimated by the West Indies.

The Rebels return to Australia and Brearley’s England fails to win a test in Pakistan and then thrashes the depleted Pakistani side in England that, in addition to the five Packer players, are without the services of Sarfraz Nawaz. When he does return, Sarfraz puts Pakistan in total command in the ultimately rained-off Leeds test.

 The 1978 English Season

Has another successful English season, scoring 1535 runs at 45.15 with six hundreds including 213 against Sussex in which Imran Khan also hits 167. Ironically, this comes at a time when England is thrashing the daylights out of a raw Pakistani team.

The Indian Series – 1978-79

Indians arrive to play Pakistan for the first time in 18 years. The famed spin quartet, now aging and in terminal decline, is backed by the left-arm over-the-wicket bowling of Karsan Ghavri and a new fast-medium bowler, Kapil Dev. Zaheer is presented with the Faisalabad front that offers no help to bowlers and he promptly responds with a match double of 176 and 96, before falling to that famed medium pacer Sunil Gavaskar who, when free, was often asked to open the batting for India. The match though ends in a dull draw.

The second test is played at Lahore where an unusually green wicket in a cool autumn morning welcomes the teams. Pakistan win the toss and bowl India out for 199. By that time, the grass has dried up and the wicket has firmed and is faster and perfect for batting. Zaheer toys with the Indian bowling hitting an unbeaten 235 and then hits the winning six in the second innings to provide Pakistan with his first match winning hundred and ultimately, his only match-winning double hundred. He scores a rather subdued 42 in the last test to wind up the series with a then world record 583 runs at 194.33. His average jumps from 34 to 44.

Australia and New Zealand – 1978-79

The tour is only notable for his only hundred against New Zealand, a pleasing but chancy 135 (with four dropped catches) out of the 226 runs scored in his presence although the dead wicket can only allow for a draw. His most important innings though is an important 50 during a crucial stand with Majid Khan who scores a hundred – this happens during the Melbourne Test made famous by Sarfraz Nawaz’s signature performance of 9 for 86.

End of Part II

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