Pakistan’s most memorable home Test series

June 6, 2021

In the historic Test series against India at home in 1978, Pakistan outclassed their arch rivals 2-0 and gave a big boost to the national psyche at a time of considerable political turmoil

In September 1978, Pakistan and India resumed their rivalry in Test cricket after 18 long years. They had last met on a cricket field in India in 1960 and the resumption of cricketing ties between the two countries was eagerly awaited.A 16-member Indian side toured Pakistan for six weeks from September to November 1978, playing 3 Tests, 3 ODIs and 6 other first-class matches. Led by Bishen Singh Bedi, the team included the legendary Indian spin quartet of Bedi, Chandrashaker, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan. It had a strong batting line-up comprising the great Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanath, Dilip Vengsarkar, the Amarnath brothers, Mohinder and Surinder, and Chetan Chauhan. This test series also introduced Kapil Dev to international cricket.

Pakistan were led by Mushtaq MohammAd who was Bedi’s colleague and friend at Northamptonshire. The Pakistan team had been reinforced by the return of the Packer players and included Majid, Sadiq, Zaheer, Mushtaq, Asif Iqbal, Javed Miandad, Imran Khan, Wasim Bari, Sarfaraz Nawaz, Sikander Bakht and Iqbal Qasim.

The first test was held at the new venue of the Iqbal Stadium in Faisalabad. It marked the Test debut of a 19 year old all-rounder Kapil Dev, who would eventually become one of the all-time greats of Indian cricket. Pakistan won the toss and decided to bat on a placid, grassless wicket. They began with an 84 run opening stand between Majid and Sadiq and were 110 for 3, when Miandad joined Zaheer. By the close of play they had progressed to 283 for 3, with Zaheer unbeaten on 128 and Miandad on 53. Zaheer accelerated the scoring rate the next morning, with his third fifty taking only 52 minutes. He was finally out for 176 after a 255 run partnership with Miandad, which at the time was the highest for any wicket by either side in test matches between them. Miandad was unbeaten with 154 when, late in the second day, Mushtaq declared the Pakistan innings closed at 503 for 8. The much vaunted Indian spinning triad of Bedi, Prasanna and Chandrashaker took all eight wickets between them but at a huge cost of 377 runs.

The Indian reply of 462 for 9 declared stretched into the 4th day’s play. It was anchored by an excellent 145 from Vishwanath and supporting scores of 89 and 83 from Gavasker and Vengsarkar respectively. Mushtaq bagged 4 wickets for just 55 runs.

In their second outing Pakistan scored at almost four runs an over. Asif Iqbal made 104 and Zaheer missed out on a richly deserved century in each innings when he played a casual shot off a dolly from Gavaskar and was caught at deep mid-on for a an excellent knock of 96. This would be Gavaskar’s only Test wicket ever. Interestingly, he also took a single wicket in his ODI career, again that of Zaheer Abbas. Pakistan declared at 264 for 4 and India crawled to 43 without loss in the remaining 19 overs of play. India’s prized spinners had conceded 500 runs between them in 163 overs of toil against Pakistan’s formidable batting.

After the drawn first Test, there was a green top wicket for the second Test at Lahore. Upon winning the toss, Mushtaq invited India to bat first. Gavaskar, on whom India relied heavily, was dismissed early as edged an out swinger from Saleem Altaf to Majid in the slips. After a very shaky start, Vengsarkar, made a stubborn 76 and Mohinder Amarnath, after being dropped early in his innings, was shaping well when he turned his back on an Imran bouncer and received a nasty blow on the head. He retired hurt and then, on resuming his innings, while negotiating another bouncer, he trod onto his wicket for an uncommon hit-wicket dismissal. India were skittled out for just 199, with Imran and Sarfaraz sharing four wickets each.

In reply Pakistan soon lost Mudassar and were 28 for 1 at the end of the opening day. The next morning, the night watchman Wasim Bari played an entertaining knock of 85, outscoring Majid in a second wicket stand of 125, but the real fireworks were provided by Zaheer in another superlative innings. Playing with effortless ease and grace he had a partnership of 140 with Miandad followed by a stand of 146 with his captain Mushtaq, and was undefeated on 235 when Pakistan declared at 539 for 6 wickets. This was his third double century in tests and he completely dominated the bowling. Exquisite strokes off the back foot, classical off drives and powerful pulls sent the ball to the fence for 29 fours and 2 sixes. Of the 395 runs scored while he was at the wicket, he had the lion’s share of 235. The Indian spinners had again been slaughtered, with just 3 wickets for 333 runs from 80 overs of effort.

On a docile surface India replied solidly, albeit slowly. Gavaskar and Chauhan were both dismissed in their nineties after a fine opening stand of 192. Fifties by Surinder Amarnath and Vishwanath took India to 465 all out off 170.3 overs at a scoring rate of 2.72 runs per over.

However, a much higher score had looked likely. At one stage India were 301 for 2 and then 406 for 4 shortly before lunch on the final day. As a draw loomed on the horizon, Mudassar was brought on to bowl. Mushtaq stated that he wanted to try something different to break the batsmen’s concentration. This proved to be an inspired decision as Mudassar bowled Vishwanath, who missed the line of an in-swinger while attempting a cut, and just one run later he induced Vengsarkar to edge a ball into the safe hands of Wasim Bari behind the stumps. Mudassar had taken 2 wickets for 4 runs off just 4 overs.

Pakistan were left with a winning target of 126 in just over 100 minutes of play. Bedi deployed a defensive, run saving field and the bowlers also bowled a leg stump line, punctuated with bouncers. At one point Majid, in sheer frustration and to drive home a point about the negative line of bowling, pulled out the leg stump and indicated that it should be placed much further away on the leg side. He was suitably reprimanded by the umpire. The outcome, however, was never in doubt. After a 57 runs opening stand between Majid and Mudassar, Zaheer and Asif took over and Zaheer appropriately delivered the coup de grace with a six off Vishwanath. Pakistan reached their target in 20.4 overs, with over 8 overs to spare.

The 3rd and final Test was played in Karachi. India won the toss and batted first. After stands of 58 and 73 for the first two wickets, their batting unraveled and they lost four more wickets for the addition of just another 88 runs, with only Gavasker standing firm in a six hour vigil for 111 runs. Kapil Dev attacked lustily for a 33 ball fifty, and with help from Ghavri in an 84 run stand for the 8th wicket, took India to a respectable total of 344.

Pakistan began with an opening partnership of 84 between Majid and Mudassar, but then lost quick wickets to have half the side back in the pavilion for 187. Miandad and Mushtaq salvaged the situation with a 154 runs partnership for the 6th wicket, with Mushtaq scoring 78 and Miandad 100. Useful contributions by the lower order batsmen allowed Pakistan to post a total of 481 for 9 declared.

India’s second innings began disastrously. Gavaskar edged Imran’s opening delivery to the keeper but was declared not out. Chauhan went early with the score at 5 and Mohinder Amarnath would have followed suit had an easy slip catch not been floored. He added 117 for the second wicket with Gavasker before Imran bowled him for 53. From a 122 for 1 wicket, India slipped to 173 for 6 as they lost quick wickets on the final morning. Gavasker was 98 not out at lunch and after reaching his century he went on the attack, adding 73 runs with Ghavri for the seventh wicket, before Sarfaraz angled one across him from around the wicket, producing a snick that was superbly caught by Wasim Bari. Gavaskar made 137 and this was the second time that he had scored a century in each innings of a test. At 246 for 7 Kapil Dev now joined Ghavri, and as he had done in the first innings, launched a vigorous assault on the Pakistani bowling. The pair put on 53 invaluable runs for the 8th wicket before Imran and Sarfaraz returned with the new ball and took 3 wickets for 3 runs to wrap up the Indian innings for 300. Sarfaraz took 5 for 70.

Pakistan needed 164 to win in 30 minutes plus the mandatory 20 overs in the last hour. Pakistan displayed their intent to win by sending in Asif to open the batting with Majid. Majid was out early for 14, and when the mandatory 20 overs began Pakistan still needed 137 for victory. Miandad joined Asif and the two produced a display that was totally novel for the time. With innovative stroke play, creative ball placement and feverish running, they completely unsettled the Indian bowling and fielding. The pair added 97 runs in just 9 overs of inventive batting. When Asif was caught behind off Mohinder Amarnath for 44, another 46 were required. In another piece of positive captaincy Imran was now sent in to join Miandad to keep the momentum going. Finally, in the 16th manadatory over, Imran struck Bedi for a four and two huge sixes to seal victory for Pakistan. Pakistan had won the series 2-0.

Zaheer had been the outstanding batsman from the Pakistan side with 583 runs at an average of 194.33. His scores were 176, 96, 235 not out, 34 not out and 42. Miandad also scored two centuries and averaged over 100 runs per innings for the series. Sarfaraz and Imran were the bowling heroes with 31 of the 47 Indian wickets to fall.

On the Indian side Gavasker stood like a rock with scores of 89, 8 not out, 5, 97, 111 and 137. However, the Indian bowling had been totally decimated by the strong Pakistani batting line-up. They had been unable to dismiss Pakistan even once in the entire series. Pakistan had scored 1979 runs for the loss of just 31 wickets at an average of 63.84. India’s famous spin trio of Bedi, Chandrashaker and Prasanna had conceded 1085 runs for a total of 16 wickets and an average of 67.81 runs per wicket. Their myth of invincibility had been totally destroyed. Prasanna never played for India again, while Bedi and Chandra ended their Test careers a year later.

The Test series had proved hugely popular. Pakistan had outclassed arch rivals India and given a big boost to the national psyche at a time of considerable political turmoil. Pakistan cricket had turned a corner, abandoning its traditional defensive posture to play attacking and imaginative cricket that lured large crowds back to the sporting stadia, to watch this engrossing contest between these two traditional rivals.

Dr Salman Faridi is a  senior surgeon, poet, sports aficionado and an avid reader with a private collection of over 7000 books.

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Pakistan’s most memorable home Test series