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Sarfraz Nawaz pioneered art of reverse swing, was as lethal as any pace bowler

By Harsh Thakor* 

Sarfraz Nawaz in many ways was the pioneer of the art of reverse swing bowling. The veteran who was born in 1948 was hardly remembered on his 75th birthday, on December 1st, last year.
Statistically, he was not outstanding or in category of a ‘great’ . However, on his day his fast medium swing and bowling intelligence could outwit the greatest opponents, and rip through the flesh of batting line ups.
Few bowlers better analyzed the flaws of batsmen or what deliveries made them vulnerable. On his day Sarfraz could disguise the movement of ball like a magician. On a green top he could be as daunting a proposition, as his partner the legendary Imran Khan. Ironic that it was Sarfraz who tutored Imran in how to swing a cricket ball. Sarfraz passed on the art of swinging the old ball of by soaking the ball with sweat on it’s less polished side and thus was the mentor of Imran Khan and indirectly Wasim Akram and Waqar Younus.
He could extract pace and bounce on docile, heart-breaking mud-baked wickets of Pakistan, which was remarkable.
From 1976-79 Sarfraz played an instrumental role in Pakistan shaping into one of the 3 best teams in the world in the league of West Indies and Australia. His late movement and changes in pace could make batsmen of the class of Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell flounder. From the flat subcontinent pancakes to the bouncy Australian tracks to the seaming English tops, he could rattle opponents.
Amazingly, he started playing cricket only after the age of fifteen, never playing for his school team. He gained baptism into cricket in his father’s construction site, after watching people play there as a contractor. His father was engaged in the construction business and discouraged his son’s enthusiasm and pursuit of cricket.
I have unforgettable memories of him tantalizing the Indian batsmen with 9 wickets at Karachi on the 1978-79 tour of Pakistan, bowling 2 stunning spells in 1973 at Sydney, sterling performance o 6-89 against West Indies at Lahore in 1974, shaving of the top order of the West Indies batting line up in the 1975 world cup league game ,breaking through the English batting line up at Leeds in 1974 and above all breaking the spine of the Australian team at Melbourne in 1978-79,in what was close to test cricket’s best ever exhibition of fast bowling.

Career highlights

In 1972-73 in the final test At Sydney, Sarfraz all but won the match, with figures of 4-53 and 4-56,in 2 innings, bowling in classical manner. He dismssed the likes of the great Ian Chappell twice, as well as had the scalps of Greg Chappell, Ian Redpath and Keith Stackpole. Sadly Pakistan lost after they had virtually looked like sealing victory.
In 1974.on a placid pitch at Lahore playing against West Indies, Sarfraz captured 6-89, giving evidence of his mastery on helpless, docile tracks.
In 1974 at Leeds capturing 3-51 and 4-56, with immaculate judgment and judicious utilization of the seam, Sarfraz extracted the seam movement, to make the English batting flounder and succumb.
In the 1975 Prudential world cup league game against West Indies ,Sarfraz delivered one of the finest opening spells in world cup history .Moving the ball in and out on a perfect length, he literally made the West Indies top order grope or shake, dismissing the likes of Gordon Greenidge, Alvin Kalicharan and Alvin Kalicharan. Few bowlers ever have been more effective against the Calypsos in an opening spell. Sadly although he won the man of the match award, record last wicket stand of West Indies robbed Pakistan of a famous win.
In 1977 in West Indies at Barbados Sarfraz captured 4- 79 in the 2nd innings, which all but won famous win for Pakistan, shaking the Calypso top order.
In 1978 at Leeds, representing a second string Pakistan team, when the best players had deserted to Kerry Packer World Series Cricket, Sarfraz captured 5-33 at Leeds.
In 1978-79 in a home series against India Sarfraz overshadowed partner Imran Khan, capturing 17 wickets at 25 runs apiece , and enabling Pakistan to win their first ever series against India by a 2-0 margin. At Karachi his permutations of seam movement put the best Indian batsmen at sea, capturing match-winning 4-89 and 5-70.A combination of classic seam bowling and pace bowling intelligence at it’s supreme height.
At Melbourne in 1978-79 Australia looked home and dry at 305-3, when chasing a total of 382 for victory. Sarfraz then intervened like character jumped into an epic novel, giving the complexion of the game a 360 degree twist and turn., capturing a sensational 7 wickets for a mere 1 run. Sarfraz had created one of the most dramatic turnabouts in cricket history and arguably best ever spell with an old ball.
Possibly no fast-medium bowler ever gave a more penetrative or gripping exhibition of bowling, with the Australian batsmen capitulating and mesmerized like grass mowed down or nine pills rolling.
Sarfraz reminded you of a computerized machine creating magical effect, with his control and movement defying conventional bio-mechanics.
Border was bowled off a deflection by a superb ball that cut back alarmingly. The injured Graeme Wood jabbed a catch to the wicketkeeper first ball. Peter Sleep was yorked without scoring. Hughes, in a bid to rescue his team, lofted a catch to mid-off. Sarfraz then dismissed the remaining three batsmen without scoring to bang the final nails in the coffin.
His final figures were 9-86, which was better than the best figures of Dennis Lillee, Andy Roberts or Imran Khan, and then the best figures of any fast bowler in Australia.
In 1982 at Lords Sarfraz captured 3-56, to enable Pakistan to win the first ever test at the mecca of Cricket. In a most methodical execution, he created a disconcerting effect on the English batsmen, varying his pace and length. I am almost certain that had Sarfraz Nawaz played in the 3rd test of that series at Leeds, Pakistan would have won it instead of losing narrowly, and secured their maiden series triumph on English soil.
In 1981-82 in a triangular ODI tournament game against West Indies at Melbourne, Sarfraz in classical style captured 4-37.He dismissed stalwarts like Gordon Greenidge, Clive Lloyd and Larry Gomes.
Playing against India at home in 1982-83 Sarafraz played an instrumental role in skittling India in the 2nd innings of the Hyderabad test, capturing 3-56 and 4- 85. In the series overall he played a useful role, capturing 19 wickets at an average of 33.31.
At Adelaide in 1983-84, against a strong Australian batting line up Sarfraz bowled magnificiently, but with no reward, taking 3-105, in unhelpful conditions. Virtually perfect length, line and control.
In his final test at Lahore against England, Sarfraz turned in a cavalier all-round performance registering his highest test score of 90, and capturing 4-49 in the 1st innings. In that series he was consistency personified, taking 14 wickets at an average of 25.64 in 3 tests, with Pakistan handicapped with the absence of Imran Khan in the bowling attack. Significant that Pakistan won their first ever series against England ,on Sarfraz retiring.


His final tally of 177 wickets from 55 Tests at 32.75 hardly did justice to his true prowess and contribution. Commendable that Sarfraz was equally effective home and away. At home he averaged 33.17 taking 81 scalps while away he averaged 32.40 capturing 96 wickets. In matches won Sarfraz averaged 20.52 and took 75 wickets. He had 4, 5 wicket hauls, and captured 10 wickets once. Commendable that he captured 50 wickets at an average of 31.46 on Australian soil and 17 wickets at an average of 22.82 in England.
Possibly, if Sarfraz had belonged to a country outside the subcontinent, he may have had considerably better figures. Remarkably, after Inthikab Alam and Imran Khan, Sarfraz became the third Pakistani cricketer to accomplish the double of 100 wickets and 1000 runs. With the bat he scored 1,045 runs at 17.71 with 4 fifties.
To me in terms of pure skill as fast –medium bowler Sarfraz was in the Richard Hadlee or Kapil Dev League. At his best in a total package he could have been as lethal as even Imran Khan, or any great. In my view, no one in his time emulated the mechanical perfection of Richard Hadlee as much as Sarfraz.
Sarfraz was no mug with the bat, producing some cavalier innings like 51 at Trinidad in 1977, that played a crucial role in his team’s victory and earlier a crucial 53,on rained wicket at Leeds.

Personal character

Unsportsmanship and rude behavior was a trademark in his cricketing play, often hurtling abuses at opponents or being overtly aggressive. He often flung bouncers to tail enders like Joel Garner, Bob Willis and Jeff Thomson, showing no respite. Most unsportingly he ran out Andrew Hilditch at Perth in 1978.79, which caused bitter resentment. Australia required 236 to win and with the score on 87, during a Sarfraz over, Hilditch picked up an erratic throw and politely handed the ball to the bowler. Sarfraz appealed and the batsman was given out ‘handling-the-ball’.
He often faced ban from the cricketing board of Pakistan, being engaged in interminable tussles over pay and aerates and on issue of captaincy.
After his final retirement, he played role of a Member of the Parliament, an outspoken cricket commentator and a crusader against match-fixing. He was even once threatened by armed men because of his revelations about gamblers and fixers.
Unfortunately, Sarfraz turned into a very controversial character after retirement, virtually championing dissension and rebellious spirit. He left no stone unturned in allegations that Asif Iqbal took money to inflict a defeat on Pakistan by India in 1979-80, on denigrating Imran Khan etc. His behaviour manifested the predominant political rivalry in Pakistan cricket and bred bitter splits, instead of turning Pakistan cricket into a cohesive force.
*Freelance journalist



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