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When Zaheer, Imran took centre stage at Edgbaston

When Zaheer, Imran took centre stage at Edgbaston

KARACHI: Although Pakistan are yet to win a Test match at Edgbaston in seven previous visits to Birmingham, the venue in the English midlands is remembered for the one of the finest innings ever played in the highest form of the sport.

It was here in June 1971 when Zaheer Abbas marked his overseas Test debut with a dazzling 274.

Zaheer, playing only his second Test, earned the sobriquet of ‘Asian Bradman’ just for the sheer brilliance of that epic knock as the bespectacled right-hander provided a great exhibition for the Edgbaston crowd for 544 minutes by striking 38 boundaries during his 467-ball effort.

It was a game that the visitors — who amassed their highest total of 608-7 declared against England until then — dominated throughout and were extremely unfortunate not to seal victory when rain robbed much of last day’s play with the home team struggling at 229-5 in the second innings.

Asif Masood, a tall moustached seamer who had a peculiar habit of starting his run-up with a backward sideway step before taking a loping approach to the wicket, was Pakistan’s unsung bowling hero in that opening Test of the 1971 series.

The right-armer took nine out of the 15 wickets England lost in the match, including his career-best figures of 5-111 in the first innings.

Test cricket made its first appearance at Edgbaston way back in 1902 when England and Australia played out a draw.

Until the start of the third Test of the ongoing series, a total of 48 Tests have been staged in Birmingham with the host country winning 25 and losing just eight out of the 33 matches yielding outright results.

Among visiting teams, only West Indies hold a superior head-to-head record with the hosts, winning four out of nine Tests at Edgbaston and finishing on the losing side only twice.

Australia have won only three times and lost six in 14 Ashes Tests here, while South Africa’s solitary victory in six visits (two losses) at this venue came as recently as 2008.

Despite a winless streak, Pakistan’s record still makes a happier reading than India, who have been defeated five times in six Tests at Edgbaston while New Zealand (four) and Sri Lanka (two) have lost every time they played in Birmingham.

Pakistan made their Edgbaston debut on an inauspicious note when a Javed Burki-led side was outclassed by an innings and 24 runs in the first Test of the 1962 tour in less than four days.

It then followed Pakistan’s great resurgence in that 1971 series before Edgbaston was made to wait for seven years to host a Test match against Pakistan.

However, the opening encounter of the 1978 series was a forgetful affair for Wasim Bari’s depleted squad that lacked the services of stars of that era such as Mushtaq Mohammad, Zaheer Abbas, Majid Khan, Asif Iqbal and Imran Khan.

The quintet had become ineligible for the tour because of their involvement with Australian tycoon Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket.

The cut and swing of Chris Old hounded the inexperienced tourists so much that they provided the tall Yorkshireman four wickets in five balls. Old eventually ended up capturing seven for 50 in 22.4 overs.

That game also saw David Gower make his debut by pulling the first delivery the graceful left-hander faced, from left-arm seamer Liaquat Ali, to the boundary on his way to 58.

With a commanding lead of 288, England were eyeing an early finish but their victory — by a big margin of an innings and 57 runs in a playing time of 12 hours and four minutes spread over four days — after Sunday’s rest day was marred by an unsavoury incident.

Iqbal Qasim, who was sent in as nightwatchman, suffered a horrific blow when one of several bouncers delivered at the Pakistan spinner by fast bowler Bob Willis left his mouth bleeding and forced the gutsy left-hander to retire hurt.

Imran Khan’s first Test as Pakistan captain was at Edgbaston at the start of the 1982 series in the second half of English summer. For the first three days, the match was keenly contested with Imran celebrating the start of his tenure with a magnificent performance with the ball, taking 7-52 in 25.3 overs.

England, who earned a small lead of 21, rode on Derek Randall’s 105 to get 291 in the second innings. Needing a gettable 313 over the remaining two days, Pakistan crumbled for 199 in 56.4 overs with no one offering much fight barring Imran (65) to lose by 113 runs.

The next Edgbaston Test involving England and Pakistan was a thriller when the teams clashed in the fourth match of the 1987 series. Mudassar Nazar hit 124 and a career-best 91 not out from wicket-keeper Saleem Yousuf saw Pakistan post 439.

England took an 82-run lead by reaching 521 thanks to skipper Mike Gatting’s 124 while his Pakistan counterpart Imran Khan claimed 6-129 in 41.5 overs.

After Pakistan collapsed for 205 on the final day, England were left requiring 124 in 18 overs. But Imran and Wasim Akram kept them under check while three batsmen were run out before the hosts reached 109-7 when the game finished.

Five years later, England again hosted Pakistan in a five-match rubber with Edgbaston staging the series opener. But the start turned to be soggy as day one was washed out and just two balls were possible when play began on day two.

Thereafter, Pakistan captain Javed Miandad (153) and Saleem Malik (165) took the centre stage by putting on Pakistan’s highest fourth-wicket partnership of 322 before the tourists declared at 446-5 on the fourth day.

The rest of the match was dominated by Alec Stewart (190) and Robin Smith (127) as England piled up 459-7 in the remaining available period of action.

It another 18 years before England faced Pakistan in an Edgbaston Test in the second fixture of the 2010 series. It was a one-sided affair once Salman Butt’s charges were undone by seamers James Anderson and Stuart Broad — who grabbed four wickets apiece — for 72 in 39.3 overs on day one.

Despite Saeed Ajmal taking 5-82, England built a healthy lead of 179. An innings loss looked ominous when Pakistan lost seven wickets for 153 runs. But wicket-keeper Zulqarnain Haider (88) and Ajmal (50) put on 115 in a defiant stand before Graeme Swann (6-65) dismissed both.

A target of 118 was never beyond the hosts who wrapped up a nine-wicket triumph on the fourth afternoon.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2016

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