During games of cricket at his father’s construction sites in Karachi in the 1960s, Sarfraz Nawaz is said to have discovered that if one side of the ball was roughed up and the other side was kept shiny, the deliveries were near unplayable. The lanky pacer went on to play 55 Tests and 45 ODIs for Pakistan in a 15-year long international career between 1969 and 1984, and is said to have been the first proponent of reverse swing.
Now retired and residing in London, the 71-year-old Nawaz didn’t mince his words in an interview to The Indian Express in which he spoke about Pakistan cricket, Virat Kohli, the art of reverse swing, Jasprit Bumrah and a huge controversy involving India.
Bowlers will suffer in the post-Covid era
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has fresh guidelines on shining the ball and Australian ball manufacturer Kookaburra is said to have planned a wax application to keep the ball’s shine intact. Nawaz said this will make contests even more uneven and the ball “will lose its magic” if players can’t rough up one side.
“When players won’t be able to apply sweat or saliva to shine it, it will not behave like a conventional ball. When a conventional ball gets older, it starts producing reverse swing and poses a great threat to the batsmen,” Nawaz said.
“But I can predict the bowlers will be at great loss,” said Nawaz.
‘Bumrah will play long for india’
Nawaz admitted he was impressed by Indian fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah.
“Bumrah has a deceptive bowling action and bowls great yorkers. Despite the fact that batsmen across the world have learnt to deal with him, he still sticks to his line and length. His ball comes quicker to off stump. He will play long for India,” he said.
“Being a conventional swing bowler, Bhuvneshwar will prove to be effective with the new system post lockdown,” he said.
Babar Azam made skipper too early, Kohli greatest of all time
Nawaz retired from international cricket in 1984 and after a year-long stint as a commentator, became parliamentarian in 1985. He still keeps an eye on cricket in his home nation and thinks it’s too early for newly-appointed ODI skipper Babar Azam to take the reins.
“I think it’s too early for him to be a captain. He should have been given more exposure as a batsman and a vice-captain before giving the reins of the team. Team members respect the skipper only when he is experienced and matured. Babar Azam is lacking on this front,” he said.
Nawaz said he admired West Indies’ Gordon Greenidge for his intelligence as a player and technically sound batting. But he’s very clear that Indian captain Virat Kohli is the greatest of all time.
“Virat Kohli is undoubtedly beyond comparison. He will certainly surpass Tendulkar on all fronts. Tendulkar was weak against inswing while Kohli hardly has any flaw in his batting. Initially in his career, he would fumble against the outswingers but now he has reached the pinnacle of his batting,” he said.
Taught Imran Khan reverse swing, he was a ‘very good learner’
Reminiscing about his bowling partnership and stint under skipper Imran Khan, Nawaz spoke of how he made an exception and taught the younger Pakistani the art of reverse swing.
“During the 1974 Pakistan tour of England, I realised Imran would be my regular partner in the Pakistan team. After the tour we had a few unofficial friendly matches in the West Indies, and there I shared my knowledge of swing bowling with Imran, who turned out to be a very good learner,” he said.
While Khan, who is now Pakistan’s Prime Minister often meets former international players, Nawaz knows he’s unlikely to be invited given they’ve not been on talking terms for the last 30 years.
“Differences arose over the selection of the Pakistan team after the 1992 World Cup win. Imran was picking his own team and PCB had no say in the selection.
“I was a sports advisor to the government and asked the board if it’s the Pakistan cricket team or the Imran XI. It irked Imran and things got personal between us,” said Nawaz.
Wasim and Waqar were a ‘treat for the eyes’
While Nawaz is full of praise for Kapil Dev and Malcolm Marshall for their effectiveness, he acknowledges the talent of two of his countrymen.
“Wasim (Akram) was brilliant with the new ball and Waqar (Younis) was lethal with the old ball. His (Younis) in-swinging yorkers with the old ball were a treat for the eyes,” he said of the two Pakistani bowlers who are arguably the greatest exponents of reverse swing.
Nawaz said that the current Pakistani bowling lineup doesn’t have a single player who gets to play all matches.
“Naseem Shah and Mohammed Hasnain are quite effective but they are too young. Taking a look at their frail physiques and considerable heights, I don’t think they would be able to play longer for Pakistan. One has to be well-built for a longer career as a fast bowler. Shaheen Shah Afridi is a medium pacer and lacks sharpness,” he said.
A most controversial dismissal
Nawaz’s best bowling figures were 9 for 86 against mighty Australians in 1979 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground when he took just 33 deliveries to take Pakistan to an unlikely victory. Nawaz claimed seven Australian wickets while conceding just the 1 run. After that Pakistan went to WACA in Perth and Nawaz was involved in a controversy that came to be called the Hilditch affair.
It was the fifth day and Australia’s Andrew Hilditch was unbeaten at 29. The ball was returned in the Australian’s direction after a wayward throw by a Pakistan fielder. Hilditch picked up the ball and handed it to Nawaz, who appealed for Hilditch’s dismissal for ‘handling the ball’. The Australian was adjudged out and there was a lot of debate over Nawaz’s poor sportsmanship.
But the former Pakistani bowler said it was purely a retaliatory gesture.
“The Aussies had Mankaded Sikander Bakht just a few hours ago on the same day. We were 196 runs ahead and Alan Hurst found Sikander outside the crease while running to bowl. To everyone’s surprise, he Mankaded him.
“So on the same day when I got a chance to get their batsman out under the rule of the game, I simply did that,” he said.
The four controversial bouncers against India
India were touring Pakistan in 1978-79. This was the first tour to Pakistan in 17 years. It was seen as a diplomatic coup for the then Morarji Desai- led Janata Party government.
The ODI series was tied 1-1. In the third ODI in Sahiwal, Pakistan scored 205/7 in the first 40-over inning. India, in reply, were at 180/2 in 35 overs. A series win was in sight for India.
Nawaz was brought into the attack and he bowled four consecutive short balls, all of which were out of the batsman’s reach. The umpire did not call them wides. A fuming Indian skipper Bishan Singh Bedi conceded the match to protest against this and effectively lost the series 2-1. Bedi was removed as captain and Sunil Gavaskar took charge. Nawaz maintained he did nothing wrong.
“It was within the rules of the game as there was no restriction on the number of bouncers in an over. Why would umpires give those short-pitched balls wides?” he said.
He said Bedi was a victim of a “bigger conspiracy.”
“Gavaskar wanted to be the captain and his group in the team pushed Bedi to concede the match over bouncers so that the board could remove him. That’s what happened to him on the team’s return to India,” he said.
Media from both the countries had criticised Bedi for his ‘overreaction’. As per sports journalist Suresh Menon’s book ‘Bishan- Portrait of a cricketer’, an enraged Bedi had told his team manager Fatehsinghrao Gaekwad, “If you want us to be diplomats and lose matches unfairly, ask Morarji Desai to captain the team. I am going home.”
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