Imran Khan Spell Changed The Course of Pakistan Cricket
Imran Khan Spell enables Pakistan to win its first-ever Test in Australia at Sydney in 1976–77. With this victory, Pakistan managed to draw the three-test series 1-1. The main architect of Pakistan’s victory was their fast bowler, Imran Khan, who brilliantly bowled and took 12 wickets in the match. But there is something more to Imran’s heroic bowling performance in that game.
Till then, the general impression was that Pakistan could not produce a genuine fast bowler. Pakistani new ball bowlers were fast-medium/medium-fast. Fazal Mahmood did produce match-winning performances in the 1950s. But apart from his 12 wickets against England at The Oval in 1954, the rest were achieved on matting wickets.
Australia scored 211 in the first inning, with Rod Marsh 41. Imran Khan took six for 102 runs. The victims were RB McCosker, GS Chappell, KD Walters, GJ Cozier, RW Marsh, and KJ O’Keeffe. Pakistan scored 360 runs in the first inning; Asif Iqbal scored 120; and Haroon Rasheed scored 57.
In the second inning, Australia bowled 180 runs, as Imran Khan took another six for 63 runs. This time, Imran took the wickets of IC Davis, RB McCosker, KD Walters, GJ Gilmour, KJ O’Keeffe, and DK Lillee. Imran Khan’s match figures were 12 wickets for 165. In the second inning, Pakistan needed 32 runs, and they achieved the target with the loss of two wickets. Hence, Pakistan won the first-ever Test in Australia by eight wickets.
Then he was never a genuine fast bowler—medium-fast and occasionally fast-medium. Fazal Mehmood’s 12 wickets against England at the Oval were taken in a very low-scoring game in which the highest team total in the four innings was 164. And all the main bowlers in England also had their moments, at least in one inning. On the other hand, Imran Khan did extremely well in 1976 and outshone all the other bowlers.
Australia had the legendary Dennis Lillee, regarded by many as the most complete fast bowler in the history of the game. Who had taken 10 wickets in the previous Test match where the Aussies pulverized Pakistan? However, in Sydney, the test victory helped Pakistan draw the series, thus becoming the first country other than England and South Africa to draw a test series in Australia.
Australia was the supreme Test nation at that time and at its prime on the shoulders of the Chappel brothers, Denis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. Australia had demolished a formidable West Indies side by a massive 5-1 margin in the previous season. At the time, the West Indies’ side included Andy Roberts and Michael Holding, two of the greatest fast bowlers in the history of the game.
Apart from Fazal Mahmood, some other fast mediums, like Khan Mohammad, performed decently well in the 1950s. Sarfraz Nawaz, a contemporary of Imran Khan, had served Pakistan well, but neither of them was ever acclaimed as a genuine fast bowler. Imran’s performance in Sydney in 1976–77 dispelled the impression that people from the subcontinent could not be genuine fast bowlers. After that performance, Imran Khan modified his action and became a world-class fast bowler.
Moreover, till then, Pakistan had mostly flopped on foreign tours. Their only Test series victory away from home was the 1-0 win in New Zealand in 1972–73. And at home, they prepared slow wickets, resulting in an astonishing number of drawn matches. Imran Khan’s performance at the Sydney show had a multidimensional effect on Pakistani cricket, which has lasted till today.
More and more youngsters started talking too fast and bowling seriously. The cautious approach of the administration also changed. They started preparing fast pitches at home. Two seasons later, Imran was the third-fastest in a competition in Australia that tested the world’s best-known fast bowlers for speed.
This augmented the impetus, and within a few years, Wasim Akram, arguably the most talented fast bowler in the history of the game. Then Pakistan started producing genuine and world-class fast bowlers almost regularly: Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Muhammad Amir, Mohammad Asif, Umer Gul, Shaheed Shah Afridi, and Naseem Shah. While a few others, like Mohammad Zahid, Mohammad Akram, Aaqib Javed, etc., shone for brief periods. His performance was the spark that lit generations of Pakistani fast bowlers.
Imran Khan Spell changed the complexion of fast bowling. Pakistan started winning abroad, and victories at home also started coming via the pacemen. But it all changed after the Sydney Test of 1976–77, which made millions of people all over Pakistan wake up early in the small hours of cold January mornings to listen to the radio commentary.