Of Fazal's skill and guts

It was more skill than luck that saw Fazal Mahmood, known around the world as the `matting king', scythe through the England batting in a dramatic spell.


The Oval ground in London has a special place in the hearts of Asian cricket followers. It was here in 1954 that Pakistan became the first nation to win a Test match on their maiden tour to England. They stunned the cricket world by winning the fourth and final Test by 24 runs and drawing the series 1-1.

The Oval was also the ground where both India (in 1971) and Sri Lanka (1998) won a Test in England for the first time. Looking back over 50 years, the Pakistanis were indeed lucky to go into the fourth and final Test just one down in the series. Rain had ruined both the first Test at Lord's and the third at Old Trafford where the brittle Pakistani batting crumbled to miserable totals.

At Trent Bridge in the second Test, powered by Denis Compton's monumental 278, England crushed the tourists by an innings and 129 runs. Not a single Pakistani batsman could reach three-figures in the series and it was only the gallant displays by opening bowlers Fazal Mahmood and Khan Mohmmad that kept their spirits up as they approached the final Test with understandable trepidation.

Rain once again made its presence felt at the Oval, curtailing the first day's play and washing out the entire second day. The murky conditions made run-making a tough task for both teams. Captain A. H. Kardar took first strike on winning the toss but it was not long before Test debutants Frank Tyson and Peter Loader plunged the Pakistan batting into crisis.

The young Hanif Mohammed had made some useful runs at the top of the order in the series but this time fell for a duck in Brian Statham's opening over. Wickets tumbled in a heap and at 51 for 7, another rout was on the cards. Fortunately for the tourists, their tail-end batsmen showed some fight to add 82 runs for the remaining three wickets.

Still, 133 was hardly a total to challenge the might of the England batting, led by captain Len Hutton and with the likes of Compton, Peter May, Tom Graveney and Godfrey Evans. Especially since Khan Mohammad was not fit to play.

Pakistan's Independence Day was observed on the third day's play and Fazal decided to wear the same kit he had donned during their first Test win in Lucknow in 1952 in the hope that it would bring him some luck. Fazal had taken 12 wickets in that Test match. But it was more skill than luck that saw the bowler, known around the world as the `matting king', scythe through the England batting in a dramatic spell and give Pakistan a small but significant lead of three runs.

With the overcast conditions favouring Fazal's swing bowling and that of opening partner Mahmood Hussain, England's batsmen found run gathering a torturous experience. So much so that 11 of Fazal's opening 15 overs were maidens.

Reg Simpson (2) was the first to fall, followed in rapid order by Hutton (14), May (26), Graveney (1) and Evans and at 69 for 5 — four of those were claimed by the almost unplayable Fazal — England faced the prospect of being shot out for less than 100. Compton now began to take risks and go for his shots in a desperate bid for runs. Three times he charged Fazal and three times he was dropped, including on 31 by the bowler himself. It was desperate stuff and could not last long.

After striking four boundaries in a stay of almost two-and-a-half hours, he was caught behind by Imtiaz Ahmed, off Fazal's bowling from an intended off-drive. Compton's 53 would turn out to be joint top-score of the Test and only one of two 50s. He would in later years refer to this knock as one of his most difficult and memorable innings.

Fazal finished with the outstanding figures of 30-16-53-6, while Hussain picked up the other four. If not for their sloppy catching, Pakistan's lead would have been bigger. But the advantage had now inexorably swung their way.

After a brief but bright start by Hanif, Pakistan finished the dramatic third day at 63 for 4. A total of 14 wickets had fallen for just 194 as the bowlers held sway. At this stage it could have been anyone's match with the left-arm spinner Johnny Wardle making his mark.

Wardle ran through the batting on the fourth morning and Pakistan once again found themselves in dire straits at 82 for 8. They gained a lucky break when a finger injury to off-spinner Jim McConnon meant he could only bowl 14 overs with Wardle doing the bulk of the bowling — 35 overs for seven wickets.

The eldest of the Mohammed brothers, Wazir, batting at number 7, came to the aid of his side with an unbeaten 42 that saw Pakistan reach 164, a respectable total under the conditions. England were set 168 runs to win but were in immediate trouble. Hutton was caught behind off Fazal for the second time in the match for just five. Simpson and May added 51 for the second wicket before Zulfiqar Ahmed claimed his only wicket of the match, Simpson for 27. With May and Compton at the wicket, the bowling demons appeared to have been finally tamed as the total crossed three-figures. With 109 on the board and only two batsmen back in the pavilion, it looked like the target of 168 would be easily reached.

According to Fazal, his captain had all but given up hope and was about to remove his bowling ace from the attack. But Fazal snatched the ball from Kardar's grasp and eager to release the ball before the captain could change his mind, he bowled off only half his run-up. May (53) promptly popped the ball into Kardar's hands at gully and the most dramatic twist to the Test began to unfold.

Eager to finish off the match on the fourth day itself, Hutton promoted Evans up the order ahead of Graveney in order to get some quick runs. But Fazal pinned the 'keeper down with a leg-side attack and now doubts began to creep into the England dressing room. Evans was bowled round his legs for 29 and when Shujauddin had Graveney out for a duck, seemingly only Compton stood between Pakistan and a famous victory.

With one over remaining for the close, it was Fazal once again who got the breakthrough, Compton caught behind for 29. Imtiaz finished with seven catches behind the stumps. England finished the day tottering at 125 for 6 and Pakistan began the final day sniffing victory. It was all over pretty quickly on the fifth morning. England had lost their last eight wickets for a measly 34 runs as Fazal once again captured six wickets. His analysis for the Test was a remarkable 12 for 99.

The team became instant heroes. They received a rapturous welcome when they returned home. Pakistan had arrived as a Test cricket nation.

The scores

England vs Pakistan, 4th Test, Kennington Oval, London, August 12-17, 1954. Pakistan won by 24 runs.

Pakistan — 1st innings: Hanif Mohammad lbw Statham 0; Alimuddin b Tyson 10; Waqar Hasan b Loader 7; Maqsood Ahmed b Tyson 0; Imtiaz Ahmed c Evans b Tyson 23; A. H. Kardar c Evans b Statham 36; Wazir Mohammad (run out) 0; Fazal Mahmood c Evans b Loader 0; Shujauddin (not out) 16; Zulfiqar Ahmed c Compton b Loader 16; Mahmood Hussain b Tyson 23; Extras (nb-2) 2; Total 133.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-10, 3-10, 4-26, 5-51, 6-51, 7-51, 8-77, 9-106.

England bowling: Statham 11-5-26-2; Tyson 13.4-3-35-4; Loader 18-5-35-3; McConnon 9-2-35-0.

England — 1st innings: L. Hutton c Imtiaz Ahmed b Fazal Mahmood 14; R. T. Simpson c Kardar b Mahmood Hussain 2; P. B. H. May c Kardar b Fazal Mahmood 26; D. C. S. Compton c Imtiaz Ahmed b Fazal Mahmood 53; T. W. Graveney c Hanif Mohammad b Fazal Mahmood 1; T. G. Evans c Maqsood Ahmed b Mahmood Hussain 0; J. H. Wardle c Imtiaz Ahmed b Fazal Mahmood 8; F. H. Tyson c Imtiaz Ahmed b Fazal Mahmood 3; J. E. McConnon c Fazal Mahmood b Mahmood Hussain 11; J. B. Statham c Shujauddin b Mahmood Hussain 1; P. J. Loader (not out) 8; Extras (lb-1, w-1, nb-1) 3; Total 130.

Fall of wickets: 1-6, 2-26, 3-56, 4-63, 5-69, 6-92, 7-106, 8-115, 9-116.

Pakistan bowling: Fazal Mahmood 30-16-53-6; Mahmood Hussain 21.3-6-58-4; Zulfiqar Ahmed 5-2-8-0; Shujauddin 3-0-8-0.

Pakistan — 2nd innings: Hanif Mohammad c Graveney b Wardle 19; Shujauddin c May b Wardle 12; Waqar Hasan (run out) 9; Maqsood Ahmed c Wardle b McConnon 4; Imtiaz Ahmed c Wardle b Tyson 12; A. H. Kardar c & b Wardle 17; Alimuddin lbw Wardle 0; Wazir Mohammad (not out) 42; Fazal Mahmood b Wardle 6; Zulfiqar Ahmed c May b Wardle 34; Mahmood Hussain c Statham b Wardle 6; Extras (b-3) 3; Total 164.

Fall of wickets: 1-19, 2-38, 3-43, 4-54, 5-63, 6-73, 7-76, 8-82, 9-140.

England bowling: Statham 18-7-37-0; Tyson 9-2-22-1; Loader 16-6-26-0; McConnon 14-5-20-1; Wardle 35-16-56-7.

England — 2nd innings: L. Hutton c Imtiaz Ahmed b Fazal Mahmood 5; R. T. Simpson c & b Zulfiqar Ahmed 27; P. B. H. May c Kardar b Fazal Mahmood 53; D. C. S. Compton c Imtiaz Ahmed b Fazal Mahmood 29; T. G. Evans b Fazal Mahmood 3; T. W. Graveney lbw Shujauddin 0; J. H. Wardle c Shujauddin b Fazal Mahmood 9; F. H. Tyson c Imtiaz Ahmed b Fazal Mahmood 3; P. J. Loader c Waqar Hasan b Mahmood Hussain 5; J. E. McConnon (run out) 2; J. B. Statham (not out) 2; Extras (lb-2, nb-3) 5; Total 143.

Fall of wickets: 1-15, 2-66, 3-109, 4-115, 5-116, 6-121, 7-131, 8-138, 9-138.

Pakistan bowling: Fazal Mahmood 30-11-46-6; Mahmood Hussain 14-4-32-1; Zulfiqar Ahmed 14-2-35-1; Shujauddin 10-1-25-1.