Funny yet scary: The pitch making business in Pakistan in the 1950s

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Australian batsman Colin McDonald facing Pakistan stalwart Fazal Mahmood

Australia's preparation for Pakistan

During the early post-war years, the Australian cricket team were not that keen to play in countries like India and Pakistan. In those days, usually, one of the board members accompanied the team on tour as managers. But when it was the turn to visit Asia, they were reluctant and called for nominations. Former Australian cricketer Sam Loxton was chosen for the 1959-60 tour, possibly because there was no nomination from anyone else!

Loxton was an organised man and he was serious about the job at hand. He made sure necessary foods were supplied to India and Pakistan before the players arrived so that they would not be forced to depend on the hotel foods. He had plenty of discussions with the Australian board members weeks before the team had set out for Pakistan. The board officials were very clear about one thing and instructed Loxton accordingly: " You are under no circumstances to hold out any hope of an invitation to Pakistan from Australia".

Test matches in Dhaka and Lahore

Australian captain Richie Benaud was sceptical about the pitches Pakistan would make them play on and hence he wanted to see the pitch on the day they arrived at Dhaka, even before reaching their hotel. They found what they had feared: a matting wicket.

The match started on Friday the 13th of November. Australia were in a spot of bother at one stage but a brilliant innings from Neil Harvey enabled them top go one-up in the series.

Then the Australians moved to Lahore to play the second Test. It was played on turf, the first time that happened in Pakistan.

A fine century from Norm O'Neill gave Australia the early advantage and then an inspired bowling performance from Lindsay Kline clinched the match in their favour. They took an unassailable lead of 2-0 in the three-match series.

The Karachi Test match

The turf in Lahore pleased the Australians and they expected a similar wicket in Karachi. On December 2nd, they reached Karachi and went to see the pitch. Despite all pre-tour assurances, once again the pitch was a matting one.

The Australians had already taken up the issue in Lahore. When Field-Marshal Ayub Khan asked Loxton about the prospective invitation from the Australian board for the Pakistan team to visit that country, Loxton was quick to pounce on the opportunity. He made it clear that they expected turf wickets and since Pakistan were not using them, he was sure that Pakistan did not have the fast bowlers needed in Australia. He then emphasised it to a perplexed Ayub, " You need fast bowlers if you're coming to Australia.", and they were not to be found by playing on matting wickets. Supremo Ayub Khan didn't reply to that but Loxton could sense that he was giving it a thought.

Now, in Karachi, Loxton once again met Ayub on the first morning of the match. The Field-Marshall asked the ground manager, " My man, on what surface is this Test match being played?"

"It is being played on mats, sir.", came the prompt reply.

Ayub was furious. Then, he settled down a bit and shouted out: " This is the last Test match played in Pakistan on matting. Otherwise, you'll be shot!"

That match ended in a draw and the victorious Australian team moved to India to play a series there.

Pakistan and its cricket never ceases to amaze, isn't it?

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