England are due on Thursday morning to embark upon their fifth Test series in Pakistan in the past four decades – assuming that they can find 11 men sufficiently virus-free to play. A vast convoy of military vehicles is ready to escort their team bus to the ground in Rawalpindi.
A Test series will be quite an experience; it always is in Pakistan. I’ve been present for three of the previous four tours. So I’m conditioned for the odd surprise – like the sudden health scare within the England camp.
Relations between the two cricket boards have seldom been as cordial as they are today. The red carpet has been unrolled; the players have been pampered in a palace of a hotel albeit in yet another bubble, this time triggered by security concerns rather than Covid. But we are reminded that luxurious surroundings do not always overcome the threat of a virus.
Over the past couple of days the England and Pakistan players have been practising in adjacent nets at the ground and cheerfully renewing recent acquaintances. All is peace and light between the two sides, which was not always the case in the 1980s
England’s 1983-84 tour could never be considered the zenith of their rich history abroad. It was dubbed the “sex, drugs and rock ’n ’roll” tour, not for anything that happened in Pakistan, which was the second leg of that trip. The first was in New Zealand and therefore … ahem … outside the scope of this piece. Suffice to say there was tension within the squad as we landed in Karachi after the allegations in the Mail on Sunday.
The team had taken the precaution of packing some alcohol when leaving New Zealand, but probably not packing it thoroughly enough. As a result, I retain a memory of the tour manager, AC Smith, once of Warwickshire and England, gallantly leaping on to the creaking carousel of Karachi airport as mysterious liquid began to emanate from these precious boxes.
There were further setbacks: the first Test was lost in Karachi, after which the captain, Bob Willis, fell ill. Ian Botham’s knee gave way and he was flown home for an operation. From his hospital bed, Botham confided to Pat Murphy of the BBC that “Pakistan is the sort of place every man should send his mother-in-law for a month, all expenses paid”. No doubt it was a joke, not a very good one, nor a timely one.
Our hosts had been most accommodating since they had agreed to send us specially prepared evening meals in Faisalabad, the venue of the second Test where there were misgivings about the quality of food available; so our supper came all the way from Lahore each day, a distance of 140km. After Botham’s interview, Smith had to use his considerable diplomatic skills to ensure those excellent meals continued to arrive.
There were no off-field excesses among the England team on this leg of the tour unless watching too many videos of Minder counts. We spent hours in the team room, though unlike today’s party we did not have an elevator “dedicated” to the exclusive use of the England squad in our hotel, which is the case in Islamabad.
After that defeat in Karachi the pitches were much flatter and I have evidence to prove it: I scored runs for England in the last two Tests though not as many as David Gower, who crowned his elevation to the captaincy after Willis’s departure with two big hundreds in Faisalabad and Lahore, where the matches were drawn. Sometimes we grumbled about the umpires, though not as much as the England team on the 1987-88 tour, when I was not present.
In Faisalabad, the England captain, Mike Gatting, had his argument with Shakoor Rana, whose name remains the aide-mémoire for that tour. It was a bitter affair, which soured already strained relations between the sides. Yet it ended up with the England players receiving a curious £1,000 bonus from their employers. Many years later it emerged in Douglas Miller’s biography of Raman Subba Row how this bizarre idea came about. Robin Marlar, the larger than life, impossible to ignore – or dislike – former amateur captain of Sussex, was covering the tour for the Sunday Times. Marlar was a great friend of Subba Row, who, as Chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board, flew out from London to defuse the crisis in Faisalabad, and he was soon consulted.
Marlar warned that the players were in imminent danger of going home – they had voted to do so but Micky Stewart, the team manager, had helped to persuade them to stay. “They are entitled to go home because they shouldn’t be asked to play when the thing is rigged,” said Marlar before concluding, “the only way to motivate the professional cricketer is through the pocket”. He advised that a £1,000 bonus was “proportional” – the tour fee for the players was £5,000. So this was what Subba Row instigated. The tour manager, Peter Lush, duly carried out his instructions and later observed: “They didn’t decline the payment but they didn’t like it.”
The next two tours were more harmonious, in part due to Nasser Hussain, who revealed himself early in his captaincy to be a gifted diplomat/bridge builder, which surprised a few at the time. In 2000, after two draws, England won memorably in the dark in Karachi, an unlikely outcome after they had chugged along at two runs per over in their first innings. Maybe Hussain’s newfound diplomacy had affected the umpires as well.
By 2005, security issues were starting to loom large. At Faisalabad there was a loud bang on the boundary edge. Play was suspended and the immediate reaction was that the tour was in jeopardy. Marcus Trescothick thought it was a bomb. After a delay and a few low jinks from Shahid Afridi, who attempted to damage the pitch by swivelling vigorously upon it during the break in play, it transpired that a gas cylinder used to power a cold drinks machine had exploded just beyond the boundary rope. Something always seems to happen in Faisalabad, which may be why we’re not going there this time.
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