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Opinion

A Test team of my childhood heroes: Part 2

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Roar Guru
13th November, 2020
25

In the first part of this article, I formed the batting line-up for my team. Here, I will complete my team of childhood heroes with the bowlers and the wicketkeeper.

Syed Ashraful Haque (Bangladesh)
A solid right-hand bat and a useful off-spin bowler, Ashraful has got a permanent place in the annals of Tigers cricket history. On May 24, 1979, Bangladesh took on Fiji in our first ever official international match during the first ICC trophy. The match was held at the Water Orton Cricket Club ground in the English midlands.

Batting first on an under-prepared wicket, the Bangladesh batsmen struggled badly, and only some vital contributions by the tail-enders took the score up to 103 all out.

In reply, the Pacific Islanders found scoring extremely tough against our seam bowlers. Still, when they reached 2-40, a major upset looked to be on the cards. But, then ‘Ash’ in a magical spell of spin bowling took 7-23 to bowl the opposition out for only 81 runs. This remained the best bowling figures in ICC trophy, until Ole Mortensen of Denmark and Derby took 7-19 against Israel in 1994.

Ashraful produced many other memorable efforts with both bat and ball in international as well as in domestic cricket. But remarkably, whenever I went to the Dacca Stadium to watch him play, he flopped, much to my disappointment.

The first incident was on the third day of the historic match between MCC and Bangladesh in January 1977. In the Bangladesh second innings, he was out for a golden duck. My father and the other spectators didn’t care too much, as the game was heading for a draw – but I felt deeply disturbed.

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The second case was the second day of the January 1981 match between another MCC team against the Bangladesh team. The first day had gone badly for the local team. They were bundled out for only 143, Ashraful scored only seven despite being at the wicket for more than an hour.

During his stay, he struggled badly against the guile of Dermott Monteith’s left-arm spin. The only joy for the local fans came late in the day, when Badshah – our main pacer – comprehensively bowled ex-England opener John Jameson after tormenting him with the short stuff. But soon Badshah went off the field with a muscle pull and he took no further part in the match.

So, the Tigers were a bowler short on the second day, and in perfect batting conditions, the MCC men took full advantage. Especially impressive was Mark Nicholas – the Hampshire batsman smashed a fine 148*. By the time he had reached his ton, the MCC team was already in the lead and the final session saw Nicholas and Richard Hutton look for quick runs to set up an overnight declaration.

Richard, of course, was the son of Sir Len – but on this day his batting looked more like the Compton style. Poor Ashraful bowled the final over of the day – and Richard smashed three successive sixes in the last three deliveries to complete his 50.

Watching Ash play in the match made it clear to me that my hero was well past his best. And when he retired from international cricket the next season, it came as a surprise to no one.

After retiring as a player, Ashraful became a highly successful cricket administrator. He played a big part in popularising cricket not only in Bangladesh but in other parts of Asia as well.

Rod Marsh (Australia)
During my largely unsuccessful stint as a hopeful cricketer, I tried many roles: left-hand opening bat, middle-order bat, left-arm opening bowler, left-arm orthodox spin. But the role of the wicketkeeper never attracted me.

To me, it appeared as a thankless job. You do lots of hard work and at the end the people remember the difficult chance that you dropped or the missed stumping that gave the opposition batsman a new life.

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Along with Alan Knott from England, Rod Marsh is generally acknowledged as the best wicketkeeper of the 1970s.

Rodney Marsh

(Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

But he caught my attention not so much for his keeping, but for his involvement in two incidences. The first came in the centenary match where he allowed Derek Randall a reprieve. The second was his very clear show of disapproval of his captain’s policy during the underarm incident.

To me, Rod Marsh was a symbol of a true gentleman of cricket.

Rodney Hogg (Australia)
To many he was just a one-season wonder. After promising great things in his debut season of 1978-79, he was never able to come close to the same heights again. Three things badly hampered his progress: his persistent back injury, his asthma problem from birth, and his problems with no balls.

As for his heyday, it was great while it lasted. The absence of both Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson from the home pace attack made some top-order English batsmen believe that they were going to have an easy time down under. Their illusion was over even before the end of the first Test at the Gabba.

After restricting the home side to 116 all out, the tourists ran in to trouble against the inexperienced Aussie pace attack, and at the end it was the younger boys in the team – Ian Botham and David Gower – who helped their team take a decisive first-innings lead. Hogg’s 6-74 in his debut Test eventually went in vain.

Then came two successive ten-wicket hauls: the first at the WACA for a losing cause, the second at the MCG as the home side recorded their only success of the series. The Poms easily won the series 5-1, but Hogg ended the series with his head high, after taking a record-breaking haul of 41 victims. Ten wickets in the two-match series against Pakistan saw him end the season with a total of 51 Test wickets.

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Despite this promising start, Hogg’s international career quickly became a start-stop affair until the end in 1985. Quite remarkably, he had a short stint as the deputy of Allan Border in the Australian team.

At least the Hogg fans like me can always look back at his debut season with great pride and joy.

Sikander Bakht (Pakistan)
The tall fast bowler from Karachi first caught the attention of the cricket lovers worldwide by breaking the arm of England captain Mike Brearley during an ODI in the 1977-78 season with a fast-rising delivery. Of course, this didn’t necessarily weaken the England batting and Geoffrey Boycott got the opportunity to fulfill his long cherished ambition of leading England in Test matches. He led England in four Tests: one in Pakistan, three in NZ.

Despite his good pace, Sikander enjoyed little success in Test matches – 67 wickets in 26 Tests at 36 apiece isn’t much to write about. But there was a remarkable spell of three Tests in India, late in 1979, when everything clicked for Bakht. He took 23 wickets in these Tests and all his three five-fors came in these Tests.

Interestingly, he wasn’t originally a part of the touring team. But then Imran Khan started to struggle with injures and Sarfraz Nawaz was out of favour of the skipper Asif Iqbal. So Bakht was flown in from Pakistan and straightaway made his impact in the second Test at Delhi.

The wicket at the Feroz Shah Kotla provided unexpected support for the seamers. In the Pakistan first innings of 273, there was no wicket for the Indian spinners – a rare occurrence in Tests in India at the time. When India batted, Imran was able to bowl only seven and a half overs.

Imran Khan

(Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

But it was his new-ball partner Sikander who proved unplayable to the host team. Getting both-way movements in great pace, he ran through the Indian batting line-up to finish with the career-best figures of 8-69 as the hosts were bowled out for only 126 runs.

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He took three more wickets in the second innings to complete an 11-wicket haul in the match, but this time it was much harder work for him. The Indian target was 390, but the Pakistan bowling resources were limited. This time Imran bowled just one over, and with the spinners proving very ineffective, Asif mainly relied on Sikander. He toiled manfully to pick up 3-121, but it wasn’t enough. Dilip Vengsarkar scored a superb unbeaten hundred to ensure his team’s safety.

Bakht took seven wickets in the next Test at Bombay, but the Indians were the easy winners on an under-prepared wicket. Then came Christmas day and a green top at the Green Park, Kanpur.

I still remember the day very well. At that time, the late Mr Vincent Gomez was my late dad’s business partner. In those days, our annual Christmas day schedule was fixed: we would go to Mr Gomez’s house in LaxmiBazaar, in the old Dacca, around 11 in the morning. We would stay there for a few hours, have our lunch there, and then would move to our Grandpa’s house, also in old Dhaka, in the afternoon.

On that day, as we were busy playing Monopoly, my dad and his friends were listening to the cricket commentary. My dad, a diehard Pakistan fan, was absolutely delighted when India slumped to 8-69. Early in the morning India suffered a double blow when Bakht bowled Gavaskar for only two, and then had Vengsarkar caught behind for a golden duck. Bakht’s new-ball partner Ehteshamuddin also joined in the party as it seemed that India would struggle to reach the hundred mark.

But the Indian tail wagged and took the score to 162 all out. Even Dilip Doshi, a real rabbit with the bat, contributed a valuable 20 for his team. Bakht and Ehtesham equally shared the ten victims.

And although the Pakistanis took a useful first-innings lead of 87, the Indian openers led a second innings fight-back. Weather intervention on the final day ended any chance of a result in this match.

The extreme hard work eventually took its toll on Bakht, and he took only one more wicket in the remaining two Tests of the series.

Nazrul Quader Lintu (Bangladesh)
I normally prefer a real rabbit with the bat to take the number 11 slot in my team. Lintu satisfies that criteria perfectly. If he had the chance to play Test cricket regularly, he would have joined the list of the great number 11s of all time.

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In fact, while I remember that he was a fine left-arm spinner, I actually don’t remember whether he batted right or left handed. He was never at the wicket for too long. In fact, it was common for the Tigers at the time to declare eight wickets down or at the fall of the ninth wicket.

Left-arm orthodox spin was his forte. Barely out of his teens, he was selected as the main spin bowler for the home side in the three-day match against MCC at Dacca in January 1977. And he fully vindicated the faith shown in him by taking 4-54. A year later he impressed the Deccan Blues captain Ajit Wadekar.

Then came a memorable season for Lintu during the 1978-79 season. With the wickets offering plenty of turn, and his fellow spinners Ashraful (off spin) and Omar Khaled (leg spin) offering him great support, he produced one memorable spell after another against the visiting MCC team.

A cricket ball coming off a bat

Among the MCC men, only the veteran Sir Conrad Hunte from the Windies and John Jameson, the Bombay-born Warwickshire and England opener, seemed to have any clue of how to play him. It’s hard to believe now, but he never played for the Tigers again after this season.

The problem started in the summer of 1979. As the Tigers were preparing for the first ICC Trophy in England, a month-long fitness training camp was arranged at the Naval Headquarters in Banani, in North Dhaka. Lintu at the time was a student of Dacca University, and attending the camp was difficult for him. So he missed the camp, and the board dropped him from the team for the ICC Trophy. The Tigers badly missed his services in England, especially in the final group match against the Danes, when a narrow loss saw the Tigers miss their chance of a semi-final berth.

Soon Lintu went to the USA for further studies, ending his cricket career. I might add here that cricket was just an amateur sport in Bangladesh in the 1970s, and there were many others who concentrated more on their professional or academic priorities over cricket.

As a left-arm spinner, he belonged to the Derek Underwood category: he was quite quick in the air. He also preferred to bowl mostly over the wicket to the right handers, with a fast run up to the wicket. Now, this posed special problems for the keeper. But, thankfully, Lintu had wonderful understanding with the regular keeper Shafiq-ul-Haq Hira. Hira, in fact, led the Bangladesh team in the ICC Trophy events of 1979 and 1982.

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While stumped Hira, bowled Lintu didn’t become as famous as the caught Marsh, bowled Lillee mode of dismissal, still the Hira and Lintu combination was a great success for three seasons.

Honorable mentions
• Australia: Peter Toohey (wasn’t he the next Doug Walters?), Len Pascoe, Geoff Dymock
• England: Derek Randall, Bob Willis (in the case of Willis, it had more to do with his hair cut than his bowling style)
• West Indies: Alvin Kallicharran
• New Zealand: Lance Cairns (mainly for hit batting), JF Reid
• India: Chetan Chauhan
• Pakistan: Wasim Raja, Azeem Hafeez
• Sri Lanka: Anura Tennekoon, Roy Dias
• Bangladesh: Omar Khaled, Shafiq-ul-Haq Hira, Yousuf Rahman