Former Pakistan pacer Sarfraz Nawaz is considered as the first exponent of reverse swing. No doubt, he was Pakistan’s top quality quick, and formed a potent partnership with Imran Khan. He had all the ingredients of a potent fast bowler – a strong action, bouncers, yorkers and swing, both conventional and reverse. His ability to hit the ball while batting lower down the order made him a useful all-rounder and he was the third Pakistan cricketer, after Imran Khan and Intikhab Alam, to take 100 Test wickets and score 1000 Test runs.
In many ways Sarfraz was a trend-setter. He was so effective that he generated good lift on docile sub-continental tracks too. Born on December 1, 1948, Sarfraz, a big, burly Punjabi, is also remembered for his ‘spell from hell’ — against Australia at Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1979. On March 15, 1979 at Melbourne, he bowled a memorable spell to take nine wickets for 86 runs in an innings. He dismissed seven batsmen while conceding one run from 33 balls. He attracted a few controversies as well. Sarfraz controversially dismissed Australian batsman, Andrew Hildrich for handling the ball in the next Test at Perth after his ‘spell from hell’. He also served Northamptonshire with distinction in two stints.
The first few years in international cricket were discouraging for him. After a lukewarm debut at Karachi against England, Sarfraz was dropped and did not make his way back in the team for another four years. It was in 1972-73 that he was recalled and toured Australia for the first time, and it remained the country of his greatest feats. Even as Australia won all three Tests, the final one played at SCG was hard-fought. With 4 for 53 and 4 for 56 in two innings, Sarfraz accounted for the likes of Ian Chappell (twice), Greg Chappell, Ian Redpath and Keith Stackpole. As a result, Pakistan needed just 159 to win. However, Max Walker restricted them to 106. When Pakistan toured England in 1973, the first Test at Headingley turned out to be memorable. Sarfraz came in at 209 for eight and hit an attacking 53 with some fierce driving against Geoff Arnold, Mike Hendricks, Chris Old and Derek Underwood. The low-scoring match ended in a thrilling draw, and it also marked the first time Imran Khan and Sarfraz played together. Down the years, they were destined to become a formidable fast bowling pair.
Due to his idiosyncracies and mood swings, he bowled a succession of bouncers at other fast bowlers such as Jeff Thompson and Joel Garner. He seldom flinched when the fast men retaliated by sending balls whizzing past his chin. His withdrawal from a home series against England also created quite a furore. Some steady showing in the West Indies and Australia elevated Sarfraz to the post of vice-captain to Wasim Bari in 1977-78 against England. However, protesting against pay, he disappeared before the second Test. It was the period of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, and conjectures were rife about his recruitment by the rebel group. However, Sarfraz was discovered in London, where he had flown to enjoy Christmas even as the English team were playing in Pakistan. He returned in time for the third Test. The following winter he captured 4 for 89 and 5 for 70 to defeat arch rivals India at Karachi. The 17 wickets he captured in the series proved decisive in Pakistan’s historic 2-0 triumph.
When Pakistan toured India in 1979-80, Sarfraz was omitted from the side – allegedly due to his differences with skipper Asif Iqbal. Years later, he claimed that Asif and Sunil Gavaskar were involved in fixing matches in the series. Somewhat remarkably, this stunning allegation came without any semblance of evidence. During his playing days he was outspoken and controversial – a trait that has not mellowed with years. He is still outspoken and controversial. He was one of the first to raise questions and uncomfortable fingers about match-fixing, and still talks about match-fixing. Most importantly, he started the oft repeated Pakistani tradition of retiring multiple times. His final tally of 177 wickets from 55 Tests at 32.75 is extremely creditable. He also snapped 63 ODI wickets. Following his retirement, Sarfraz plunged into the labyrinthine world of Pakistan politics and also became a cricket commentator. However, his lasting legacy is that art and craft of swinging the old ball in the unconventional manner, making the rough side of the ball gain importance and menace with passing overs. It was this art that he passed on to Imran Khan, and in turn transferring into the glorious artillery of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.