Phil Emery played nearly 200 games for New South Wales between 1987 and 1999
© Getty Images

Interview

Remember the keeper Australia rushed to Pakistan for a Test?

A sudden call-up, a chaotic tour, a broken thumb - Phil Emery relives his momentous first and last Test for Australia in 1994

Daniel Brettig  |  

At midday on a Sunday in late October 1994, Phil Emery received word that instead of joining his insurance-company colleagues to watch that year's Melbourne Cup, he would be taking the field for Australia against Pakistan in Lahore. He spent the afternoon at Chatswood Oval in Sydney in somewhat of a daze.

Emery's moment came after more than seven years of sound glovework and sturdy captaincy for New South Wales whenever Mark Taylor or Steve Waugh were away, but it was to be neither seen nor heard in Australia. That tour of Pakistan, best remembered for Saleem Malik and a fixing scandal, was the last to not be beamed into Australian homes.

The details of Emery's call-up are redolent of times far earlier than 1994. In some ways it echoes many stories told in Gideon Haigh's classic The Summer Game, which chronicled Australian cricket between the retirement of Sir Donald Bradman and the captaincy of Ian Chappell.

"I was playing a game on a Sunday for my club, and pretty much Tuesday morning, if not Monday afternoon, I was on a flight to Lahore via Bangkok," Emery says. Ian Healy had broken his thumb in an ODI in Rawalpindi and Emery was his replacement. "I didn't have the [vaccine] shots you're supposed to have, I don't think I even had a visa. I was Ian Healy for the tour.

"On the way to the airport, I dropped into [cap and helmet manufacturers] Albion and picked up a green cap. I think Tony Henson was the general manager. He gave it to me and I said, 'It's a bit big.' He went back and put a couple of stitches in it and made it tighter, which is unusual because I've got a big scone. But he fixed it up, threw it over to me and then I went off to the airport, and that was kind of it."

At a time when the overwhelming majority of the world's elite sport can only be watched via broadcast, and equally when the finances of cricket depend almost entirely on the revenue flowing from domestic and international rights to those broadcasts, it is a little staggering to think that some tours were not globally broadcast as recently as 26 years ago.

Nor was that Pakistan trip necessarily an outlier in the first two decades after the World Series Cricket split. In 1992, the Australians had gone to Sri Lanka without any domestic broadcast coverage, and the same was true for Pakistan in 1988, India in 1986, West Indies in 1984, Sri Lanka in 1983, Pakistan in 1980 and 1982, and India in 1979. These tours are best described as taking place out of sight, if not quite out of mind.

"You look at it and think that's strange, but at the time that's what it was," Emery says. "Now you see all the pomp and ceremony that goes on when people make their debuts and it's a really exciting moment."

"My first day in Pakistan, it was soaking wet, there were people throwing rocks onto the field. It was chaos, and I was just sitting up on the balcony half-asleep because I'd been travelling for three days"

Those looking for a reason why the 1994 Pakistan tour, and some others before it, were not broadcast into Australian homes need only look at why virtually any ball bowled in anger in international cricket can now be seen live from most countries: money.

Cricket's finances in many nations were still largely predicated on gate receipts and sponsorship rather than broadcast revenue from free-to-air or subscription television. Matches in Asia, in particular, were still largely broadcast by state-owned television services for a peppercorn rights fee to the local board - the same arrangement the Australian Cricket Board maintained with the ABC up to the time that they were compelled to do a deal with Kerry Packer.

However, overseas cricket in general, whether World Cups or Test and ODI series, had begun to be more widely broadcast. The 1975 World Cup final at Lord's had been beamed live into Australia, supposedly helping spark Packer's interest, and tours of England were distributed to increasing numbers of television networks around the world as the 1980s wore on - Packer's Nine Network even sent over their own commentary teams in 1985 and 1989.

By the turn of the decade, tours of the Caribbean to face the world's then pre-eminent Test team were broadcast globally, starting with England's 1990 visit. A couple of years later and another England tour, this time to India, brought satellite coverage into UK homes and indirectly helped spawn Cricinfo, as expat students from India and Britain relied on the fledgling internet for score updates in the United States.

Australia saw another milestone in early 1994, when the national team's first tour of South Africa since the end of apartheid was broadcast, somewhat chaotically, on Nine, in whatever scheduling gaps the network's programmers could find for it. The last of Allan Border's 156 Tests was thus seen back home, adding a sense of momentousness in contrast to the relative remoteness of the Pakistan series later in the year.

Without any prospect of its broadcast back home, the Pakistan tour's place in the schedule played a role in ushering Border's retirement. The former coach Bob Simpson related in his book Simmo of his pivotal meeting with the selectors in November 1993: "[W]e pinned Allan down and he indicated that he didn't want to go to Pakistan the following August. It was explained to Allan that if he dodged the tour, it would be very difficult for him to remain captain. Allan did retire, but grudgingly."

Instead, the off-Broadway nature of the tour was to be a lower-profile beginning for Mark Taylor as Border's successor. Elimination from a triangular ODI series in Sri Lanka was an underwhelming start to the trip, made only more so by the fact that these games were later revealed to be the setting for the start of Mark Waugh and Shane Warne's information-sharing relationships with "John" the bookie, aka Mukesh Gupta.

Mark Taylor made his debut as Test captain in the first Test in Karachi in 1994, and bagged a pair in the match

Mark Taylor made his debut as Test captain in the first Test in Karachi in 1994, and bagged a pair in the match © Getty Images

By the time the team arrived in Pakistan, however, they were in good enough shape to make most of the running in the opening Test in Karachi. They were defeated only by a last-wicket stand of 57 between Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed, the day after Malik had conveyed a lucrative but instantly refused offer to Warne and Tim May to bowl outside off stump on the final day and allow Pakistan to eke out a draw.

Warne had conjured a final chance with Pakistan on the cusp of victory: Inzamam loped out of his crease, the ball skidded and turned, and Healy missed a fiendishly tough stumping. When the second Test, in Rawalpindi, went from another probable Australian win to a draw, thanks to Malik's powerful double-century, and Healy snapped his thumb while keeping in the ODI loss to Pakistan at the same venue 12 days later, the Australian selectors were faced with needing to find a gloveman for both the ODI triangular tournament final (South Africa was the third team) and the third Test.

The panel's chairman, Laurie Sawle, said that Emery was chosen keeping in mind the unfamiliar conditions and that there were big matches coming up for Australia - a one-day final and the last Test. "We need a keeper experienced in those sorts of conditions. He's a gritty sort of player, used to playing in hardened situations like Shield finals."

Thirty at the time of his call-up, Emery had been part of the NSW set-up since 1987. He was the Sheffield Shield-winning captain in both 1993 and 1994, the latter with a young team almost devoid of internationals. He was also a part-time cricketer, having set himself up for a career in the insurance industry that he still carries on in today. He was comfortable with shifting from captain to wicketkeeper whenever Taylor or Waugh were available, given that all shared a similar philosophy.

"We tried to play aggressively, we tried to win, we didn't want to make things boring," Emery says. "A lot of that was coming through [from] the 1980s, with Rick McCosker, Steve Rixon, Greg Matthews and Geoff Lawson - who was a very progressive captain. They tried to find ways to win, so that was just what you walked into and that's what was expected.

"Just because you bat well in the first innings doesn't mean you've got a right to win the game. You've got to be prepared to lose to win, and we lost a few. We declared twice against Tasmania once, set them 380 and they got them. I remember catching Rod Tucker first ball [but it wasn't given out], and he ended up getting a big score, but that's the game. We rolled the dice and we got done, but we still played the final."

The marriage of adaptability and aggression was summed up by an episode in December 1993, when Steve Waugh was coming back from a torn hamstring in an ODI. A close contest with South Australia in Adelaide was tilted towards NSW in part by Waugh taking advice from the curator Les Burdett that he should not use a roller on the final morning. It was the sort of conversation a captain has when he is thinking only of his state, and not of a Test match going on elsewhere - in this case in Sydney, against South Africa. "He couldn't be at the SCG, he's captaining us, and you wouldn't have thought any other game was going on," Emery says. "That's how they were when they came back to play for us."

"I thought, great, I've come all this way to play for Australia for the first time, and now I'm trying to miss the ball by a foot"

Now, though, rather than having team-mates coming back, Emery was flying to Pakistan to join them. His first day with the squad was memorable. "The first game I walked into was the game at Gujranwala. I arrived at 2 or 3am in the morning and we left at 6am, so I had about one hour's sleep in the hotel to go to a one-day game... There were too many people who turned up at the game, and then the wicket wasn't covered and it'd rained and they weren't going to play.

"I walked out to the middle with Tubby [Taylor]- I thought I'll stick around with him, because at least he knows what's going on. And this bloke walked up to him and said, 'Are we going to have a game?', and Mark said, 'No mate, your wicket's wet, probably not.' He goes, 'Oh you must play', and Mark goes, 'Oh, no, no, who are you?' 'I'm Javed, I'm the mayor.' Mark says, 'Oh yeah, well mate, you're good at selling tickets but you can't cover your wicket.'

"They had little sponges out and they were trying to mop this thing up. At that point they were ushering all these people into the ground, and the fence fell over.

"All these people were getting crushed on the fence, and [Javed] said 'Oh, we must play' and [Taylor] said 'Why' and [Javed] said, 'Oh well, if we don't play, they will kill us.' I just thought, 'Oh great, what have I landed in here.'

So we played an exhibition game from one end, just to appease the crowd. Neither team wanted to play, but they did, and that was my first day in Pakistan. It was soaking wet and there were people throwing rocks onto the field. It was chaos, and I was just sitting up on the balcony half asleep because-I'd been travelling for three days, sitting with Robbo [Gavin Robertson]. It seemed like five minutes before I'd been playing Petersham at Chatswood Oval."

While a young Justin Langer kept wicket that day, Emery started his international career in the ODI tournament final at Lahore in front of another teeming crowd. His first experience in the middle was facing Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis reversing the ball vast distances, and Michael Bevan's ingenious response.

"We put on 50 or 60 and Bevo got about 50 of them and I got 11, and I do remember walking up to him after two or three balls I'd faced off Waqar - I'd missed the first couple - and [Bevan] goes, 'Can you check which way it's going', and I said, 'Yeah, I just can't hit the thing', because they were reverse-swinging them sideways. And he said, 'Aim a foot outside.' I said, 'What?' and he said again, 'Aim a foot outside the ball.' I asked 'Is that what you're doing' and he said, 'Yeah.'

"I thought, great, I've come all this way to play for Australia for the first time, and now I'm trying to miss the thing by a foot. My first shot I hit through cover for two or three, straight out of the screws - so I know which way it's going, I'll just try and miss it. Anyhow, we got a good total."

Pakistan won the first Test in the three-match series, and drew the second, in Rawalpindi

Pakistan won the first Test in the three-match series, and drew the second, in Rawalpindi © Getty Images

Emery has often thought about what it might have done for Bevan's career if the tour had been televised. "Top run scorer, averaged 80, 90 on debut, 90 in the last Test [against Pakistan], Akram and Younis in full flight and he hooked the bejesus out of them. He comes back, gets bounced out [by England], then there's question marks on him and then he gets dropped.

"So for me it [didn't matter if] people don't get to see it, but Bevo's career could have been different. The way he played over there, against those two [Akram and Younis] specifically, at the time one of the best opening attacks in the world - he did it easily. He actually showed he didn't have a problem. But he plays a bad shot at home and everyone picks on him. So it maybe got in his head. That's the thing about the [lack of] TV that I remember - that could have changed his life."

Keeping, of course, was Emery's first vocation, and he had a swift test of ethics in the opening over of Pakistan's chase. "In the first over, Saeed Anwar nicked one off Craig McDermott. I dove in front of first slip and it bounced just before I got it, and I called him back after he got given out," he says. "He said, 'Thank you!' But that would've been my first catch and it would've been a pretty ordinary start, to have my first international catch as a bounced ball."

Anwar still made a duck, caught Taylor at mid-on, as the Australians prevailed.

Not many Australian cricketers whose first Tests were not a Boxing Day or New Year's match have made their Test debuts on a Tuesday, but that's how it was for Emery. Langer was called up alongside him due to Steve Waugh's absence with a dislocated shoulder. For Pakistan, Akram and Younis were out with back, sinus and hamstring problems.

Emery had walked into a tour where plenty had gone on behind the scenes already, and he recalls Taylor, in particular, expressing frustration at cricket's inability to tackle the bookie problem at its outset.

"It was a very strange tour in terms of all that going on," Emery says. "[Taylor] said 'I'm not going to have it on my record 20 or 30 years down the track that this is going to come out and we did nothing about it.' He also understood that being a cricketer in Pakistan was not like being a cricketer in the north shore of Sydney. Your life's different, there's different pressures, and so he understood that, but wrong is wrong.

"I'd never really heard Steve Waugh sledge much and I played a lot with him, but he did walk up to me and say 'S***, you would not want to get out to Boonie, would you?'"

"I've always said about him - if he didn't make the right call at the time, he would take the next best option. He had a finger on the pulse of the game. He'd change the momentum of a game through his captaincy, not by sitting and looking at computers and working out how many shots this guy plays through the off side, just by watching. I think that was a skill at the time of good captains, bowlers and players - they could read what was going on without having to revert to data."

Aamer Sohail's hook at Glenn McGrath presented Emery with a straightforward first Test catch within a few minutes of the start, although he then had to put his head down as the hosts swept and slogged their way to 373. There was to be painful irony, quite literally, for Emery when he walked out to face a Pakistan attack he thought might be a little more agreeable without their two spearheads.

"I must say, when I was playing, I wasn't too disappointed [Akram and Younis] weren't," he says, "but Mohsin Kamal broke my thumb when I came in as nightwatchman, batting No. 4. The next morning I was not out, and for my second Test run, the ball kicked off a length, clipped the top of my bat, hit me on the thumb and flew over point, and then Slats [Michael Slater] called me through and almost got me run out. Next thing you know, I've got no thumbnail and my thumb was in a few pieces. I didn't realise that - and I batted again and kept in the second innings.

"Luckily it was my left hand, because you catch predominantly one-handed and you have one hand or the other [to favour]. So it hurt, it wasn't good, but it wasn't like it was my right hand, otherwise it would've been unbearable. I came back later, hit a boundary - eight not out."

As the match wore on and Malik foiled another Australian push for a series-levelling victory, this time by clouting 143, Emery faced the sort of moment in which he needed to weigh up his prospects of playing again. "I actually got one in the nose as well, off Tim May, the ball went between bat and pad, went straight up into my beak and took a chunk out of my nose. There was claret all over the place, and at teatime Tubby actually said, 'Look, if you don't want to keep, you can sit down, Langer will keep.'

"I thought, you know what, I might not ever play another one of these things. So I said, 'Sorry mate, I'm going to keep.' Then I managed to get the stumping [of Sohail] and another catch [Mushtaq Ahmed, off McGrath]. If I hadn't done that I would've been two short and I never would have forgiven myself."

Emery's career statistics duly read: one Test, eight runs, five catches and a stumping. Six dismissals, on a low and slow Lahore surface, after arriving in the country only a few days before, remain a rightful source of pride, considering that no wicketkeeper has ever averaged more than about four per match across their Test career.

When he got home, Emery was chosen to keep wicket for Australia A in their one-off appearance as part of the World Series Cup, also featuring England, Zimbabwe and Australia's first XI.

Emery led New South Wales to the Sheffield Shield title in 1993 and 1994

Emery led New South Wales to the Sheffield Shield title in 1993 and 1994 © Getty Images

"Merv [Hughes] was in the [Australia A] side, and for the two minutes of a day that he could be serious, he's a knowledgeable bloke on cricket. In one of the first team meetings, Merv just said it straight away: 'Don't think for a second all of us here don't want to be in that other [Australia] room. That's our goal, and the only way we're going to get there individually is if we do something together.'

"We all knew if we go out and play like a team on the day, if someone gets into the other side, good on you. It wasn't us versus them, it was, 'We all want to play for Australia.' But while you're in the A side playing against them, you're going to make their life a nightmare. Because it's the only way you're going to get in.

"It was very uncomfortable for the top side, because they were on a hiding to nothing. Tubby [who was Australia captain] just said, 'I don't need this s**t in my first year,' but in the end it was played competitively. In Adelaide, Robbo and I got us back into the game and I got run out. We got beaten, but we should have won."

Emery was an integral part of the A side as they jostled for a spot in the final, but he played for Australia too in that tournament, again in place of Healy, at the Gabba. "I was in the Australian side, Boonie was my room-mate, and I had to keep to him in Brisbane. I remember thinking, 'Geez, you wouldn't want to get out to him...'"

Flash forward a few days and Emery is doing just that at the MCG as Australia A's storming start to the second final begins to peter out. "He bowled doorknobs that didn't turn, so I was more worried about running down the wicket and hitting it straight back at him," Emery says. "I just tried to push it and get off strike so I didn't have to face him, and nicked the thing into my pegs.

"Everyone sort of says things like 'Stephen's [Waugh] the master sledger.' I'd never really heard him sledge much and I played a lot with him, but he did walk up to me and say 'S**t, you would not want to get out to Boonie, would you?' Just like standing over a short putt and your mate goes, 'Ohh, there might be a bit of a break in that'- that's all it was. So it happened, but those games weren't official so it didn't really happen!"

In this case, the game was not absent from television. "You play long enough you're going to do something embarrassing," Emery laughs. "I don't know how many watched it - 60,000 at the MCG saw it - but I do know, standing outside the casino in Tasmania about three days later when we're playing a Shield game, these two locals were talking under their breath next to me and I looked at them and said, 'What do you want?' and they went, 'You're the so and so that Boonie bowled aren't you?' I just went, 'Oh, that'll do me...'"

So for all those who remember Emery as the butt of David Boon's joke in Melbourne, let it be recalled a little more often that he was also Australia's tidy and tough wicketkeeper in Pakistan.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

 

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