Sarfraz Nawaz

'I did not have a lethal weapon in my armoury'

Sarfraz Nawaz mastered the arts of swing - conventional and reverse - by trial and error, and formed a formidable partnership with Imran Khan. He looks back at his life and career

Interview by Ijaz Chaudhry  |  

"I tried to bowl according to the particular batsman's strengths and weaknesses" © PA Photos

In September 2010, while having a stroll in an Islamabad park, I was confronted by a few armed men. They threatened me with dire consequences if I didn't stop talking about gamblers in cricket. I got a First Information Report registered at the local police station. I have always been vocal about the menace of match-fixing. The betting really spread during the Sharjah boom. I was the first person to testify before the Justice Qayyum commission in Pakistan.

In my teens I went into the family business, construction. We were constructing the compound wall of Lahore's famous Government College when the 1965 war with India broke out. That stopped everything. Cricket became my biggest activity. That is how I started in the game.

Physical fitness is the most important quality for a fast bowler. Also, reading the batsman's strengths and weaknesses, and the ability to adjust the line and length.

In 1970 I played regularly for Northants in the County Championship and took about 60 wickets.

Melbourne is my favourite ground. I had my life's best performance - 9 for 86, at the time the best Test figures for a Pakistani - there in 1978-79. I also did well in the Test on the next Pakistan tour.

I got into the Government College because of my cricketing prowess. As always, the Government College team had a number of future Test cricketers: Wasim Raja, Talat Ali, Shafiq Ahmed, among others. My game really flourished. I have the honour of captaining both the Government College and Punjab University sides.

I have always been a fierce competitor. In 1975, Jeff Thomson hurled bouncers at me while bowling for the touring Australians against Northants. In those non-helmet days, it was regarded as unfair to send down bouncers at tailenders. I shouted at him: "There is a grave vacant at the local cemetery." When Australia batted, I had Thomson dismissed off a bouncer.

I made my first-class debut in 1967 and then there was no looking back. My second game was the Ayub Trophy final. Next season I was a member of the Lahore side which dethroned Karachi from the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy after nine years.

The Northamptonshire captain Roger Prideaux was a member of the 1968-69 MCC team. I bowled to him at the practice nets in Lahore before the first Test. He said, "Sarfraz, you can swing the ball either way almost at will." He offered me a contract to play for Northamptonshire even before I had made my Test debut.

During the Melbourne Test of 1978-79, though we had set a tough target of 382, the Aussies were cruising at 305 with just three wickets down. I told my captain, Mushtaq [Mohammad], that we should try to waste time. So I went back to my normal longer run-up to slow things down before the start of the mandatory overs. [Allan] Border got an inside edge. The old ball was swinging and the new batsmen couldn't cope with that. I had took 7 for 1 and they were dismissed for 310. The Australian newspapers reported that I was the most talked-about person in the country the day after the Test.

After just five first-class games, in 1968-69, I was called for a three-day game against the touring MCC, and in the third match of the series, I made my Test debut against them.

I learnt to swing the ball through trial and error. During my early days, I mainly bowled incutters. Then, on a friend's suggestion, I started keeping the shine only on one side and was able to move the ball in either direction.

Initially I didn't teach anyone the art of swing bowling. During the 1974 Pakistan tour of England, I realised Imran Khan would be my regular partner in the Pakistan team. After the tour we had a few unofficial friendly matches in the West Indies, and there I shared my knowledge of swing bowling with Imran, who turned out to be a very good learner.

My most memorable batting was the innings of 90 against England in my last Test, at my hometown, Lahore.

The 1977 Sydney Test was really memorable for me. It was the first major international win of my Test career. The Imran-Sarfraz combination clicked for the first time. From there we were recognised, and this partnership helped Pakistan win many Tests over the next few years.

Playing in the county circuit, a paceman learns a lot. In a single day you sometimes get as many as three weathers and thus different conditions for bowling.

I have no regrets in my cricketing career. I achieved a lot, and thanks to cricket I have lived a full, vibrant and colourful life.

During my tenure for Northants (1969- 1982), they achieved unprecedented success. The best season was 1976, when they laid hands on some silverware [Gillette Cup] for the first time and also finished second in the County Championship. In 1980, when we won the Benson & Hedges Cup for the first time, I had the best figures for my team in the final - 3 for 23 in 11 overs.

The greatest frustration of my career was seeing New Zealand's last pair of Hastings and Collinge score a world-record last-wicket partnership against us during the Auckland Test of 1972-73.

I got along well with Imran during our playing days. Before he became captain, we mostly shared rooms during matches. We often discussed bowling techniques, etc. Even when he led the side, we used to spend a lot of time together after the day's play.

"I don't claim to be a match-winner, but people have pointed out that Pakistan often suffered in my absence. I was controversially axed from the Pakistan squad for the 1979-80 tour of India. Some Indian newspapers wrote that had Sarfraz been in the side, Pakistan might have won the series"

Gordon Greenidge is my favourite cricketer. He was a very intelligent player and was technically superb.

Abdul Rab, who coached at Friends Cricket Club, was my first mentor. Later Iqbal Butt, the director of sports at Punjab University, encouraged me a lot and took pains to provide us with the best facilities.

Being positive all the time is my greatest attribute. I never give up. I have always been ready to accept challenges in life and cricket.

Mushtaq Mohammad is the best captain I played under. He had wonderful communication skills and understood the game well. He moulded Pakistan into a fighting and winning combination, and it was under Mush that Northants had that wonderful season in 1976. Jim Watts was another good captain during my county days.

In the 1975 World Cup we lost against West Indies in the final over of the match. We let their last two wickets score 100 runs. It was mainly due to the poor captaincy of the stand-in skipper, Majid Khan. Instead of attacking the tailenders, defensive fields were adopted. Wasim Raja, who hadn't bowled a single over, was given the last over of the match. The Man-of-the-Match award was of little consolation for me.

I used to do a lot of running, climbing stairs. That helped me build good stamina, and I often bowled long spells. They nicknamed me "Horse".

Arguably, Imran's finest spell came during the last hour of the third day of the second Test of the 1982-83 series v India. The evening breeze of Karachi was helping swing the ball a lot. I suggested Imran swap ends with me because with his greater speed the results would be better. He reluctantly agreed. And then he ran through India's top and middle order with a spell of 5 for 1.

I don't claim to be a match-winner but people have pointed out that Pakistan often suffered in my absence. During the 1976-77 tour of Australia and the West Indies, I missed two Tests and Pakistan lost both. When Pakistan went down 0-1 to West Indies in the 1980-81 series, I didn't figure in the lost tie. In 1982, Pakistan lost to England 1-2. I played only one of the three Tests - the win at Lord's. It was Pakistan's first Test victory over England since 1954. I was controversially axed from the Pakistan squad for the 1979-80 tour of India. Some Indian newspapers wrote that had Sarfraz been in the side, Pakistan might have won the series.

I had offers to act in movies. The first came in England in 1974, but I declined since acting was not my forte. Then in the late '70s, my friend Younis Malik, the famous Pakistani film director, offered me and my actress wife Rani lead roles in his film. I again said no, and Rani had pledged to do no new movies after our wedding.

I was often involved in altercations with the cricket board and team officials because I couldn't tolerate any unfair play. I always spoke my mind.

I was elected as a Member of the Provincial Assembly in 1985 from my home constituency in Lahore. Those elections were non-party. Later, I joined the PPP (Pakistan People's Party) and contested the 1988 elections. I was declared successful, but on a recount, the result was reversed. I lost by about 400 votes.

In the 1979 World Cup semi-final, we had a good chance. Skipper Asif Iqbal, who was in great form, should have come at the fall of the second wicket at 176 instead of Haroon Rasheed, who always struggled in English conditions. In the first place, Wasim Raja, with an excellent record against the Windies, should have been in the side and not Haroon Rasheed.

Once during the West Indies tour of 1976-77, at a dinner, the menu showed "Mountain Chicken" as one of the items. I had been there before and knew what it was. The younger boys, like Javed Miandad and Haroon Rasheed, ordered it, thinking it was chicken. I ate something else. When we were finished, I asked the boys, "Do you know what you have just eaten is a frog?" They thought I was joking and asked the waiter, who confirmed it was a big frog of the Caribbean. That made all of them feel nauseous.

"During my early days, I mainly bowled incutters. Then, on a friend's suggestion, I started keeping the shine only on one side and was able to move the ball in either direction" © PA Photos

During the two governments of the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto, I served as the federal advisor on sports. I tried to resolve conflicts within various national sports federations through out-of-court settlements and was mostly successful. I also stopped the practice of sending joyriders with the touring national teams, as all the NOCs (No Objection Certificates) had to pass by me.

The cover-drive was my favourite stroke and my height helped me play it well.

The 1974 tour of England was the most memorable. Pakistan didn't lose a single match on the tour - only the second side to do so (the 1948 Australians were the others). And for the first time since the '50s, Pakistan looked like a formidable outfit.

I did not boast of any lethal weapon in my armoury. I tried to bowl according to the particular batsman's strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Sunil Gavaskar was very good at playing inswing but not that comfortable with outswing.

I wasn't really interested in captaining the national side. In the latter part of my career, I often played under boys much junior to me, though in my initial years I had skippered the strong teams of Punjab University and Government College, Lahore. In fact, I have the honour of captaining Punjab University when it reached the final of the Quaid-e-Azam trophy in 1970-71 - the only time any university side managed to do so.

Hanif Mohammad was the most difficult batsman to dismiss. He was very well organised, with an excellent defence and a wonderful temperament.

Twenty20 is the future of cricket. One can enjoy it with the whole family. Skill is displayed in a short period.

Ijaz Chaudhry writes on cricket and other sports. For more about him and samples of his published work, visit