Sarfraz master of unplayable verbal volleys

Diary from Pakistan
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Few sportsmen have added to the gaiety of nations more than Sarfraz Nawaz. He was an accomplished fast bowler for Pakistan, who once took nine wickets in a Test innings against Australia, and is often credited with being the inventor of reverse swing. It may have been a happy accident, it may have been the result of years of laborious experiments, but had he been able to patent it he would have had no need to work again. Luckily for us, Sarfraz entered public life.

Few sportsmen have added to the gaiety of nations more than Sarfraz Nawaz. He was an accomplished fast bowler for Pakistan, who once took nine wickets in a Test innings against Australia, and is often credited with being the inventor of reverse swing. It may have been a happy accident, it may have been the result of years of laborious experiments, but had he been able to patent it he would have had no need to work again. Luckily for us, Sarfraz entered public life.

Here, he has merely continued on the well-worn path he trod as a player, whether for his country, Lahore, Punjab University, Punjab, Railways, United Bank or Northamptonshire, where he spent 13 uncommonly smooth years. He speaks his mind, he falls out with people, it is as if he sets out to irk them.

Saf was at Rawalpindi Stadium last week when he was ambushed by some reporters. He could not resist the temptation. First up, he said that there should be two neutral umpires in Test matches. Nobody disagreed. Pakistan have been urging this obvious reform for years. Sarfraz, into his stride, then said that the ICC should call an emergency meeting and pass the regulation immediately, so that there are two neutrals in time for the First Test between England and Pakistan.

While he was about it he called for poor umpires to be banned and railed against the English officials David Shepherd, David Constant and Ken Palmer. For good measure, he gave Dickie Bird a volley too.

Quickly into a gallop, he continued: "Now I want to tell the British media if they can't press ICC on this issue, they should shut up or get lost instead of grumbling about onefabricated issue or the other."

If this was forthright, it should be stressed that he is not nationalistic in his targets. A few years ago he fell out with Imran Khan on a cricketing issue and declared: "Imran is an adulterer and a cheat who should be stoned to death."

Sarfraz, 51, took 1,005 wickets, 177 of them in 55 Tests, which would have been considerably more had he not kept telling the Pakistan Board where they could stick their opinions. He played all over the world, once at Darlington, where he was not immediately recognised by one old Co Durham boy. "Who's that?" he said to his mate. His mate replied: "Sarfraz Nawaz thanaz."

Switch the focus

There has been a huge outpouring of relief throughout the country. It is to their credit that the Pakistanis have managed to resist self-righteousness and sanctimony.

But there was no question that they were aggrieved at England's dash for the moral high ground, and that when Alec Stewart was named in the Indian match-rigging report last week they saw it shift from under the feet of their former colonial master.

It did not matter that Stewart both protested his innocence and might very well be innocent. What mattered was that Pakistan no longer felt like pariahs.

The affable Lt-Gen Tauqir Zir, chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, was much too shrewd (who says soldiers do not make good politicians?) to be drawn into an unseemly row with the English. "The only thing I would say is that it's better to stick at your own board because you don't know what's going with anybody else. It's up to the English what they want to do now. I would only point out that we conducted our own thorough legal inquiry."

His counterpart, Lord MacLaurin, apologised to Pakistan on Friday in case he had upset them, though he is not coming here to watch any of the Test matches. If there is a public relations gameto be played, in addition to the Tests, Pakistan, to borrow a favourite phrase of England's captain, Nasser Hussain, are "definitelyfavourites". In both.

Driving turn-off

All is not hunky-dory in Pakistani cricket, and it has nothing to do with corruptible players. As one of the papers here said: "The sword of the match-fixing controversy that hung over the heads of Pakistan cricket has finally cleared off." It is to do with sponsorship. It is the kind of not hunky-doryness that Lord's doubtless crave. The Board's sponsors are not happy with the exposure they are receiving.

Both Daihatsu and Shell complained to the authorities about their lack of coverage during the one-day internationals. Daihatsu provided a car to the man of the match at each of the one-dayers; Shell gave cash prizes for individual performances. Saqlain Mushtaq, man of the match in the last one-dayer, drove his car round Rawalpindi like a mad thing, the players proffered their big cheques with a smile. Unfortunately, the television coverage finished before the presentation ceremonies and the pair are complaining about not getting enough mileage.

The England and Wales Cricket Board might like to deal with this complaint. If they can ever find a sponsor again.

No cap required

So, talking of sponsorship, Alec Stewart appeared before a media throng on Thursday to reiterate a categoric denial to the suggestion that he had ever taken money for match-fixing. It was, by and large, an impressive performance because, whether Stewart is guilty or innocent (and who would you believe, England's hard-nosed pro wicketkeeper-batsman or an illegal Indian bookie who admits to promoting widespread corruption in the game?), he must have spent two days at the lowest ebb.

He spoke forcefully, if with an occasional catch in his throat, and there were times when he promised to be the old sardonic Gaffer. There was one big difference (and it has to be conceded here that the England team at least do have a sponsor). It was the first time in yonks that an England player had sat down before a camera without wearing a Vodafone baseball cap.

Comments