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The Forgotten Tour


Martin Chandler | 9:56am gmt 28 Nov 2010
The Forgotten Tour
Milburn is dismissed after his century at Karachi
Today's cricket administrators are used to dealing with political issues, and the conflicting priorities, problems and demands that they create. Generally they are comfortable in doing so, although that ability is a relatively recent development, and has certainly not always been the case. Those at Lord's who ran English cricket found out the hard way in the late 1960's that as the world became a more complex place, political considerations increasingly presented them with challenging choices and a difficult path to navigate.

The D'Oliveira affair was the first real crisis that was faced and provided the English game with a searching examination. It failed miserably as the 1968/69 tour to South Africa was cancelled, and the naivety of those involved shone through as the handling of the proposed return tour to England in 1970 was, if anything, even more inept. The 1970 tour was, realistically, never going to happen although there were many at the time who felt that, had the situation been handled differently, the 1968/69 tour might have been salvaged. Those in that camp believed that if Basil D'Oliveira had been selected in the original tour party, following his matchwinning innings in the final Ashes Test, that the South African government would have allowed entry to their country to a team that it considered was selected wholly on merit. It was, so the theory continued, only the ludicrous volte face of the selectors and the late decision to give D'Oliveira the place vacated by the injury to Tom Cartwight, a bowling all rounder, that caused the South Africans to believe, perhaps not unreasonably, that the team finally selected was, as Mr Vorster put it, "the team of the anti-apartheid movement". I have examined the South African issue before on CricketWeb, and the purpose of this feature is not to look at that again, but to look at the tour that took place in its stead, and which was handled just as badly, which is doubtless part of the reason why it is The Forgotten Tour.

Other considerations apart the MCC needed the revenue the South African tour would bring and once it was cancelled their attention turned to the sub-continent, a location where no full strength England side had ever gone. It was believed that the top England players would prove attractive and in November 1968 it was announced that there would be a tour between January and March 1969, consisting of a single three day match and three Tests in each of India and Pakistan, together with three one day matches in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The cost to the Indian and Pakistani boards was to be GBP20,000 each. As matters turned out Mrs Gandhi did not share the Indian Board's view of the desirability of the short tour and refused to sanction the release of the necessary foreign currency. Pakistan did agree to find the money, although in doing so they had to forego the possibility of visits from West Indies in 1969/70 and Australia in 1970/71. What was eventually finalised was a shorter tour overall, but with some additional fixtures in Pakistan as well as the three Tests originally planned, and a longer visit to Ceylon.

To fully understand the events of the tour it is necessary to explain briefly the complex history of the Pakistani nation. When India gained independence in 1947 Pakistan also came into being, and at that time consisted of both the current nation, then known as West Pakistan, and what is now Bangladesh, and was originally known as East Bengal and later East Pakistan. With a distance of almost one thousand miles and significant cultural differences between the two "wings", the scope for conflict was clear from the outset. In terms of population, if not geographically, the East was larger and the increased revenue that the West took up, its greater share of industrial development and the westerners dominance of the miltary and civil service soon led to strife. As an illustration of the economic disparity between West and East at the time of the tour the average income that an agricultural labourer in the East could expect to receive was just half that his compatriot in the West could achieve.

At this time Pakistan was a military dictatorship under the control, inevitably, of a West Pakistani, Ayub Khan. The East was seriously underrepresented in positions of power, and in the armed forces men from the East made up less than ten per cent of the strength. By 1969 the Ayub Khan was having huge problems in exercising any sort of control in the East, and in just over two years the trouble there would finally ignite into the Bangladesh Liberation War that resulted in the creation, in December 1971, of the new independent nation. The situation in the West was little better in 1969. There were strikes and power blackouts leading to mass demonstrations, violence and killings. In both wings of the country university students, frustrated at what they saw as academic as well as economic and political stagnation, were the vanguard of the groups who sought change.

It would be fair to concede that news travelled more slowly in the late 1960s than it does today, but this was not the 1930s when the MCC could legitimately hide behind ignorance of precisely what was going on in Australia in 1932/33, and the troubled waters in Pakistan were entirely familiar to anyone in England who took any interest in foreign affairs.

Quite what possessed MCC to send a side in the first place is a little disturbing, particularly as the money would appear to have been the major attraction. Of course both sides, that is the PCB and the MCC, declared the tour would help to unite the country. It is inconceivable that the PCB really believed that and while some of the MCC committee might, sat in their ivory tower, have fallen for the line it is difficult to believe that the whole organisation could have been taken in. Certainly opinion in the press and in Whitehall was that the tour was a foolhardy and dangerous venture.

Why then did the players go? Tours of South Africa had always been popular and, given that the team were to be opposed by an immensely strong Springbok side the best available English squad had been invited to tour and all had accepted. As noted a full strength England side had never toured the sub-continent before and no doubt the fact that they would on this occasion was part of the attraction for the PCB. In the event Kenny Barrington did not make the trip, a heart attack during a double wicket tournament in Melbourne having ended his career. Geoffrey Boycott also pulled out citing health concerns - he had had his spleen removed as a child and it was not to be until the late 1970s that he would finally be persuaded to visit the subcontinent. That none of the other players pulled out might seem surprising, but in 1969 the financial position of professional cricketers was nothing like what it is today. The South African trip was a long one, around four months, but the MCC decided to pay the players the same amount for the six week trip to Ceylon and Pakistan, making it well worth their while to go. That move also suggests that the MCC had more than an inkling as to just how fraught the trip might turn out to be.

The touring party arrived in Ceylon at the end of January 1969. In 2010 the modern state of Sri Lanks has been free of a civil war that lasted, on and off, for more than a quarter of a century, for just a few months. In 1969 however the country was a haven of peace and tranquility and all the MCC tourists, and the journalists who accompanied them, were unstinting in their praise of the treatment and hospitality they received during the twelve days that they spent there.

As the party's 2 February flight to Karachi approached the situation in both East and West Pakistan deteriorated. The visit to the East wing was quickly cancelled and for a time the whole tour was under threat before, eventually, the MCC manager and Captain, Les Ames and Colin Cowdrey, finally agreed to travel. The decision did not meet with the wholehearted approval of the entire party, vice-captain Tom Graveney being the main spokesman for the doubters.

On arrival in Karachi the trip from airport to hotel was a sobering one. The route was lined with troops, not that there was any trouble as the gathering together of groups of people was not permitted on the city's streets. After arriving at the hotel there was some uncertainty about what fixtures were to be played, but after much negotiation it was agreed the party would move inland, away from the main trouble in the capital, for two initial First Class fixtures at Bahawulpur and Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), before picking up the original itinerary with a three day match at Sahiwal, followed by a four day Test in Lahore. It was also agreed to restore the second Test to Dacca (now Dhaka) as it was felt, logically, that the ill feeling of the protesters, currently directed at the government, might be switched to the players if they were seen to be abandoning the East in favour of the West.

The protracted discussions meant that the tourists arrived late in Bahawulpur and a prompt start was not possible. According to England's main strike bowler, John Snow, the match was put back even further due to Cowdrey's insistence that an English team did not start play until after they had had a cup of tea. There must be a distinct possibility that the tale is an apocryphal one, but it is difficult to imagine a more quintessentially English cricketer than Cowdrey, so perhaps it did happen that way, and even if it did not it remains a delightful story. Both additional fixtures were drawn, the first in favour of the home side and the second in favour of the tourists while the third, due to poor weather, saw only 25 overs bowled.

In fact there was to be no definite result achieved in any of the tour matches as all three Tests were drawn, although had the first Test been of five days duaration a fascinating final day's play would have been guaranteed. Amongst those selected for Pakistan for the first Test was a young student leader, Aftab Gul. Gul was on bail for alleged political activities at the time. It is part of the folklore of the series that such was his influence on the youth of the country that the selectors dare not omit him despite his not being a good enough player to justify his place.

In truth although Gul's short Test career is not impressive his was a perfectly valid selection. Pakistan, who had not played any Tests since their 1967 visit to England, had no settled opening pair. Gul was just 22 and had a respectable First Class record. More importantly in the Bahawulpur match he had scored two half centuries against the tourists and looked solid in doing so. It was a throwaway remark made to The Times' John Woodcock that gave rise to the myth. Woodcock asked Gul, after the BCCP XI had got the better of the draw thanks largely to his efforts, whether he thought his performance would gain him a place in the side for the first Test. Gul's reply "It had better do - otherwise there won't be a Test in Lahore" was intended as a joke but, unsurprisingly given the backdrop against which the tour was played, was taken by Woodcock at face value - the mistaken impression of the "Sage of Longparish" has lasted down the years.

To digress, briefly, Gul's statistics suggest that concentration may have been his problem. He batted eight times in the six Tests he played between 1969 and 1971 but never passed 33. On the positive side he still averaged 22, without ever being not out, and failed to reach double figures only once. He was not assisted by his moderate fielding (two dropped catches of his being blamed for Pakistan's failure to beat New Zealand in Dacca in late 1969). Later, by virtue of getting out to a poor shot, he was then adjudged by some to be responsible for Pakistan's 25 run defeat in the final Test against England in 1971.

Outside the game Gul always maintained his interest in politics and became a lawyer. He was a disciple of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto founded the centre left Pakistan People's Party in 1967 and served for a time as President of the country and as Prime Minister between 1971 and 1977. When, following the 1977 military coup in the country, Bhutto was imprisoned it was Gul who applied to the courts to challenge his detention. Gul was harassed at every turn by General Zia Ul-Haq's regime and eventually fled the country in 1983. He lived for five years at the YMCA on Tottenham Court Road in London and his life went on hold. The serious charges that he faced in Pakistan made him ineligible for political asylum in the UK, but at the same time his life being in danger prevented his extradition. It was 1988 and the restoration of democracy that finally saw Gul able to return to Pakistan, once his old mentor's daughter, Benazir Bhutto, had granted an amnesty to him - he had received prison sentences totalling 84 years in his absence. He has since rebuild his legal career, and numbers former Pakistan captain Salman Butt amongst his current clientele.

To return to the first Test Cowdrey won the toss and batted. England ended the first day at 226 for 5 and, had it not been for their captain's century, would have been in a lot of trouble. There were constant interruptions and pitch invasions and the innings must rank as one of the most difficult of Cowdrey's career, even if it would not have rated amongst his finest. After tea when Keith Fletcher and Cowdrey made their way to the middle to resume the innings the jostling from supporters was so bad that contemporary reports described Fletcher as having been almost dragged to the ground. Next day Alan Knott, with a typically unorthodox half century, was largely responsible for seeing England through to 306.

When Pakistan batted only Asif Iqbal looked comfortable against the England pace attack of David Brown and Bob Cottam and a first innings lead of 97 was conceded shortly before lunch on the third day. The disturbances continued and at one stage became so severe that, following his dismissal, it needed the direct intervention of Aftab Gul, who walked into one section of the ground to placate the supporters, to restore any sort of order. Derek Underwood said of him "..here was a young man who, if he lifted his hand, could stop or start a riot".

In their second innings England struggled again as only Fletcher, who top scored with 83, mastered the bowling, the conditions and the atmosphere. When the seventh English wicket fell there were only 151 on the board, but David Brown recorded his highest Test score of 44 not out and allowed England to declare on the fourth morning at 225 for 9. Pakistan had the rest of the day to score an improbable 323 for victory or, more realistically, bat out time for the draw. When they slumped from 71-1 to 71-4 England must have sensed an unlikely victory, but Majid Khan scored a fine 68, and at the end of the game Pakistan were 203-5, or 120 short of victory. A fifth day would have been fascinating as it is unlikely that Cottam and Brown would have much increased the target with their tenth wicket partnership. When the match closed the brothers Mohammad, Hanif and Mushtaq, were both well set. Pakistan still had five wickets to fall and just one real tailender, pace bowler Asif Masood. Given that it was universally accepted that the wicket had not markedly deteriorated, then it might have been the case that Pakistan would not have had to wait until 1984 before beating England at home for the first time.

After Lahore it was to be four days before the start of the Dacca match. There were all sorts of diplomatic machinations before the decision to actually travel was made. Ames, not unnaturally, sought guidance from those more experienced in world affairs than he was and, not unreasonably, chose to place great faith in the views of the British High Commissioner in Dacca - he was assured the city was peaceful and the Army and Police in full control. Both Ames and Cowdrey were keen to fulfill their obligations so the team travelled. When they got to Dacca they realised the truth - in the words of veteran journalist Lyn Wellings " ... the Deputy High Commissioner was astonished by our arrival. He had told his senior well in advance that ... the whole of East Pakistan was in a state of dangerous confusion and that he was making plans to evacute those Britons who were in the south around Chittagong".

The Pakistani Army had no presence in Dacca. They were at least 15 miles away and had no plans to enter the city. The streets, largely deserted, were not patrolled by the civilian police either. Dacca was, to all intents and purposes, being run by the students and Ames, Cowdrey and Graveney had a number of meetings with them. The whole concept is, of course, nothing short of ridiculous now - a group of mature men sat around a table having discussions with a group of rebellious teenagers and twenty somethings over whether the latter group could ensure that a major sporting event in a broken society could proceed safely. The students sought to persuade the tourists that if they played all would be well. For the first time Ames sought advice from Lord's. The message that came back to Ames was that he was the man on the spot and therefore best placed to make a judgement. In 2010 that smacks of dereliction of duty - for some of the players, but not seemingly Ames and Cowdrey, it did in 1969 as well. Graveney, who represented the players views, and more pointedly those of their dependents back in England, was furious at the decision made by Ames (Cowdrey at this crucial point being at his most frustratingly indecisive) to accept the students assurances and play the game. Perhaps the most remarkable thing of all is that, while the atmosphere at the match was charged and intimidating, the students were largely able to deliver on their promises. The only real trouble came on the fourth and final day as the home side ground out their tedious second innings at less than two runs per over to ensure there was no possibility of a definite result. Such was the monotony that a number of spectators took to lighting fires and throwing chairs around for their entertainment, but at no time did the trouble spill onto the playing area.

As for the cricket the second Test was uninspiring although again a fifth day might have turned it into an interesting match. Pakistan won the toss and batted first and six hours later had crawled to 176 for 5. Next morning England removed Hanif and Majid for the addition of just ten more runs but then, at the merest hint of some aggression from leg spinner Intikhab Alam, Cowdrey inexplicably decided to put seven fielders on the boundary and the Pakistan tail, rather longer than in Lahore, took the score to 246 by running easy singles. After showing such a lack of aggression in the field seven England batsmen then lost their wickets, mainly to poor shots, to leave the tourists deep in trouble at 139-7 at the close. Only D'Oliveira of the recognised batsmen, unbeaten on 16, remained. Next day D'Oliveira played the innings of his life and when England were all out for 275, giving them a first innings lead of 28 they would not have dared to dream of when the day began, he was not out on 114 having marshalled the tail superbly. In the two hours left Pakistan advanced, in the context of their scoring rates in the first innings relatively rapidly, to 77-3. On the final day England could not make much headway - Underwood bowled magnificently to end up with 5-94 from as many as 44 overs on a pitch not best suited to his bowling, but without Pat Pocock's off breaks, or Robin Hobbs' leg spin to partner him, a pitch which offered turn and uneven bounce to the genuinely slow bowler could not be fully exploited. The home side ground on until out of sight before declaring, after which, perhaps in protest, England's openers dawdled to 33 in the 20 overs that seven Pakistan bowlers shared between them - little wonder therefore that the patience of the crowd ran out.

The Dacca Test over England flew west to Karachi for the third and final match of the series - shortly after they left Dacca marauding protesters descended on the city's red light district and burnt down a brothel and three cinemas.

In Karachi the atmosphere was tense and had deteriorated in the short time that had elapsed since the tourists were last there. This time both they and the population were subject to curfew, not that it is likely that any member of the party would have wished to leave their hotel in the evenings anyway. A further source of tension in Karachi was the purely cricketing one that there was much resentment and ill-feeling towards the selectors regarding the fact that Hanif Mohammad had been stripped of the captaincy for the series.

Both sides made changes for the final Test which, after the two earlier draws, had five days allotted to it. For England the out of form Roger Prideaux made way for Colin Milburn, who had been flown in from Australia as cover due to concerns, originally, over Cowdrey's fitness. Hobbs replaced paceman Cottam. Pakistan restored Aftab Gul, Shafqat Rana and Asif Masood to their side, all of whom had missed the trip to Dacca, and a young pace bowler by the name of Sarfraz Nawaz made his debut in place of the local medium pacer, Niaz Ahmed, who had played in Dacca but had made little impact on the game. His was a selection clearly intended to placate and encourage the local audience rather than advance the cause of Pakistani cricket.

On the eve of the game Ames, Cowdrey and Graveney again sought assurances from the Pakistani Board as to the players' safety. Again Ames and Cowdrey allowed themselves to be persuaded to take the field by promises of a substantial police presence. Graveney was furious, and made his feelings known, but the match began on 6 March as scheduled. England won the toss and batted on a pitch that was clearly prepared to last. Milburn brought some much needed aggression to the series and during the afternoon session reached his century. A pitch invasion by around 300 spectators followed and Graveney, batting with Milburn at the time, proceeded to swat a few of them with his bat as they tried to congratulate Milburn. The invasion prompted an early tea to be taken and there was, for the only time in the series, some hostility shown towards the tourists as a result of Graveney's actions. At the close England were 226 -1 with Milburn unbeaten on 137.

Sadly for all concerned Milburn was out next morning after adding just two to his overnight score. It was his second, highest and last Test century. The hugely promising international career of the heavyweight 27 year old opener, who carried the goodwill of the entire nation with him every time he went out to bat, ended just two months later when a sickening road accident cost him his sight in one eye and damaged the other. After Milburn's dismissal Graveney went serenely on and reached his own century just before lunch. As with the previous day a pitch invasion drove the players from the field for an early and extended lunch. The truncated second day ended with England 412-6 and Alan Knott 38 not out - there had been six interruptions altogether. That night Cowdrey flew out, his father-in-law had died, and Graveney took over the captaincy.

On the third morning England batted on. Snow did not last too long but Knott and Brown added 75 before, just fifteen minutes before lunch, Knott took strike to Mushtaq on 96, just a single stroke away from his first Test century. At that point the game and the tour ended - a crowd of around 600 stormed into the ground from outside and charged on to the pitch - the players departed as quickly as they could. By now even Ames fund of goodwill was exhausted, and had such been given it must be doubtful whether Graveney and the team would have obeyed any instruction to continue. In the event the protesters had damaged the pitch thereby making any decision other than abandonment impossible anyway. The English journalists joined the players of both sides in the pavilion where they remained for some time before safe passage from the ground back to the hotel could be arranged. By midnight the party were on a plane and on their way home.

Seventeen days after the England players left Karachi Ayub Khan handed over power to his namesake, General Yahya Khan, and for a while martial law brought the return of a comparative calm. New Zealand visited in 1969/70 for a Test series, and an International XI toured in 1970/71 and played three First Class matches. Although named an International XI that title was a little misleading as with the exception of Australian Neil Hawke the only non English members of Mickey Stewart's party were two Pakistanis. Interestingly two of the party were Robin Hobbs and Bob Cottam who were clearly not put off the country by their experiences two years previously.

Stewart's men left for home just eleven days before the start of the Bangladesh Liberation War. By the time the next Test matches were played in Pakistan, by Tony Lewis's 1972/73 England party, the Pakistani nation consisted only of the west wing. The east wing would not see Test cricket again until, rather perversely, Pakistan played Sri Lanka in the final of the Asian Test Championship in March 1999. Bangladesh's own inaugural Test followed in November 2000.

In many ways the world has changed beyond recognition in the four decades that have passed since The Forgotten Tour. It is inconceivable now that a group of touring International sportsmen would not be a target for militants and dissidents for whom terror is their stock-in-trade. For that reason it is equally beyond doubt that no sporting body would ever take the view that a tour such as that undertaken in 1969 should proceed, simply on the basis it might prove to be a unifying force for good in a nation riven by internal strife. Risk assessments and Health and Safety are the watchwords of all who have any sort of management role in the organisation of sporting events. It is, of course, absolutely right that that is the case and that sportsmen are not exposed to any risk of serious danger, and I doubt reasonable person would seriously suggest otherwise, but for the cricket lover it remains a source of great sadness, and no little frustration, that political considerations get in the way of our great game being played, as it should be, in the major cities of each and every one of the Test playing countries.

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