As has often been the case when England tour Pakistan, the Test series winds up at the National Stadium in Karachi.
It was opened in 1955 – becoming the country’s fifth international venue – and has the largest capacity. Five Tests had been staged there before England’s inaugural visit in the early months of 1962, the tourists going ahead by five wickets in the first of three matches at Lahore, the second being drawn at Dhaka – when Bangladesh was still part of Pakistan – before arriving in Karachi.
After Peter May’s early retirement from the Test arena, Ted Dexter was handed the opportunity to show his leadership qualities, not least with an Ashes tour coming up in 1962-63, so a series victory was all the more important to him.
England suffered a blow when Surrey’s Ken Barrington pulled out of the match because of fibrositis and losing the toss augured badly. But Pakistan were dismissed for 253, Barry Knight claiming 4-66, Dexter’s commanding 205 over 495 minutes taking England to 507 all out despite losing their final six wickets for 14. Left with only honour to gain, the hosts batted out to 404-8.
Five years later England were back, although only thanks to a last-minute arrangement. They had been due to tour South Africa but when the apartheid government refused to entertain a squad involving all-rounder Basil D’Oliveira, an alternative was quickly sought.
Drawn games in Lahore and Dhaka – where a student militia ran the city, to the exclusion of government forces, D’Oliveira digging the tourists out of trouble – sent the series all square to Karachi. But the escalating unrest which had punctuated the series would have the last word. Colin Milburn, called over from playing in Australia, made a commanding 139, which proved to be his final Test innings, tragically losing an eye in a motor accident when he returned home.
He dominated the opening stand of 78 with Surrey’s John Edrich, then Tom Graveney stroked 105. Alan Knott was four runs short of what would have been his maiden Test century and England were dominating at 502-7 on the third morning when a mob stormed the ground.
Play was abandoned, England driving straight to the airport to be evacuated.
There was a sense of relief for England when they reached Karachi at the end of their marathon trek round Asia in 1972-73. Captained by Tony Lewis – several leading players sat out the tour, including skipper Ray Illingworth, Geoffrey Boycott, John Edrich and John Snow – England had lost a five-Test series against India 2-1 and it was followed by three more in Pakistan.
Once more, batters and a cautious approach ruled the day, more than 100 minutes in the match being lost to rioting. Home captain Majid Khan and Mushtaq Mohammad both hit 99 against attack featuring two Surrey men, Geoff Arnold and Pat Pocock, the latter’s spin partner at The Oval Intikhab Alam then thumping 61 to ensure his side made 445-6dec.
Dennis Amiss became the third player to miss a century by one run in the reply, Lewis’s 88 limiting the deficit to deficit to 59, even though Inkikhab claimed 4-105 from a marathon 39 overs. There was a sniff of a result as Norman Gifford and Jack Birkenshaw took five wickets apiece in Pakistan’s second innings of 199 but a target of 259 was merely notional as England reached 30-1 in 10 overs.
Considerable uncertainty dogged the final Test of the 1977-78 tour, just 24 hours before the match. With the first two games drawn, pressure was mounting on Pakistan’s selectors to include players who had signed for Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket and three of them – Mushtaq Mohammad, Zaheer Abbas and Imran Khan – flew in from Australia to practice with the squad.
England had arrived in the country with a much-changed side after Tony Greig, Alan Knott, Derek Underwood and Bob Woolmer – among others – had signed for WSC and made a statement detailing their objections to the Packer threesome. The mood among much of the home side was scarcely more hospitable and the trio were omitted in the end.
The tourists had their own issues, Mike Brearley having suffered a broken arm in a warm-up match, Geoffrey Boycott leading England and winning the toss. Surrey’s Graham Roope (56) top-scored on the way to 266 all out, Pakistan’s ambitions to take a major lead cut down by left-arm spinner Phil Edmonds becoming the first England bowler to claim seven wickets in the country in his 7-66. Batting again just 15 adrift, England played out time at 222-5, Roope finishing 33no and no one complaining about the match finishing an hour early.
Karachi hosted the opening Test of the 1983-84 tour, England having already played three Tests in New Zealand on what became known as the “Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll Tour’. None of that was in evidence at the National Stadium as they were bowled out for 158, principally by leg-spinner Abdul Qadir (5-74) and Sarfraz Nawaz (4-42). Saleem Malik’s 74 ensured Pakistan reached 277, Nick Cook claiming 6-65, England then collapsing a second time for 159 against the spinners. Pakistan were forced to fight for the apparently straightforward total of 66. Left-arm spinner Cook’s 5-16 gave him 11 wickets in the game but he still finished on the losing side by three wickets as Zaheer Abbas’s side won the series 1-0.
If controversy had rarely been a stranger on previous trips, it became a full-time companion in 1987. England had narrowly lost in the World Cup final before switching formats, losing the first Test at Lahore by an innings and 87 runs and then drawing at Faisalabad amid much recrimination about the umpiring and skipper Mike Gatting’s infamous on-field row with Shakoor Rana.
An uneasy calm had descended by the time the teams arrived in Karachi, England sinking into a different sort of trouble at 85-6 – Qadir their torturer again with 5-88 – until being bailed out by David Capel (98), John Emburey (70) and Bruce French (31) in reaching 294 all out.
Aamir Malik (98) and Qadir’s rumbustious 61 sculpted a lead of 49 – Phil DeFreitas finishing with 5-86 –Graham Gooch (93) and Emburey (74no) securing safety at 258-9 as their opponents celebrated another series victory on home soil.
It would be another 13 years before England returned to the country, relations between the two teams having rarely run smoothly even before the Gatting-Shakoor Rana spat.
Now coached by Darren Fletcher and captained by Nasser Hussain, England were desperate to overcome their reputation as poor travellers and dreadful players of spin by the winter of 2000-01. They battled for draws in the opening two Tests and that hard work paid off by snatching the series – for the first time in 39 years – in the final moments at Karachi in conditions so dark that television cameras were struggling to follow the action. Inzamam-ul-Haq’s commanding 142 gave the hosts control to make 405 all out, Mike Atherton (125) keeping down the deficit to 23. Then the hosts collapsed on the final day, Ashley Giles taking his tally in the match to seven, leaving England needing 176 in what should have been 44 overs.
Desperate delaying tactics masterminded by skipper Moin Khan rebounded on him, infuriating umpire Steve Bucknor. A fourth wicket stand of 91 between Surrey’s Graham Thorpe and Graeme Hick (40) proved the difference, Thorpe’s county colleague Saqlain Mushtaq entrusted with bowling the 42nd – and probably final over given the gloom – and Thorpe typically seizing the moment. He hit 10 runs off the first three balls, not necessarily where intended but the fielders couldn’t see the ball anyway, to complete a remarkable six-wicket heist.
Saturday’s match represents England’s first Test outing in Karachi for 22 years, the 2005 tour missing the National Stadium and the 2009 terrorist attack on Sri Lanka’s team four years later having meant Pakistan played their home Tests in the UAE.
It will be someone else’s chance to write a chapter in the National Stadium’s history.