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The Macho Men of the 1970s

The Saturday evening at Lahore Spices on Upper Tooting Road, London, proved a lively affair for Pakistan cricket enthusiasts. The presence of Sarfraz Nawaz and Asif Masood – two of the country’s premier new-ball bowlers of the 1970s – was enough to guarantee a captive audience. 

In their prime, during the 1974 Test series against England and followed by the inaugural 1975 Prudential World Cup, the pair supporting long black hair and thick drooping moustache, revelled in their image of a macho Punjabi cricketer.

The pair represented a new dawn of Pakistan bowling attack, willing to take on the best in the world, not lacking in aggression or skill. Asif’s unusual bowling run-up reminded the famous English commentator, John Arlott, of ‘Groucho Marx chasing a pretty waitress’ and he referred the Pakistan bowling attack, without Sarfraz, as a ‘toothless tiger’.

The host of the evening, Jamil Rana, a well-known figure as both captain and secretary of the elite Lahore Gymkhana, remains a delightful character, sane enough to recall the cricket setting in the British India, prior to the creation of Pakistan in 1947. He along with son Tauqir Rana had travelled from Luton, Bedfordshire and ensured their hospitality was of the same highest level, as one recently experienced in Model Town, Lahore.

Both Sarfraz and Asif made their Test debut – half a century ago - against the 1968-69 touring MCC side led by Colin Cowdrey with Pakistan and its cricket in great turmoil, having impressed the national selectors, as the new generation of pace bowlers from Lahore, in Punjab.

The challenges the pair encountered, whilst developing their bowling skills, were the heart-breaking wickets with only an occasional Test series to look forward to. As Punjab University students, both had a great following in Lahore and went on to share the new ball for Pakistan, first with Salim Altaf and later on with Imran Khan, whilst finding English and Australian conditions, far more conducive. 

Asif, now 73, a resident of Bury, in the outskirts of Manchester and visiting family in London, is never known to be short of words whether it is Pakistan cricket or the country’s politics. Though on the evening, he was pleased with the reunion with his pace partner and allowed Sarfraz, to enjoy the centre stage.

The 70-year old Sarfraz, based in Tooting in south London and lately supporting a white beard, stuck to his reputation and it never takes him long to come into his element. His entertainment value in such private gathering, with added advantage of a long stint with Northamptonshire (1969-82), has failed to diminish, despite advancing years.  

Invariably the conversation centred around the 1960s club cricket in Lahore of which both Asif and Sarfraz were the products with their association with Universal CC and Friends CC respectively, and the selfless patronage of individuals, who would pay for the club’s expenses from their own pockets. 

An unending trail of anecdotes, coupled with spicy Pakistani cuisine, were both full of strong flavour s of Lahore. Sarfraz in particular took special delight, in his trademark colourful language, in recalling the rebellious side to his character and well-documented brushes with team-mates and the cricket Board, literally throughout his distinguished career.  Suffice to say it left everyone in stitches. 

As one of the pioneers of reverse swing, he is now keen to pass on his expertise to Mohammad Sarfraz Nawaz, son who at 16 has taken to the game following the 2019 World Cup. Also present on the occasion were London-based cricketers of Pakistan origin, Asif Butt, Haider Babri, Javed Khan and Zahid, besides Arslan Mirza, a cricket lover and Salim Mitha, editor-in-chief of Nawa-i-Jang, a weekly newspaper.

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