MANISH DUBEY | 12 AUGUST, 2019
Pakistan’s Fourth Greatest (!?) Test Win
About a fortnight ago, the Pakistan Cricket Board ran an online poll on their country’s greatest test win. Shortlisted were four matches. In chronological order: the 1954 Oval Test versus England; the 1987 Bangalore Test versus India; the 1994 Karachi Test versus Australia; and, the 1999 Chennai Test versus India. The last emerged the overwhelming winner, accounting for 65 per cent of the nearly 16,000 votes polled.
Two of these contests, the ones featuring India, followed a similar script. No towering scores from either side, especially in Bangalore, and a suspenseful fourth innings Indian chase almost single-handedly steered – and nearly pulled off – by a stalwart, Sachin Tendulkar in Chennai and Sunil Gavaskar in his Bangalore swansong.
The Oval contest of 1954 was not too different either. Low scoring all through. With Pakistan, once again, bundling out the opposition achingly close to the target. The only thing missing at the Oval: a fourth innings batting master class. Since England had the likes of Len Hutton and Dennis Compton in their ranks, one can trace that to the extraordinary final day sizzle of Fazal Mahmood.
From the shortlist, it is Pakistan’s Karachi match against Australia, the least voted in the PCB poll, that stands out. It wasn’t a low-scoring affair, and it wasn’t Pakistan bowling in the final innings. This is the story of that match, one umpiring legend Dickie Bird called the best he stood in.
Batting first, Australia recovered from 95/4 to post 337, thanks to a composed debutant, Michael Bevan, and the two decent partnerships he stitched. The first with Steve Waugh, the second with keeper Ian Healy. Pakistan began well with Saeed Anwar looking particularly good, then collapsed from 153/1 to 200/7 against some Shane Warne magic, and would have surrendered a larger first innings lead than the 81 they eventually did if it was not for Wasim Akram’s rearguard action.
By the end of the first two match innings then, the match had already had a few see-saw moments. It was only a portent of what was to follow.
Undeterred by new captain and opener Mark Taylor’s second duck of the match and another minor contribution from opening partner Michael Slater, David Boon and Mark Waugh pushed the Australian second innings total to 171/2. At this point, with their overall lead standing at 252, eight wickets in hand, and the third day’s play nearing close, Australia had reason to fancy their chances of going one-up in the three-test series.
That changed a bit in the fag hours of the third day. Once Akram and Waqar Younis began doing their thing with the old ball. Mark Waugh fell to Waqar, in what Inzamam-ul-Haq would later recall as a key turning point in the game, and Akram claimed Bevan and Steve Waugh soon after. And so, precisely seven balls after Warne had observed him pack his bags for the day, Healy rushed out to join Boon. They survived the day’s dying moments.
With the two Ws continuing from where they had left the previous evening, the next morning brought havoc. The last five Australian wickets fell for just 19. The Australian second innings finished at 232, Boon unbeaten on 114. Pakistan had five session to get 314, a total they had never chased down before.
By the fourth day’s close however, the game was nicely in balance. Pakistan 155/3, curtsy another fluent knock from Anwar and useful contributions from Aamir Sohail and captain Saleem Malik. 159 to get on the final day, with Anwar still around, Basit Ali, Inzamam, and Akram still to come. Pakistan were in the reckoning. Australia were not out of it either. On a track offering assistance to spin, they were backing Warne and spin partner Tim May to check Pakistan. Not to forget, McGrath was around too.
Before play began on the fifth morning, there was good news for Pakistan. With both McGrath and May reporting injuries, Australia were effectively down to two frontline bowlers. Warne and Jo Angel, a pace man in only his second test.
The cheer in the Pakistan camp wouldn’t last long. Four wickets fell quickly. Anwar to Angel. Akram Raza, Basit, and Akram to Warne. Pakistan 184/7. 130 still to get. Inzamam and keeper Rashid Latif at the crease. Waqar and Mushtaq Ahmed, neither with any pretensions to batting, remaining.
Inzamam and Latif went about watchfully for half an hour before Latif cut loose. By the time Latif went and Waqar walked in, Pakistan were 78 short. Clinging to a lifeline Taylor had thrown at them, having claimed the new ball despite Warne in full cry with the old one.
Waqar hung around for a bit till he became Warne’s fifth victim of the innings. On a slow, low pitch, it was now up to Inzamam and Mushtaq to get the 56 runs their side needed to avoid its first ever defeat at the National Stadium. Inzamam shielded Mushtaq for a while, then eased up realizing his partner wasn’t doing too badly. Together they inched towards the target staving off everything Australia threw, a lusty crowd cheering every run.
Till three remained. And Inzamam blew it. And Healy blew it. Taylor had taken out midwicket to tempt Inzamam into stepping out. Inzamam, circumspect all along, took the bait, stepped out to Warne, was beaten. But the ball stayed too low for Healy to take. Rolled to the boundary. Four byes. Match to Pakistan. It was only fitting that a match of such fluctuating fortunes would end with every conceivable result possible till the very last ball.
It was, is a contest for the ages. And as if there wasn’t enough on-field drama, there was something off-field too. On the evening of the fourth day, Malik allegedly phoned Warne, offering him and May USD 200,000 each for underperforming. A disturbed Warne told May. May hoped Warne had told Malik where to take his offer. Warne, too gobsmacked to speak, hadn’t. Instead he went on to do precisely what Malik didn’t want him to. It earned him the man-of-the-match award. One suspects it is a especially treasured one, the final result notwithstanding.