First Among Equals – Part 3

In Some Cricketers.. by Bill Ricquier

This is the third and final part of an article that first appeared in my book, The Pakistani Masters. It has been updated following Imran’s success in the general election in July 2018, which left the PTI as the largest political party and Imran set to become his country’s next leader.

Back to 1982, and more challenges for Pakistan’s new captain.  Australia toured in September and October.  Lacking most of their big names, apart from Rod Marsh and Jeff Thomson, they lost all three Tests, the only baggy-green-wash of the century.  Qadir posed imponderable queries to the batsmen; Zaheer and Mohsin made untroubled runs.  Imran commanded operations and took four for 45 and four 35 in 44 overs in the third Test at Lahore.

Then came the Indians, led by Gavaskar for a six-Test series.  Pakistani sensitivities were still smarting from Asif Iqbal’s disastrous tour of 1979-80.  Revenge was sweet.  Pakistan won three Tests; the others were drawn.  Imran was indomitable.  He took 40 wickets at 13.95; four times he took five wickets in an innings, twice he took ten in a match.  At Faisalabad in the third Test he emulated Botham by becoming only the second man to make a century and take ten wickets in a Test: six for 94 and five for 82 (55.5 overs in all) and 117, one of four centuries in Pakistan’s first innings.  In the second Test at Karachi he had taken eight for 60 in India’s second innings; they collapsed from 102 for one to 197 all out.

But a heavy price was paid.  Imran was playing through pain for much of the series and he was eventually diagnosed as suffering from a stress fracture of the left shin – essentially, what you or I would call a broken leg.  He could not bowl for a couple of years.  He led Pakistan in the World Cup in England in 1983 playing solely as a batsman.  He played for Sussex predominantly as a batsman in 1983 and scored 1262 Championship runs at 57.27.  He did bowl in a couple of matches, albeit virtually at half pace.  Against Warwickshire at Edgbaston he bowled only five overs in the home side’s first innings of 300 for four.  He scored 94 in Sussex’s reply, 300 for 7.  At one point in Warwickshire’s second innings, they were 173 for four, Alvin Kallicheran having made a second century in the match; Imran came on and took six for six (five bowled, one leg before), including a hat trick, in 4.3 overs.  Warwickshire were all out for 218.  Sussex could only manage 197 in the fourth innings, Imran top-scoring with 64.

To beat India in Pakistan was of course very satisfying; but to beat them in India was the dream.  The two sides had got into their familiar stalemate routine by the time Imran was fully fit again and ready to lead his side to India in 1986-87: five successive draws in 1983-84 and 1984-85.  The first four matches in 1986-87 were drawn, on slow turning pitches, prepared principally to blunt the pace of Imran and Wasim.  Imran played splendidly in the first Test at Madras.  Pakistan had started well with a century from Miandad but had collapsed from 215 for two to 257 for six when Imran came in.  He put on 112 for the eighth wicket with Wasim.  When last man Tauseef Ahmed came in, Imran’s score was 68.  Batting with the tail had become one of the strongest features of his play since England in 1982, one of the tenets of his self-imposed responsibility.  He reached his century with a six and made 135 not out, out of a total of 487 for nine.

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The teams went to Bangalore for the fifth Test and found a pitch that was turning significantly from the first day.  Imran won the toss and batted.  Kapil Dev, after an unproductive series made the initial breakthrough but it was the left-arm spinner Maninder Singh who caused panic in the Pakistani ranks; they were all out for 116, an exceptionally meagre total for the first innings of a Test.  India did not do a lot better making 145.  When Pakistan batted again, Imran sent Miandad in to open with Ramiz Raja and the lead was soon wiped out.  The middle order batted soundly, Imran making 41.  India needed 221 to win.  Gavaskar played magnificently for 96 but the Pakistani spinners prevailed.  Imran said it was the most difficult match he had ever had to captain.  He was named man of the series.

It is difficult for an outsider to appreciate all the singular nuances of a series between Pakistan and India.  Encounters with the West Indies in the 1970s and 1980s were rather different.  Essentially the cricket was something like a blood sport; not much was left to the imagination.  Fear was central, Vivian Richards intimidated the opposition bowlers.  The pace quartet terrorized the batsmen.  And they just kept winning.

West Indies and England played six series between 1980 and 1989-90.  (Poor old England: why did they agree to play so often?)  West Indies won them all; England won one match (out of 28), in the last of those series.  The next series in England in 1991, was drawn two-all.  Between 1979-80 and 1990-91, Australia and West Indies played six series.  West Indies won them all.  Australia won four matches (out of 26).

Pakistan had won one series against West Indies, at home back in 1958-59.  Clive Lloyd’s side had beaten them one-nil in 1980-81 and they did not meet again until a three-Test series in Pakistan in 1986-87 which preceded Pakistan’s trip to India.  The series was drawn, each side winning a Test and the third being drawn.  The series got off to a sensational start at Faisalabad with the Pakistanis sliding to 37 for five when Imran came in.  Once again, he batted exceptionally well with the tail, putting on 39 for the last wicket with Tauseef Ahmed.  Imran was out for 61, the total 159.  West Indies found the going tough too against Wasim Akram, who took six for 91 but they gained a first innings lead of 84.  Pakistan’s middle order dug in and Wasim and again, Tauseef batted heroically.  West Indies needed 240 to win.  Imran bundled out the openers, and Qadir did much of the rest; the unofficial world champions were all out for 53.  Imran took four for 30.

Those were the days when West Indies did not take a humiliation lying down.  They won the second Test at Lahore by an innings and ten runs.  Their own score, only 218, (Imran five for 59 in 30.5 overs) is an eloquent comment on the difficulties faced by the batsmen of both sides throughout the series.  (Nobody made a hundred.)

Karachi where (as one gets tired of noting) Pakistan had yet to lose a Test, was the venue for the final match.  West Indies won the toss and made 240, Pakistan responding with 239: Ramiz made Test cricket’s third slowest fifty.  The game came alive on the fourth day when Imran produced one of his inspired spells of pace bowling causing West Indies to collapse spectacularly from 171 for four to 211 all out.  Twice, he was on a hat trick, taking five for 10 in a six-over spell.  Mohsin Khan and Qasim Omar were out before the close of play and Pakistan were always struggling on the final day.  At tea, they were 97 for seven and it looked as if the Karachi ramparts were about to be stormed.  But Imran and the redoubtable Tauseef stood firm until bad light finally stopped play.

In 1987-88, Pakistan made their first trip to the Caribbean since 1976-77.  Imran had not originally intended to tour but was prevailed upon to change his mind.

It was an enthralling and dramatic series.  Pakistan won the first Test at Georgetown by nine wickets.  Their veterans, Imran and Miandad, led the way.  Gordon Greenidge; deputizing for the absent Richards, won the toss and batted but Imran dismissed Desmond Haynes in his first over and bowled a series of magnificent spell to take seven for 80.  Miandad made his first century against the West Indies and Pakistan established a lead of 143.  When West Indies went in again an infected toe restricted Imran but he recovered on the rest day and took four more wickets, including the two batsmen who threatened most, Greenidge and Gus Logie.  Pakistan only needed 32 to win.  It was West Indies’ first home defeat since 1977-78.

The second Test at Port-of-Spain saw fluctuating fortunes and a gripping climax ending in a draw, with West Indies needing one wicket and Pakistan 30 runs short of a demanding target of 371.  There were heroic individual performances from both sides.  The bowlers held sway in each side’s first innings, only Saleem Malik passing fifty, but in West Indies’ second innings, Richards and Jeffrey Dujon made hundreds while Miandad got Pakistan’s response under way with his second century in consecutive matches.  Imran, once again, was the leading wicket taker in the match.  He took four for 38 in the first innings.  By the close of the second day he had dismissed Greenridge and Logie.  In West Indies’ second innings total of 391 he took five for 115 in 45 overs.

So, if West Indies failed to win the final Test at Bridgetown (their equivalent of Karachi) they would have lost their first series at home since – well, nobody could quite remember – a man with a long grey beard told a television reporter it was when Colin Cowdrey’s England side won after a rather generous declaration by Gary Sobers in 1967-68.  There were unlikely to be any generous declaration in this match.  Pakistan were put in and made 309.  On the second morning, West Indies started poorly, recovered to 198 for three and finished the day on 288 for six.  Aggressive batting by Malcolm Marshall enabled them to reach 306.  At the close of the third day Pakistan were 177 for six.  Imran who had come in at 167 for five batted through to the end to make 43 not out, out of 262.  West Indies needed 266 to win.  When they were 207 for eight it seemed to be all over but Dujon and Winston Benjamin, not without a slice of luck, saw them home.  Imran was man of the series.

The two sides met again in 1990-91 in Pakistan.  Another three-Test series, another drawn series with each side winning a match, Imran had entered a new phase in his career.  He topped the bowling averages for Pakistan but he only bowled nineteen overs – all in the drawn third Test at Lahore – and took four wickets: Greenidge and Haynes in the first innings, Richie Richardson and Brian Lara in the second.

The bulk of Pakistan’s bowling in the series was done by Waqar and Wasim who provided several bursts of devastating pace and swing.  Pakistan won the first Test at Karachi by eight wickets.  Wasim and Waqar shared fifteen wickets and Saleem Malik scored a hundred in Pakistan’s first innings.  Pakistan had made 201 for four in response to West Indies 261 (Haynes 117) when Imran joined Shoaib Mohammed.  They put on 80 and, Imran batted through the remainder of the innings, scoring 73 not out out of 345.

Yet again, West Indies came back strongly in the second Test at Faisalabad, winning a low scoring match by seven wickets.  At Karachi, in the third Test West Indies made all the running scoring 294 in their first innings and bowling Pakistan out for 122: Imran, coming in at 48 for 5, stayed in an hour and a half for 17.  In the fourth innings, Pakistan needed a notional 346 to win and they started the final morning on 110 for four.  Imran joined the night-watchman Masood Anwar and they added 67.  Imran had added another 55 runs with Wasim before Haynes called an end to proceedings.  Imran’s 58 not out, occupied over four hours and he faced 196 balls.  He hit three fours.

So, three drawn series against the undisputed Test world champions.  Two of them were in Pakistan where conditions are always hard.  But it was no longer the case, as it used to be, that visiting teams excused their leading players from going.  If anything, it was the other way round.  Imran himself sat out more than one series in the 1980s and 1990s for reasons other than injury.  But he would never have voluntarily missed a series against the West Indies.

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There was one ambition left – Imran’s final frontier: the World Cup.  He was sure that Pakistan’s best chance of winning it was when the competition was held in the sub-continent in 1987.  Defeat in the semi-final against Australia at Lahore by 18 runs (Imran three for 36 and 58) prompted his decision to retire.  The persuasive powers of General Zia – and the thought of another go at the West Indies in the Caribbean in 1987-88 – brought about a change of mind.  He came back – and he just carried on.  The enforced lay-off in the mid 1980s caused by the stress fracture turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

By the time of the World Cup in Australiasia in early 1992 he was 39.  His bowling, inevitably, was not what it had been but it hardly mattered.  Even if his batting had declined as well has would still have been the first name on the team sheet.  In fact, his batting improved if anything.  He himself said he had never batted better than in the drawn home series against India in 1989-90, when he averaged 87.33 in the series.  In the first innings of the first Test at Karachi he injected some much needed life into Pakistani’s batting, scoring 105 not out in 201 minutes with a six and seventeen fours.  He headed the batting averages in the series in Australia which followed, and, in the drawn Test at Adelaide shared a magnificent match-saving partnership of 191 with Wasim for the sixth wicket in Pakistan’s second innings.  Imran scored 136 in 485 minutes with ten fours.

The team of course was generally much younger.  Miandad was a survivor from the old days but even he was almost five years younger and the two men were never exactly soul mates.

Imran now had another passion apart from winning cricket matches.  His mother had died of cancer in early 1985 and he became involved in a project to build a cancer hospital bearing her name in Lahore.  Imran’s profile as a cricketer and a charismatic personality made him an ideal fund-raiser and he devoted large amounts of his time to the project.

The World Cup campaign started rather inauspiciously.  Waqar was ruled out of the tournament with a stress fracture of the back.  Imran injured his shoulder and missed the opening game against West Indies, which Pakistan lost.  He played in the second game, against Zimbabwe but needed neither to bat nor bowl.  He missed the next game, against England at Adelaide, because of his shoulder.  England bowled Pakistan out for 74 but rain aborted the match.  Next, Pakistan faced India, surprisingly for the first time in a World Cup.  India made 216 – Imran nought for 25 in eight overs – and Pakistan were 105 for two in the 31st over but collapsed to 173 all out: Imran was run out for nought in a mix-up with Miandad.  They lost the next game too, against South Africa at Brisbane by 20 runs: Imran two for 34 in ten overs and 34.  After five games, only Zimbabwe were below them in the qualifying table: the top four were to qualify for the semi-finals.

Things started to improve at this point.  Australia, who had started well but seemed to have peaked too soon, were comprehensively defeated in a day-night match at Perth (Imran two for 32 in ten overs).  Saleem Malik, on whom many hopes were placed, made a duck batting at number three, the latest of a number of failures there and, for the next game against Sri Lanka, also at Perth, Imran promoted himself to number three.  He made 22 as Pakistan successfully chased a target of 213, Victory by seven wickets over New Zealand at Christchurch effectively guaranteed Pakistan a semi-final place, an extraordinary turnaround.

The semi-final, also against New Zealand, at Auckland was one of the higher scoring games in the competition.  New Zealand – the team of the tournament so far – made 262 for seven.  Pakistan’s four wicket victory owed much to the 21-year old Inzamam ul-Haq who made an apparently nerveless 60 not out.  But Imran, batting again at number three, laid a solid platform at the start of the innings combining seemingly somnolent defence with sudden bursts of aggression: 93 balls, 44 runs, a four and two sixes.

And so to Melbourne.  As we have seen, he played a similar hand there.  Pakistan made 249.  Then, for the last time, Imran marshalled his brilliant and variegated bowling resources: the versatile, almost demonic Wasim Akram (three for 49); his opening partner.  Aqib Javed, pacey and accurate (two for 27); the cherubic but devious leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed (three for 47); Imran himself, the old warhorse with his respectable medium pace inswingers, almost reminiscent of his Test debut at Edgbaston all those years ago (one for 43).  It was all too much for Gooch’s valiant Englishmen; they too had peaked a bit early.

It was indeed a famous victory.  At the height – or depth – of the crisis when it seemed that Pakistan could not possibly qualify, Imran had famously told his players to play like “cornered tigers”.  Wasim was told not to worry about wides and no-balls but to concentrate on getting people out.  That was Imran’s way, the Pathan way.  Why defend when you can attack?

“I would just like to say I want to give my commiserations to the English team.  But I want them to know that by winning this World Cup, personally it means that one of my greatest obsessions in life, which is to build a cancer hospital….I’m sure that this World Cup will go a long way towards completion of this obsession.  I would also like to say that I feel very proud that at the twilight of my career, finally, I have managed to win the World Cup.  Thank you”

It could almost have been de Gaulle himself (apart from the “Thank you”).  Imran was standing on a podium at the MCG in front of 87,000 spectators and a small group of exultant but slightly bemused Pakistani cricketers.  Somehow, he had forgotten to mention “the boys”.  All too soon, the team was squabbling about prize money.  Was this or that sum meant for the players, or was it meant for the cancer hospital?

It was, time to move on.

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Now it seems that Imran’s ultimate dream and ambition may have materialised. The results of the general election held in July 2018 left the PTI as the largest political party. They can only form a government by making coalitions, but former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has effectively conceded defeat. Imran will almost certainly become his country’s next leader, in only the second transition from one civilian government to another in Pakistan’s history.

That immediately raises a question, as some analysts have alluded to doubts as to Imran’s close ties with military leaders. Few, however, can seriously envy Imran his task. Issues such as security, the economy and, perhaps above all, the vexatious question of Pakistan’s relationship with its great neighbour, India, demand Herculean levels of detailed and expert analysis and diplomatic skill and fortitude.   in these demanding areas Imran remains something of an unknown quantity.

Do Pakistani leaders enjoy a “honeymoon period”? It seems unlikely. Imran brings undoubted qualities to the task: determination, passion, charisma. For many people in Pakistan and elsewhere he is that rarity, a genuine hero.

People everywhere will be wishing him well. There is nothing more heart-breaking than to see a hero fail.

Bill Ricquier


First Among Equals – Part 1

First Among Equals – Part 2


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