Saleem Malik made his debut for Pakistan at the young age of 18 years © Getty Images (File Photo)
On March 10, 1982, an 18-year-old by the name of Saleem Malik, making his Test debut orchestrated Pakistan’s victory over Sri Lanka at Karachi with a sublime hundred. With that feat, he also became the youngest cricketer to essay a hundred on debut. Bharath Ramaraj has more…
When Pakistan‘s middle-order batsman Saleem Malik‘s magical blade effortlessly caressed at deliveries from outside the off-stump to send the ball scurrying to the boundary boards through the on-side, purists marvelled at the willowy brilliance and unruffled elegance. His unsullied game was bathed with a royal flourish that made him a connoisseur’s delight. A little more than two decades ago, the expressionist painter from Lahore made his Test debut against Sri Lanka at Karachi. The icing on the cake being that he compiled a century on his debut and in turn, became the youngest cricketer to do so…
By the year 1982, Sri Lanka had gained Test status and were respected by good judges of the game for their skills, especially they had some fine batsmen in their ranks. They had already shown their pluck and resilience by giving England a scare in their very first Test match played at home. However, playing Pakistan away from home was always going to be a gargantuan task for them.
On the other hand, Pakistan was captained by the redoubtable Javed Miandad. In the first Test of the three-match series, selectors gave the chance for several cricketers to wear the white flannels for the first time. Malik, Tahir Naqqash, Rashid Khan and Saleem Yousuf — all made their Test debuts. Several of Pakistan’s senior players including Imran Khan were missing from action for various reasons. Imran, though, came back to destroy the Sri Lankan line-up in the final Test of that series at Lahore.
Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat. With 396 runs on the board in the first innings, they seemed to be sitting pretty, especially on a track that aided turn and reverse swing. It wasn’t always easy for Pakistan’s batsmen though. The likes of Ashantha De Mel and Somachandra de Silva bowled with spirit and spunk to put Pakistan in a spot of bother. It was Haroon Rashid‘s century and some late-order flourish by Naqqash and Rashid that took them to a score close to 400.
Sri Lanka showcased the willpower to stand up and be counted by amassing 354 on the board. For Sri Lanka, Sidath Wettimuny, the opener, and the stockily built Duleep Mendis showed nerves of steel to handle a fine Pakistan attack and aggregate half-centuries.
During Pakistan’s second dig, Malik and skipper Miandad, exposed the chinks in an inexperienced Sri Lankan line-up by compiling a century partnership. If Miandad’s batting was full of deft placements and taking that occasional calculated risk, then Malik’s hypnotic-like blade just explored every crevice in the field to accrue a chance-less timeless composition.
Sri Lanka’s bowling line-up was severely depleted with Ravi Ratnayake not being able to bowl too many overs due to injury. It resulted in extra burden on the shoulders of de Mel, Somachandra de Silva and Ajit de Silva.
For Malik, it was all about playing each ball on its merit. With his typical subcontinental flourish, he was particularly severe on seamer, de Mel and leg-break/googly bowler, Somachandra de Silva. In fact, with gay abandon, he lofted the spinners felicitously. Even after Miandad lost his wicket, Malik was simply unstoppable. After spending about five hours at the crease, he duly completed his century and became the third Pakistani to do so in his debut Test. Once Malik completed a hundred with full of breathtakingly beautiful strokes, Miandad declared the innings.
Sri Lanka, who had played with guts and determination in the first innings, floundered to the depths of despair during their second dig. On a track that was aiding spinners, Iqbal Qasim and company ran through the line-up to complete a facile 204-run victory. Only an 18-year-old Sri Lankan by the name of Arjuna Ranatunga stood tall against the wily Pakistan’s spinners.
Sri Lanka drew the second Test played on a flat deck at Faisalabad. However, facing Imran at the peak of his prowess in the final Test at Lahore proved to be too hot to handle. Imran, bowling with scorching pace and reversing it into hapless Sri Lankan batsmen took eight wickets in the first innings of that Test to take Pakistan to an innings win.
Malik continued to wow the paying public with his fabled deeds. He painted many a ground with his majesty and wrist work for years to come. Incidentally, the columnist is of the opinion that he was up there with VVS Laxman and Mark Waugh in terms of dexterous wrist work and perhaps, slightly ahead of Mohammad Azharuddin.
The duo of Malik and Miandad tormented opposition teams with their sublime batsmanship. They must have given nightmares to many bowlers all over the cricketing world.
Pakistan 396 (Wasim Raja 153, Tahir Naqqash 57, Rashid Khan 59; Somachandra de Silva 4 for 102) and 301 for 4 decl. (Saleem Malik 100*, Javed Miandad 92; Somachandra de Silva 3 for 99) beat Sri Lanka 354 (Sidath Wettimuny 71; Tahir Naqqash 3 for 83) and 149 (Arjuna Ranatunga 33; Iqbal Qasim 4 for 27) by 204 runs.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)