Mushtaq Ahmed… nine-wicket haul © Getty Images
On March 2, 1998, Pakistan defeated South Africa for the first time in Tests, a result that was made possible largely due to the brilliance of Azhar Mahmood, Saeed Anwar, Shoaib Akhtar, but most of all Mushtaq Ahmed, who registered match figures of nine for 149. Karthik Parimal looks back at that eventful Test.
Pakistan has a long history of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. To state a cliché — although it rings true in their case, they’re a team that can never be written off. Right from when they entered the Test arena in 1952, they have made a habit out of catching the opposition unawares. The Durban Test against South Africa in 1998 presents an excellent example. Put in to bat first, the Pakistanis were blown away by Allan Donald. Just before the end of the second session’s play on Day One, the visitors were reduced to 153 for eight. But what followed was unanticipated.
An Azhar Mahmood blitzkrieg
Although Donald had troubled most of the Pakistani batsmen, one able all-rounder in the form of Azhar Mahmood stood tall to defy the Proteas. Just 10 days earlier, during the Johannesburg Test, Mahmood scored 136 — his highest score in the longer version of the game — to secure a draw. He carried that form over to Durban, and was a thorn in the flesh of the South African bowlers. He came in to bat when the scoreboard read 89 for five.
Thereafter, against a bowling attack that comprised of Shaun Pollock, Fanie de Villiers, Lance Klusener and Donald, he cut, drove, pulled and glanced the ball to script an epic ton. He was involved in a record ninth wicket partnership of 80 at the ground, alongside Shoaib Akhtar, and steered Pakistan to a decent total of 259. Mahmood was the last wicket to fall, bowled by Donald. However, the damage had been done. From 89 to 259, he scored 132 of the 170 runs.
The next day, when it was South Africa’s turn to respond to Pakistan’s first innings total, Jacques Kallis and HD Ackerman consolidated after the first two wickets fell for just 32 runs. They seemed to be cruising at 115 for two, but in came to bowl a young, fiery Shoaib Akhtar. He rattled the timber on four occasions — Kallis, Mark Boucher, Klusener and de Villiers the victims — bowling over the wicket to right-handers and round the wicket to the left. Andrew Hudson was trapped leg before wicket in his first ball. Akthar registered his maiden five-wicket haul as Mushtaq Ahmed helped clean up the tail. South Africa now trailed by 28 runs, which eventually proved to be very decisive towards the end.
Pakistani openers make hay
On the third day, openers Saeed Anwar and Aamer Sohail set out with the aim of negating Donald’s threat. Their tenacity was on display, as all the good deliveries were safely dealt with whereas the bad ones were treated with disdain. They could afford to reduce the tempo of the game, and they put 101 runs on the board for the first wicket in 35 overs. Sohail fell for 36, but Anwar belligerently carried on.
He batted 312 minutes and scored his fifth Test century as Pollock began dismissing batsmen at the other end. Pakistan lost their next nine wickets for 67 runs, collapsing for 226, as Pollock finished with figures of six for 50. South Africa now needed 255 to go 1-0 up in the series.
As often happens, the normal wear and tear of the wicket resulted in some rough patches around the batting crease on the fourth day, and realising the fact that Mushtaq could be instrumental on such a surface, skipper Sohail tossed the ball to him post the morning session.
Mushtaq immediately responded by having Gary Kirsten caught at silly point off substitute fielder Rashid Latif. To Kallis, he went round the wicket and pitched the ball quite wide, but it spun, and in an attempt to leg-glance the delivery the former edged it to Moin Khan behind the stumps. After some defiance, Ackerman was trapped plumb after he failed to read Mushtaq’s ‘wrong one’. Hudson was dismissed cheaply, yet again, after he played an uppish drive, only to be caught by Fazl-e-Akbar at mid-off. In no time, Mushtaq picked four of the five South African wickets, and the home team still required 176 to win.
Pollock made an attempt to arrest the slide by trying to score quickly, and in the process, came out of his crease to unsettle Mushtaq, but was foxed and stumped by Moin. Klusener too failed to hold fort. The final day was just a formality, as the South Africans were bundled out in just 8.2 overs, falling short by 29 runs. Mushtaq finished with figures of six for 78, and was rightly adjudged the Man of the Match.
Pakistan had finally managed to beat South Africa in their sixth attempt, and the fact that it came away from home would have made it all the more momentous.
Brief scores: Pakistan 259 (Azhar Mahmood 132, Saeed Anwar 43; Allan Donald 5 for 79) and 226 (Saeed Anwar 118, Aamer Sohail 36; Shaun Pollock 6 for 50) beat South Africa 231 (Shaun Pollock 70, HD Ackerman 57; Shoaib Akhtar 5 for 43, Mushtaq Ahmed 3 for 71) and 225 (Mark Boucher 52, Fanie de Villiers 46; Mushtaq Ahmed 6 for 78) by 29 runs.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)