On October 2, 1998, Steve Waugh hammered 157 to steer Australia to their first victory on Pakistani soil since Richie Benaud’s team last won in 1959 at Karachi. Karthik Parimal revisits that epic innings.
It was utter disbelief that engulfed the Australian dressing room exactly four years earlier, on October 2, 1994, in the port city of Karachi. Having nailed Pakistan to 258 for nine in their chase of 314, Mark Taylor’s men must have envisaged swaying to ‘Underneath the Southern Cross I stand’, the team song, as they were moments away from what was to be their first win on Pakistani soil in 35 years. However, a certain Inzamam-ul-Haq thwacked a jaded Australian attack to pull off an amazing heist in the dying minutes of that match. Victory eluded Australia and the agonising margin by which the series was conceived shattered them.
On October 2, 1998, exactly four years after the Karachi heartbreak, it took one resplendent knock in the first Test of the series to appease the wounds of the previous tour. In what was perhaps one of Steve Waugh’s greatest innings, the Pakistan bowlers were like rabbits transfixed in the headlights of a raging bulldozer. The knock not only substantiated his reputation as the team’s go-to man, it also steered Australia to one of their most famous triumphs on the sub-continent and perched Waugh as Taylor’s natural successor at the helm. Like Wisden aptly noted, “Who better to lead the way than Steve Waugh?”
Pakistan start as favourites
In 1988, Pakistan used four spinners to make light work of Australia. A similar modus operandi was used six years later and, in 1998, too, the powers that be yet again chose to implement the same strategy, one that guaranteed success against touring teams in the past. This time, however, the Australians knew what and who would greet them. Like any good side, they’d studied shortcomings that once led to their downfall and meticulously worked towards foiling Pakistan’s well-laid plans. A spin-friendly surface duly welcomed Australia at Rawalpindi, but they were far from fazed by the sight of it.
Having won the toss, Pakistani skipper Aamer Sohail chose to bat first, and was perhaps pleased by the fact that the Australians would have to bat fourth on this tailored pitch. But first, his troops had to contend with Glenn McGrath’s impeccability and Damien Fleming’s guile, and at 50 for four, all illusions of a cakewalk were duly shredded. The turf was prepared with Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed — the two best spinners in the world at the time — in mind, but Stuart MacGill, playing just his second Test, had no qualms in extracting the maximum out of it with his leg-breaks.
He walked off proud with figures of five for 66, and it was largely due to Saeed Anwar’s relentless hundred that Pakistan trudged to a first innings total of 269. Nonetheless, it was deemed enough with Wasim Akram and the two premier spinners in the side. How wrong could they have been!
Cometh the hour, cometh the man
The first hour of Australia’s innings followed an expected course. Prodigiously swinging the ball, Akram bagged Taylor and Justin Langer in consecutive deliveries. Mushtaq Ahmed was roped into the attack and, in the 12th over, Mark Waugh was on his way back. At 28 for three, Steve Waugh strode out with his team in a potentially difficult position, but if there was one man capable of calming the Australian nerves at that juncture, it was him. “We’ve lost count, haven’t we; of the innumerable, inestimable times that Waugh had to come in and save Australia?” was how one of the commentators aptly announced Waugh’s arrival to the crease.
From the outset, he looked belligerent. The duo of Saqlain and Ahmed were asked to bowl in tandem, but Waugh was at ease, deftly playing with and against the spin. He hoicked them over mid-wicket, swept nonchalantly, drove assertively and unfurled the late-cut at will. When the two rendered ineffective, Mohammad Hussain, the slow left-arm orthodox bowler playing his second Test, was called in for a spell, but he too was handled comfortably. Spinners were persisted with throughout the morning session of the second day, although Waugh and Michael Slater — his batting partner — were seldom puzzled.
While Slater raced to his fifty, Waugh got there with what was his only mistimed shot of the innings thus far. The Rawalpindi crowd, nevertheless, were appreciative of the landmark. He then stepped up a gear, smashing Saqlain over the mid-wicket fence for a six. Stunned by the resurgence, the Pakistani bowlers had no alternate plan to revert to. “The Pakistanis fully expected us to roll over and cave in, but the moment we [he and Slater] grabbed the initiative they had no fallback position and their famed infighting and Keystone Cops (in silent film comedies, they were a fictional insanely incompetent police force) characters approach kicked in,” writes Waugh in his autobiography Out of My Comfort Zone.
The infighting Waugh refers to was apparently triggered when Saqlain kept chirping away with the line ‘C’mon, Wassy — you are the best, you’re number one in the world’ like a broken record every time Wasim Akram had a ball in his hands, so much so that it irked some of his own teammates. “Saqlain was a real goer and I respect his desire to always compete, but surely he could have changed his lines occasionally. The repetition was enough to send his own mates mad. Pakistan were a hard team to monitor, because one minute they appeared to be bickering and the next they were best mates,” Waugh further states in his book.
Waugh and Slater turned the match with a partnership of 198, before Slater holed out to Mohammad Wasim off Hussain for 108. Despite the hiccup, Waugh kept his foot on the gas pedal. Towards the fag end of the day, a fierce cut that pierced a packed off-side field brought up his hundred, his 15th in Test cricket, and with that Waugh staged yet another rescue act to perfection. Stumps were called as a large first innings deficit loomed over Pakistan, and they knew the ‘Iceman’ would return with his batteries charged the next morning.
Not only did Pakistan face a replenished Waugh’s wrath in the first session of the third morning, they also had to encounter a fine attacking innings by Darren Lehmann, who was playing his second Test. Although Lehmann consolidated at times, Waugh was ruthless. Even Wasim Akram couldn’t hold him down on the day and didn’t refrain from lauding his mental toughness after the day’s play. At lunch, he was unconquered on 152 as Australia galloped to 352 for four.
However, on the first ball after lunch, while attempting to sweep part-time spinner Aamer Sohail, Waugh managed a top-edge and was dismissed. Although he walked off to a standing ovation, he was livid at the fact that despite being mentally fresh and having all the bowlers at his mercy, he let a momentary lapse of concentration get the better of him. For Waugh, a meek end to a dominating innings was a crime. “The steeliness had left me first ball after lunch and I’d paid the price, which hurt. As always, time is the healer of all things, and 15 minutes later I allowed myself to comprehend the level at which I had played and what we were about to achieve,” Waugh reflects on the dismissal in his book.
What Australia achieved was a Test match victory in Pakistan for the first time in 39 years. Amassing 513 in the first innings, Pakistan were bowled out for a meagre 145 in reply, thereby conceding victory by a massive margin of an innings and 99 runs. When Healy caught Wasim Akram to capture his 356th victim during Pakistan’s second innings, he passed Rodney Marsh’s world record for dismissals by a wicketkeeper in Tests. The next two fixtures in Peshawar and Karachi ended in turgid draws as Australia won the series 1-0.
Pakistan 269 (Saeed Anwar 145; Stuart MacGill 5 for 66) and 145 (Saleem Malik 52*; Stuart MacGill 4 for 47) lost to Australia 513 (Steve Waugh 157, Michael Slater 108, Darren Lehmann 98; Wasim Akram 3 for 111) by an innings and 99 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)