Zimbabwean coin with the image of a bird. Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia
Zimbabwean coin with the image of a bird. Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Saleem Malik and Andy Flower had to toss twice on January 31, 1995. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the incident that triggered Zimbabwe’s first Test victory.

It seemed to be a peaceful morning at Harare. The players left their hotels, did the usual stretching and practised in the nets; everyone knew that Pakistan would trounce Zimbabwe in what was going to be the 11th Test for the newest member in the world of Test cricket.

When Andy Flower and Saleem Malik walked out to toss along with the West Indian legend Jackie Hendriks nobody could expect what was about to transpire. The three men, along with the media and a few others, reached the centre of the ground. Flower, the captain of the home side, flipped the coin.

The conventional call during a toss is generally Head or Tail (why am I even explaining this?). Malik decided to trick Flower (though it is not clear exactly how, for there was no bird on the other side) and the match referee. The Zimbabwean coin that was used for the toss had an eagle — the national bird of the country — inscribed on one side. Malik shouted “Bird!” as the coin was flipped in the air.

The coin landed eagle-side up. Flower accepted the decision gracefully. Malik promptly decided to bat, but Hendriks was not one to give in so easily.

Arguably the greatest wicketkeeper West Indies had ever produced, Hendriks brought back his reflexes from his golden days, stating clearly that he had not heard the call and asked for a re-toss. Malik must have been crestfallen when Flower called correctly the second time and elected to take first use of a wicket that clearly seemed to be helpful to batsmen early on.

About a century before the incident WG Grace had apparently adopted the habit of calling “The Lady!” during the toss. It was, obviously, a safe call — given that the coins had Queen Victoria on one side and Britannia on the other. However, one can only be as sure of the authenticity of a Grace anecdote as he can be of Malik’s knowledge of cricket history — which may indicate that the idea might have been Malik’s own.

But, once again, the reason behind the call eludes the mind. Grace’s story, anecdotal or otherwise, was based on sound reason: both sides had a Lady on them. In Malik’s case only one side had a bird. Why, then?

Hendriks was not sure either. In an interview with The Daily Observer, he said: “I don’t know what prompted the Pakistani skipper to say something like Bird. I guess Bird is national symbol on one side of the coin in that country.”

Not much help there. As for Wisden, “farcical” was all they had to say.

Flowers blossoming

The rest, as they say, is history. Though Wasim Akram and Aaqib Javed struck early, reducing Zimbabwe to 9 for 2 and then to 73 for 3, Andy joined his younger brother Grant in a 336-minute partnership that utterly demoralised the Pakistan attack before Andy got out for 156. The 269-run partnership was also a new Test record between two brothers (it still stands), going past the 264 set by Ian and Greg Chappell.

Grant Flower added another 243-minute unbeaten partnership of 233 with Guy Whittall. Andy declared the innings closed with at 544 for 4 (Zimbabwe’s highest score till then) with Whittall on unbeaten 113. Grant, however, was on another plane: never bothered about scoring fast, he scored 201 not out in 523-ball marathon that spanned 654 minutes.

A Streak of Lightning

Pakistan were already handicapped by the fact that Inzamam-ul-Haq had dislocated his shoulder while trying a slip catch. Aamer Sohail scored 61, but some excellent bowling by the fast bowlers left Pakistan reeling at 151 for 6 when Inzamam walked out to join Ijaz Ahmed.

The pair took control of the situation, putting out Heath Streak and his army. Streak bowled fast and with great accuracy and pinned the batsmen down. Runs came in a slow trickle, but both batsmen were determined to hang on to save the follow-on. Then, just as it seemed that Pakistan would go to stumps with 6 wickets down, Streak had Ijaz caught for 65.

The Zimbabwean coin that was used for the toss had an eagle (the national bird of the country) inscribed on one side. Malik shouted “Bird!” as the coin was tossed in the air.

When play started after Rest Day Inzamam battled on with Wasim, adding 46 with 48 minutes — but once Wasim fell Streak took over. The last 3 wickets fell for 5 runs as Pakistan, 222 runs behind, had to follow-on.

Deft Brainwork

Whatever chance Pakistan had of saving the match ended with David Brain’s first spell, in which he dismissed Sohail, Asif Mujtaba, and Malik himself; with two wickets falling at the other end Pakistan were reduced to 35 for five with none of the batsmen reaching double-figures.

Inzamam then got into the act, blasting his way to a 98-ball 65 before he was caught-behind off Whittall; with him the Pakistan resistance ended as they crashed to 158 from 131 for 5. Streak rounded things off and finished with 3 for 15, returning match figures of 50-16-105-9. Zimbabwe registered their first Test victory.

What followed?

Pakistan fought back in the next Test at Bulawayo, winning easily by 8 wickets, thanks to Wasim’s 8-wicket haul and some solid middle-order batting. They claimed the series with a 99-run victory in the third Test, also at Harare: while Inzamam scored an outrageous hundred (none of the last four batsmen scored a run, but the last 4 wickets saw 51 runs being added) but with eight Zimbabweans reaching double-figures the hosts secured a 12-run lead. Set to chase 239, however, they collapsed to 139 thanks to Aamer Nazir’s five-wicket haul.

Brief scores:

Zimbabwe 544 for 4 decl. (Grant Flower 201*, Andy Flower 156, Guy Whittall 113*) beat Pakistan 322 (Inzamam-ul-Haq 71, Ijaz Ahmed 65, Aamer Sohail 61; Heath Streak 6 for 90) and 158 (Inzamam-ul-Haq 65; Heath Streak 3 for 15, David Brain 3 for 50, Guy Whittall 3 for 58) by an innings and 64 runs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)