When Saleem Malik walked in to bat that day, furiously exercising his arms, he was embarking on a mission edging towards the impossible. Just about eight overs remained to be bowled and the target was an enormous 78 runs away. Five wickets remained in hand. The Indians were bowling a steady line, gradually increasing their vice like grip on the match.
Imran Khan, the Pakistan captain, was at the other end. For once during those heady mid-eighties, his gambles had backfired. He had sent Abdul Qadir at No 4, a move that had come a cropper. Manzoor Elahi had been promoted as well, but Ravi Shastri’s nagging line and length had accounted for him.
Younis Ahmed, coming off his long, 17-year South African sojourn and playing his first One Day International at the age of 39, had given the tourists a steady platform, adding 106 for the first wicket with Rameez Raja. But, once Shastri had made the breakthrough and Javed Miandad had been given leg before off Maninder Singh, Imran’s ploys had backfired one by one.
Now, confronted with a demanding target of 239 in 40 overs, made possible by a swashbuckling 103-ball 123 by Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Pakistan were disintegrating at 161 for five. And Imran Khan, promoting himself in the order ahead of Malik and Mudassar Nazar, was soon bowled by rival captain and all-rounder great Kapil Dev, leaving the visitors struggling at 174 for six. The asking rate was nearly 10, and it looked a hopeless task ahead for Pakistan. The Indians were charged up, and the boisterous Eden crowd were having a field day.
The only problem was that Malik, a wristy powerhouse of Pakistan batting in the eighties and nineties, was way too young at that time to think in terms of impossibilities. And perhaps, as Wasim Akram walked in, he had some points to prove — with a host of all-rounders and tail-enders being sent in ahead of him. This was the perfect stage to prove that he could stroke the ball better, harder and to more impossible corners of the ground than the others in the line-up.
He warmed up with a swept boundary off Maninder Singh, placing the ball to perfection between the deep square-leg and long-leg. The talented spinner then lured him to step out and beat him in flight. Malik went for the on drive and missed the armer. And behind the wicket, Chandrakant Pandit fumbled one of the costliest of stumping chances in his career.
The murderous assault
It was when Imran departed that Malik started a blitzkrieg that left the Indians in a demoralised daze and shell-shocked the huge crowd into near silence. Whoever could do that to a packed Eden Gardens of the eighties would have had to perform magic, and that is exactly what was suddenly taking place in the arena so far dominated by the Indians.
Shastri, who had bowled magnificently to pick up four for 38, had finished his spell. But, with very few overs left and plenty of bowlers to use, it did not seem to matter at the moment. In retrospect, one can only wonder what might have happened if Shastri had been held back.
The 35th over started with Maninder Singh bowling with five men on the leg side. The first ball was slogged over the deep square-leg. Lalchand Rajput stood positioned for the stroke, but was some 20 too short. This was followed by a flick to the long leg fence and a couple of lofted boundaries over the covers, played at will, casually picking up the unmanned parts of the fence. Nineteen came off the over, bringing some balance back into the match.
Kapil Dev ran in to bowl the next over, and was dispatched to the fine boundary with a perfect leg glance. With the fine-leg in the circle, the Indian captain had no business pitching on the legs; but when he did, Malik fused the rushing adrenaline with eerie calmness and surgically picked up the boundary. The mayhem was back the next delivery, with a ferocious pull off a short one. Kapil stopped to engage in a long consultation with vice-captain Shastri, and signalled his troops to the leg side, plugging all possible gaps. He fired the next couple of balls on the leg stump, and Malik batting in another world where time was dampened to flow slowly, stepped away languidly and pummelled them through the vacant off side field for boundaries. Thirty-five runs had come off the last 10 balls.
Madan Lal ran in for the 37th over of the innings and presented a full toss. Malik swung it to the long-leg fence to bring up his fifty off just 23 balls.Akram, who had been as much a spectator through the storm as the 80,000 people in the stands, rushed up to congratulate him. Two balls later, a wristy flick raced across to the deep square leg boundary. And on occasions when the ball was stopped inside, the youngsters scuttled across the pitch, converting the ones into twos. At the end of the over, the equation was down to 17 runs required from three overs. The previous three had yielded 48.
In the next over, Akram hit Kapil straight to Mohammad Azharuddin. The partnership had been worth exactly 50, and Akram’s contribution had been three.
When eight runs later wicketkeeper Saleem Yousuf was run out, the eighth wicket was down with seven runs still to be scored. However, now the slightly weird batting order devised by Imran Khan paid dividends as Mudassar Nazar walked out at No 10.
As a last ditch effort, Rajput was asked to bowl his off-spinners. It was strategy provoked by desperation, but there was the slim chance that the murderous batsman would hole out, in an attempt to finish the match quickly. But by now Malik had things under control, milking runs in ice-cool singles and twos.
Four runs remained to be scored off the final over bowled by Kapil. And after a couple of singles, Malik ended things with a superb drive that threaded the covers and raced away to the fence.
He had come in with Pakistan requiring 78 to win. Eighty one runs had been plundered while he pulverised the Indian bowlers. Malik had scored 72 of them from just 36 balls, with 11 fours and a six.
It was one of the best innings ever played in ODIs, and not the last of Malik’s masterpieces. And after this knock, seldom were lower order men promoted ahead of him in a bid to get quick runs.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
First Published: February 18, 2013, 8:28 am