A day when Bangladesh tigers roared and devoured Pakistan

The joyous scenes after the conclusion of the match gives adrenaline rush to the Bangladesh cricket aficionados, even today © Getty Images

On May 31, 1999, Bangladesh pulled off an incredible triumph over Pakistan in a World Cup match at Northampton. The joyous scenes after the conclusion of the match gives adrenaline rush to the Bangladesh cricket aficionados, even today. Sarang Bhalerao revisits the watershed moment in the history of Bangladesh cricket.

Consider the most erudite statistician has been presented with the following scenario: Pakistan beat West Indies and Australia playing their best cricket in the preliminary round. They were unbeaten as well. Minnows Bangladesh, considered a mismatch against almost all opponents except Scotland, lost the games against the Test-playing nations convincingly. Expected outcome, you may say. What would the probability be of a Pakistan win over Bangladesh at Northampton? Very high, right?

Yet the scoreboard at the end of 94.3 overs told a different tale; improbable, if you may call it. One would have mistakenly believed the venue of the match was Dhaka instead of a neutral territory. The decibel levels rose significantly as the Bangladesh tigers were taking rapid strides towards an unexpected outcome. They surprised themselves, most certainly, as they played their best cricket of the season at a time when their application for Test match status was going to be a major talking point at the International Cricket Council (ICC) meeting one month later. The performance on May 31, 1999, was the epochal moment in their pursuit of getting the coveted Test status.

In the four previous attempts in the competition, debutants Bangladesh had failed to post a total in excess of 200 (although they had successfully defended a total of 185 against Scotland). Pakistan on the other hand had already qualified for the next stage of the competition (the Super Sixes) and as per the peculiar rule of the competition they would carry forward four points in round two of the competition (the maximum any team could). If their win over West Indies at Bristol showed their promise early on, triumph over Australia at Leeds in a thrilling encounter exhibited their rich talent and class. So Pakistan, literally, had nothing to lose.

After winning the toss, Wasim Akram surprisingly fielded first. Pakistan’s modus-operandi all through the competition was posting the runs on the board and defending them. They altered their pattern probably to get themselves out of the comfort zone. But were Pakistan taking this game as a practice game? Or were they going to steamroll their erstwhile province by playing ruthless cricket.

As the game started Bangladesh took advantage of some loose bowling from Pakistan. Opener Shahriar Hossain took benefit of the fielding restrictions by carting Waqar Younis with utter disdain. If the pick-up shot was a chancy stroke, the straight hit was one played with complete authority. Pakistan looked jarred, Bangladesh enthused.

Sixty-eight in 15 overs without the loss of wickets was a very good start from Bangladesh. Pakistan’s attacking spinner Saqlain Mushtaq gave his side the first breakthrough when he hoodwinked Mehrab Hossain, who gave a premature charge, with a leg-side delivery. Mehrab missed the delivery and was stumped by Moin Khan. Shahriar attempted a sweep-shot off Saqlain and was out leg-before. Wickets kept falling at regular intervals. Bangladesh reached 223 in 50 overs thanks to skipper Akram Khan’s 43 and 27 from all-rounder Khaled Mahmud. Saqlain picked up a fifer which restricted Bangladesh to a modest total.

A target of 224 was hardly daunting for Pakistan. Sensible batting would have ensured a Pakistan victory. But a leading edge of Shahid Afridi in the first over brought about his downfall. An inside edge from Ijaz Ahmed cartwheeled onto the stumps. He was out in the second over for a blob.

The series of incredulous run-outs began when Saeed Anwar called Inzamam-ul-Haq for an easy single when the former dropped the ball to the leg-side and began running. To his utter disbelief, he got a cold response from Inzamam and was out. When the onus of resurrecting the innings was with Inzamam, he missed an absolutely straight and benign delivery from Mahmud. The Bangladesh crowd were roaring like an embellished tiger on their jerseys. A possible upset was definitely on the cards. At 29 for four Pakistan had inflicted an implosion. When out-of-form Saleem Malik too missed a straight delivery, the clairvoyance of a possible upset was plausible.

A 55-run stand between Wasim and Azhar Mahmood for the sixth wicket was cut short by yet another run-out. Wasim made a preliminary school-boy error as he attempted a suicidal run when he hit the ball straight towards mid-wicket. He sold a dummy to reignite the flicker of hope in Bangladeshi hearts. Roars, drums and whistles were the fans’ way of expressing their joy. The noise was ever-increasing.

Wasim, Moin were dismissed courtesy of uncharacteristic attacking shots when the situation demanded restraint. A self-imposed hara-kiri was ruining Pakistan’s hopes of a comeback. When last man Shoaib Akthar played Naimur Rehman’s delivery towards point, Saqlain attempted a streaky single. He ran lazily and laboured towards the crease. A possible run-out resulted. Bangladesh waited tantalizingly as the square-leg umpire summoned the TV umpire to confirm the decision. By that time the crowd had invaded the ground. Saqlain was awaiting the decision. The Bangladesh dressing room was waiting in anticipation of seeing the red light. As the red signal was displayed, a crescendo of stupor was reached.

The result of the game has been viewed with scepticism. Wisden wrote, “Since this was a completely dead match, accusations of Pakistani match-fixing grew louder again. English bookmakers had rated Pakistan 33 to 1 on, and there were no reports of unusual betting, but inevitably there were rumours about the sub-continent’s illegal bookmakers.” Pakistan cricket journalist Kamran Abbasi wrote a hard-hitting piece in Wisden Cricket Monthly. He wrote: “Pakistan lost their heads in a flurry of poor strokes and worse running.” Saleem Malik condoned that the game was rigged. But nothing has been proved till date.

Wasim passed on an innocuous yet an interesting statement in the post-match interview which said, “I’m happy we lost to our brothers.” Bangladesh captain Animul Islam said that Bangladesh had made history. “Beating Pakistan, one of the best teams in the world, will help us attain Test status and assist in the development of our younger players,” he said.

Wisden noted, “Nothing diminished the Bangladeshi fans’ euphoria. It was the greatest day in their cricketing history, and perhaps no event since independence had united the country with such delight.”

In November 2000, Bangladesh got the Test status and they were mighty impressive in their debut Test. India were made to stretch every sinew in their body in the first innings. Bangladesh floundered in the second innings to hand over a rather easy win for India in hindsight.

In the next edition, in 2003, Bangladesh had one of the worst phases in their international career when minnows Canada beat them. The epochal moment at Northampton started Bangladesh’s renaissance in world cricket. Even after nearly a decade and a half, victories for them are far and few.

Brief scores:

Bangladesh 223 for 9 in 50 overs (Akram Khan 42, Shahriar Hossain 39; Saqlain Mushtaq 5 for 35) beat Pakistan 161 all out in 44.3 overs (Azhar Mahmood 29, Wasim Akram 29; Khaled Mahmud 3 for 31) by 62 runs.

Man of the Match: Khaled Mahmud

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)