Who writes your scripts, Imran Khan? © Getty Images
Who writes your scripts, Imran Khan? © Getty Images

April 6, 1988. Spurred on by an 11-wicket haul by back-from-retirement Imran Khan, Pakistan inflicted the first home defeat in a decade on the mighty West Indies. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at epochal contest at Georgetown.

The Unconquerable Islands

It had been ten years since they tasted their last defeat at home.

On April 5, 1978, Craig Serjeant and Graeme Wood had been the unlikely heroes as a depleted ramshackle West Indian unit led by Alvin Kallicharran had failed to defend a fourth innings target of 359 runs at Georgetown. Now the scene of action had returned to the Guyanese ground.

There had been two more Tests in that 1978 series after the loss. But the equally depleted Australians, with all their top men away living in Kerry Packer’s alternate cricketing universe, had lost one and drawn another.

After that the great men of the Caribbean had returned to the foray. Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner — each one a fearsome prospect for the opponents.

Since that upset in 1978, the West Indians had played ten years at home, contested 25 Tests, won 15 and drawn 10. They had won all the series, the most recent one being a five-Test blackwash of England.

Not that they had done too badly away from home: of the 50 Tests played abroad, they had won 19 and lost 7, the record reading 19-6 if one discounted the second string side’s tour of India in 1978-79.

They were deemed unbeatable. A battery of scary fast bowlers and almost as frightening a bunch of brilliantly attacking batsmen.

When Pakistan visited in early 1988, it did not quite promise to be a different tale. True, the two teams had played out a keenly contested 1-1 draw in 1986-87, but that had been on the turning tracks of Pakistan and aided by one sensational bowling collaboration between Imran Khan and Abdul Qadir. In their stronghold in the scenic islands, no one came remotely close to challenging the West Indian dominance.

And when the West Indians romped home in the 5 ODIs of the 1988 series, all of them with plenty to spare, there was little indication of the titanic tussle ahead.

The sides met for the first Test at Georgetown. And if one looked at recent statistics, that was the most likely venue to upset the West Indian juggernaut.

As mentioned, their last defeat at home had come at that venue, and since then they had not won in the Guyanese ground. Fortune had not favoured them. In 1981, Robin Jackman’s inclusion in the England side, coloured by his South African connections, had led to the cancellation of the scheduled Test match. India had drawn their Test in 1983, Australia in 1984 and New Zealand in 1985.

Yes, a much overlooked factoid is that West Indies, in spite of their utter dominance of world cricket and absolute reign in the Caribbean during the past decade, had not won a Test at Bourda during the period. Indeed, the Pakistanis could consider themselves somewhat fortunate to play there as the series kicked off.

However, that was not the only conspiracy of fate. There were multiple strikes by the hand of the cricketing and other gods that finally derailed the chariot wheel of the West Indian winning odyssey.

The Second Coming

A holy man near Lahore allegedly foresaw the workings of destiny. Approximately at the same time that Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana were embroiled in their nasty showdown in Faisalabad, Imran, the greatest of Pakistani cricketers, recently retired from international cricket, was away on a shooting trip somewhere north of Lahore.

According to Peter Oborne’s  Wounded Tiger,  “After the shoot, the host suggested that they should go and visit a holy man, Baba Chala, who lived in a village just a few miles away from the Indian border. The host asked Baba Chala how Imran should spend the rest of his life. But Chala looked at Imran and said that he had not yet left his profession. ‘It is the will of Allah, you are still in the game.’”

The seer was proved correct.

The Pakistan Cricket Board had made a formal request for his return. Imran had declined. Fans had pleading him to reconsider, some even holding hunger strikes in front of the residence of the superstar. The icon had not relented.

But, just before the tour of West Indies, the President of Pakistan, General Zia ul Haq, asked him to make a comeback as a personal favour. The great man could not refuse any longer. Besides, as he confessed later on, beating West Indies in the Caribbean had been a long-cherished dream.

In a few months, the General would be killed in an air crash. But, by then, his intervention in Pakistan cricket had produced scintillating cricket and had made epochal history.

Javed Miandad, perhaps a better tactician but not really the same leader of men, had led Pakistan since Imran’s retirement. Now he resigned with plenty of grace and the team had the familiar charismatic figure at the helm.

Fate strikes below the belt — twice

Yet, as the side stumbled to defeat after defeat in the ODIs, the probability of a miracle in the Tests seemed remote. Miandad remained peerless in the limited-overs series, but not too many others seemed up for the challenge. Imran himself went through a chastening series, scoring just a solitary half-century and conceding more than 6.5 runs per over.

But, then came the double edged blow of fate on the West Indian bastion.

Just before the Test Richards was declared unfit, still recovering from a haemorrhoid operation. To add to the woes, Malcolm Marshall had a bad knee.

West Indies were without perhaps their greatest batsman and greatest bowler as they went into the Guyana Test. Marshall was replaced by a towering debutant named Curtly Ambrose, but the name would take a while to grow in into its own terrifying stature.

The Sultan of Swing

Greenidge won the toss and batted, but he dropped himself to number four to compensate for the gaping hole in experience left by the withdrawal of Richards. Desmond Haynes found himself opening the innings with Phil Simmons.

With his keen, wise eyes, Imran glimpsed at a rare opportunity. In the first Test since his retirement, he ran in to produce one of the many outstanding bowling performances of his career.

Haynes was soon walking back, having snicked the Pakistan captain to the ’keeper. But for a while it looked a minor hiccup as Simmons and Richie Richardson consolidated. And Imran backed his instincts, put on Ijaz Faqih before the way more formidable Qadir. A year ago, the off-spinner had been summoned to India mid-series, had eked out a hundred at Ahmedabad and had hit Krishnamachari Srikkanth’s stumps with the first delivery he had bowled. Now with his first ball he castled Simmons. Another Imran move had come off.

Greenidge and Richardson batted sensibly to push the score to 95 before young Wasim Akram accounted for the stand-in captain. Imran came back to dismiss Richardson in the second session for a brisk 75 off just 84 deliveries. But Gus Logie was batting with his familiar diminutive but determined resourcefulness, and by tea West Indies sat on a comfortable 219 for four.

On resumption, Qadir spun one past Logie’s tentative push to trap him in front. And then it was the familiar sight of Imran running in with his magnificent approach, going through the famed leap and sending down potent deliveries at the rest of the batting. Carl Hooper, Jeff Dujon, Winston Benjamin and Courtney Walsh were dismissed in a span of three overs.

A stubborn 45 minute resistance between Ambrose and Patrick Patterson yielded 34, and when Imran’s vicious in-dipper hit the stumps of the West Indian No. 11, the total stood at 292. It was the end of the first day, and Imran led the team off the field with a haul of 7 for 80 in his comeback game. No script had ever been written to such poignant perfection. To add to that, he had an infected toe during most of the innings.

The hundred took Javed Miandad to the echelon of legends © Getty Images
The hundred took Javed Miandad to the echelon of legends © Getty Images

Miandad’s final step to greatness

The following day the young but explosive West Indian pace battery struck back. Patterson, Ambrose, Benjamin and Walsh weighed less in terms of experience and perhaps guile than their illustrious predecessors, but matched every fast bowling attack in history with their furious pace. Rameez Raja was dismissed early, Ambrose sent in the first of his many devious yorkers to uproot the stumps of the stubborn Mudassar Nazar. But then they ran into Miandad.

For years Miandad had knocked on the doors of all time greatness with the bat, but his performance away from home had remained a question mark of minor irritation. He averaged 71 at home, but just 41 away. Besides, in eight Tests against the mighty West Indians, he had scored a mere 409 runs at 27 with no century to show for his efforts. Imran, with his astute knack of goading players to perform, subtly harped on this blemish on a stellar career. As he began the innings, the man from Karachi was firmly resolved to make it big.

He had his strokes of luck. At 27 he slashed at a short delivery and was caught at third man, but the umpire had extended his right arm to indicate no-ball. Chances had gone a-begging as well. But he stuck on.

The fast bowlers bowled short at him, Benjamin deliberately overstepping to rattle the seasoned campaigner. Umpire Lloyd Barker warned him for intimidatory bowling. In return, Miandad taunted the bowlers: “I pointed my chest at Ambrose and said: ‘try and hit me and I’ll show you’.”

He added 70 with Shoaib Mohammed in over two hours, 90 with Saleem Malik in two and a half.   Dujon dropped him when he was on 87. But at the end of the day, he was still there, with a battling 96, and Pakistan had progressed to 246 for 4.

The next day he carried on. At 99, the elusive hundred against the strongest team in the world just a single away, he remained scoreless for as long as 38 minutes. And then he got his century, and the skipper stood up to applaud. There would be no more remarks from the Pakistan captain about Miandad’s record against West Indies. When Patterson finally fired one in to uproot his stumps, he had batted 405 minutes for 114. Pakistan had taken the lead.

There was still work to be done. And it was carried out by the gutsy wicketkeeper Saleem Yousuf, who refused to give an inch to the pace bowlers. Imran and Qadir stayed with him for long whiles and the valiant stumper had extended the lead to over 130 before falling for 62. Pakistan were all out for 435, managing a 143 run advantage. The overzealous West Indian pacers had produced a record 71 extras, which accounted for roughly half the lead. There were 38 no-balls and 21 byes resulting from the lack of discipline.

The second Imran spell

The infected toe prevented Imran from bowling more than two overs that afternoon when West Indies commenced their innings, but by the end of the day Faqih had done a star turn yet again by bowling Haynes. The hosts finished at an unconvincing 25 for 1.

A day’s rest followed, and it allowed plenty of time for Imran’s toe to heal. Heavy doses of antibiotics hastened the recovery. And he was back to bowl the following morning.

However, it was Qadir who made the first dents, dismissing Simmons and Richardson early, leaving the West Indians struggling at 42 for 3. Greenidge and Logie counterattacked, adding 65 in 79 minutes, trying to wrest the initiative. And then Imran ran in to dismiss both in quick succession.

The West Indians were down to their last batting pair of Hooper and Dujon, and they inched the score along in a cautious partnership. Imran gestured towards Shoaib, beckoning the scion of Pakistan’s most famous cricketing family to send down an over of off-spin. A change of ends was the main thought behind the move rather than any genius. In ambled the part-timer and Dujon tried to clear the in-field. Imran himself held the catch at mid-off. The very next ball from Shoaib beat the willow of Benjamin and clipped the stump.

The Pakistani joy knew no bounds. It was all over but for the proverbial shouting.

Young Hooper had resisted with a lot of gumption, but soon the vagaries of Qadir’s leg-breaks proved way too much for him to handle. And Imran got one to take the edge of Walsh’s bat to pick up his tenth wicket of the match. The very next ball was subtly slower and Patterson had no clue as it hit the stumps. On his comeback Imran had figures of 11 for 121 and ended the Test on a hat-trick. Pakistan needed just 30 to win.

Patterson trapped Mudassar leg before with the third ball he bowled, but that was the only one of the dozen he sent down which did not pitch on the good length spot of the non-striker. It was poetic justice when Rameez hooked him for six. And then Rameez drove Ambrose for four, and Pakistan triumphed by nine wickets.

For a generation of West Indian cricket fans, following cricket since the late 1970s, this was the first ever experience of defeat in their backyard. It underlined the enormous importance of the two men who were sitting out, recovering from their respective ailments. There is no way to diminish the splendour of Pakistan’s achievement, but taking on the might of the side which had Richards and Marshall in its midst was a completely different ballgame.

And finally, the result also underlined the sterling value of that one player, that greatest of bowlers and the champion all-rounder and captain. As Imran Khan walked up to receive his Man of the Match award, the world acknowledged his return not only to cricket but once again into the highest echelon of the game.

Brief Scores:

West Indies 292 (Richie Richardson 75, Gus Logie 80; Imran Khan 7 for 80) and 172 (Gordon Greenidge 43; Imran Khan 4 for 41) lost to Pakistan 435 (Javed Miandad 114, Shoaib Mohammad 46, Saleem Yousuf 62, Extras 71) and 30 for 1 by 9 wickets.

Man of the Match: Imran Khan.

(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)