Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed's heroics deny Australia historic win at Karachi

Inzamam-ul-Haq (second from right) heads for the dressing room, while last-wicket partner Mushtaq Ahmed (left) kisses the ground after Pakistan’s incredulous victory © Getty Images

 

On October 2, 1994, Pakistan recorded one of the most improbable victories in the annals of Test cricket, mostly thanks to the god-gifted Inzamam-Ul-Haq, his typical lumbering gait and great prowess of adhesion. Bharath Ramaraj goes through the see-saw encounter played between Pakistan and Australia at Karachi.

 

A game of Test cricket may lack the frenzied atmosphere of a high-voltage Twenty20 clash with a jam-packed stadium erupting with joy after every towering six bludgeoned deep into the orbit. Yet, it can’t match the charm and hypnotic beauty of Test cricket, where the fortunes of both sides can swing back and forth in the most improbable manner to rekindle the flames of passion among passionate cricket lovers.

 

One vividly remembers all those awe-inspiring feats of matchless brilliance in edge of the seat nail-biting contests that elevate Test cricket to heavenly heights of lyrical creativity. The thrill-a-minute Test match played on a raging turner at Karachi in 1994-1995 turned into another of those riveting contests. After five days full of ebbs and flows, Pakistan snatched victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat by one wicket to leave the entire Australian team shattered.

 

Background

 

If we go down the memory lane, the battle-hardened Australian team was in a transitional phase. Allan Border had called it a day after the Test series in South Africa in 1993-1994. Other senior hands like Dean Jones and Geoff Marsh had drifted away from the scene too. So, under the captaincy of Mark Taylor, the Australian cricket team had a task on their hands when they embarked on a tour to Pakistan in 1994-1995 to take on a mercurial cricket side.

 

To make it worse for them, the Australian team flopped in a quadrangular series held in Sri Lanka, just before they toured Pakistan. Australia’s think-tank was heavily criticised for resting key players like Craig McDermott and David Boon for their crucial encounter against Sri Lanka in that tournament. On the other end of the spectrum, Pakistan had steamrolled Sri Lanka in their own backyard and in spite of reversals in the quadrangular tournament, they were considered as strong favourites to beat Australia at home.

 

Pakistan had at their disposal scariest of pacers, who could cause mass-destruction, in Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram. The ever-smiling leg-spinner, Mushtaq Ahmed, gave able support to Pakistan’s deadly duo with his box of tricks. Moreover, history was on their side too, as no team from Down Under had won a Test in Pakistan since the bygone days of 1959-1960.

 

Australia wins the toss and gains the upper-hand

 

The Test series against Pakistan started on a good note for the men from Down Under, as Taylor won the toss and not surprisingly elected to bat first on what seemed like a raging turner.

 

Karachi has always been renowned for helping spinners and the one on which Australia played Pakistan in 1994-1995 was no different. To make it even more interesting, the wicket was laid only six weeks before the crucial first Test.

 

Australia’s then vice-captain Ian Healy said about the pitch, “Going to have a dirty big go here — won’t be easy.” Unfortunately, other than winning the toss, Taylor didn’t have too much else to smile about. With a willow in hand, it turned out to an inauspicious start for Australia’s new captain, as he was dismissed for a duck. It only got worse for Taylor in the second innings with him bagging a pair.

 

At 95 for four, Australia found themselves in a precarious position on the first day. But Steve Waugh, Michael Bevan, who was incidentally playing in his first Test, and Ian Healy took Australia to a position of strength. Australia’s first innings total of 337 was always going to test the Pakistani batsmen’s resolve on a turning track.

 

Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed's nerves of steel deny Australia historic win at Karachi

Saeed Anwar (right), with his felicitous stroke-play showed spirit and spunk and stood tall among the ruins in Pakistan’s first innings © Getty Images

 

With Australia’s pace spearhead, McDermott, being ruled out of the first Test due to an infected toe, Australia heavily depended on the spin twins, Shane Warne and Tim May. Both Glenn McGrath and Jo Angel were pacers with burgeoning potential. But they lacked the wisdom of experience to bowl on largely unhelpful tracks for seamers.

 

Interestingly, it was a team effort that helped Australia take a healthy first-innings lead of 81 runs. On a square turner, the spin twins took five wickets between them. With energetic, industrious stamina, both Angel and McGrath chipped in with wickets too. Even then, it was clearly evident that McGrath had stupendous control and could extract seam movement and lift out of most surfaces.

 

Only the southpaw, Saeed Anwar, with his felicitous stroke-play showed spirit and spunk and stood tall among the ruins. Even when Warne bowled from around the wicket to use the rough patches outside Anwar’s off-stump to his advantage, he had the chutzpah to loft Warne over the long-on region for a sumptuous six. It was a day when Anwar lofted Warne with gay abandon.

 

The two W’s come to the party

 

In Australia’s second innings, the diminutive David Boon, who had fought many high-pitched battles on a cricket pitch by standing toe-to-toe against world-class bowlers, and the outrageously gifted Mark Waugh, with his trademark elegant splendour, were handling the deadly duo of Wasim and Waqar with aplomb.

 

At 171 for two and with a lead of 252 runs, the match appeared to be slipping away from Pakistan’s grasp. But in test cricket, a spine-tingling performance can turn the game on its head. This is what exactly happened at Karachi on the third day.

 

Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed's nerves of steel deny Australia historic win at Karachi

David Boon (centre) stood toe-to-toe against Pakistan’s world-class bowlers and fought his way through © Getty Images

 

In the 1990s, the spine-chilling prospect of facing up to Waqar and Wasim with the old ball  gave sleepless nights to every batsman in the world of cricket. At Karachi, their ability to generate prodigious reverse swing at venomous pace proved to be too hot to handle for even a formidable Australian batting line-up.

 

Waqar started the slide by disturbing the furniture of a well-set Mark Waugh. The supreme manipulator of the ball, Wasim, followed Waqar’s efforts by reversing it from around the wicket and taking wickets at will.

 

In no time from 171 for two, Australia were cleaned up for just 232 runs. Such was the clatter of wickets that Healy, who in a relaxed mood was about to wind-up for the day by packing his gear, suddenly had to rush out to the middle to face the hostile duo.

 

Former Australian batsman Mark Waugh, in his biography, said about Wasim and Waqar, “They’re both great bowlers. If you look at their records, they’re phenomenal, and to do it bowling in the conditions they do in Pakistan where the wickets are good for batting. Certainly the thing that has helped them is the reverse swing. They’re the masters at it. It makes a big difference, but you still have to bowl the ball in the right spot, which is what they do. It is a big advantage — they’ve worked out how to do it the best of anybody. They’re great bowlers, no doubt about it.”

 

Waqar and Wasim were duly rewarded for their effervescent endeavours by taking nine wickets between them. For Australia, David Boon essayed a pugnacious knock full of unwavering dogged determination and fearless courage to remain not out on 114.

 

Australian bowlers hit back with vengeance

 

In spite of bundling out Australia for 232, chasing a target of 314 on a wicket that was spitting and turning very sharply was akin to climbing Mount Everest. Pakistan’s able opening duo of Saeed Anwar and Aamer Sohail though, gave them a rollicking start.

 

At 44 for no loss tragedy struck for Pakistan, as the redoubtable Sohail was run out. Boon’s smart catch at short leg (bat pad) of Warne’s bowling saw Zahid Fazal being dismissed cheaply as well.

 

Taylor juggled his resources judiciously, but Australia again found Anwar a thorn in their flesh. Malik gave him able support to take Pakistan’s score close to 150. At the fag end of the fourth day’s play, the towering Western Australian giant, Angel, made a crucial breakthrough to dismiss Malik with a snorter of a bouncer.

 

Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed's nerves of steel deny Australia historic win at Karachi

Shane Warne (right) cut a swathe through Pakistan’s middle and lower-order to leave them in tatters © Getty Images

 

Before the highly anticipated final day’s play commenced, it became crystal clear that McGrath had pulled a hamstring and won’t be able to take further part in the engrossing Test match. The veteran off-spinner Tim May was struggling with a bad neck too. It resulted in Warne carrying even more extra burden on his spinning shoulders.

 

On the final day, it was yet again the big-hearted Angel, bowling with waspish pace and extracting considerable variable bounce from a worn-out surface, who dented Pakistan’s hopes even further by dismissing Anwar. When Angel took the wicket of Anwar, for a moment, it felt like it was the straw that would break the camel’s back.

 

The wily old fox, Warne, who was suffering from a mild fever, came to the fore just in nick of time by cutting a swathe through Pakistan’s middle and lower-order to leave them in tatters at 184 for seven. But in a roller-coaster of a match, there was always going to be more twists in the tale.

 

Inexplicable decision to take the new ball

 

 In the writer’s opinion, Taylor was tactically a brilliant captain who read the game like the back of his hand. Now that wasn’t the case in the very first Test match he captained Australia. Despite the track turning square and one of their pacers, McGrath not being able to bowl due to his hamstring injury, Taylor inexplicably took the new ball.

 

With Angel and Steve Waugh sharing the new ball, it opened the flood-gates for Pakistan to claw their way back into the match. It was Pakistan’s wicketkeeper-batsman Rashid Latif who cashed-in with an enterprising innings of 35 of a mere 56 balls. With the lynchpin of Pakistan’s line-up, Inzamam-Ul-Haq batting at the other end, suddenly a side that looked dead and buried, had a whiff of a chance to win.

 

Australia’s fightback and Inzamam-Ul-Haq’s coup de theatre act

 

Australian team’s ‘never-say-die spirit’ shone like a beacon when Steve Waugh and Warne snared one wicket each to take Australia to brink of their first victory in Pakistan in 35 years. Even though Inzamam was playing a majestic knock with a calm head on his shoulders, it didn’t seem like he would end up on the winning side.

 

Cricket romantics and Pakistan’s die-hard supporters still wondered whether in a game full of twists and turns, Pakistan could snatch a miraculous win. Realistically with Warne making Pakistan’s batsmen dance to his spinning tunes, it appeared to be too much of a tall order for the number eleven batsman, Mushtaq, to support Inzamam for long.

 

Just when everyone thought an Australian victory was a foregone conclusion, like a true messiah who scripts great miracles, Mushtaq started to play Warne like a seasoned 100-Test veteran. Every time Warne turned those leg-breaks viciously to beat the edge of his bat, he grinned endearingly and as soon as Warne pitched it slightly short, Mushtaq rocked onto the back-foot to play short-arm pulls through the mid-wicket region.

 

Watching the eagle-eyed Inzamam expertly tackling Warne must have certainly soothed the nerves of Mushtaq. Inzamam himself could see his partner’s incontrovertible self-belief in handling the Wizard of Oz. Hence, Inzamam was able to farm the strike with utmost ease.

 

Slowly but steadily, Pakistan inched ever closer to the daunting target set by Australia; the Karachi cricket ground seemed like a cauldron of bubbling tensions. The crowd too swelled in numbers and made a deafening noise by chanting Allah-O-Akbar.

 

Inzamam not even for once was affected by the deafening noise of a boisterous crowd and was indeed a picture of serenity personified. He showcased exemplary technique by taking more of a leg-stump guard and using the depth of the crease to play back to Warne.

 

In addition to Inzamam’s technical brilliance, one has to factor in his God-like-genius temperament. For once, even the Sheikh of Tweak, Warne, was lost for ideas. It was Inzamam who was clearly exuding command over the situation and winning the battle of wits against the great leg-spinner.

 

Finally, it all boiled down to three runs to win for Pakistan and one wicket to get for Australia. Now, Taylor and his trump card, Warne had no other choice, but to go for the jugular.

 

In an attempt to entice Inzamam to play through the on-side, they left the mid-wicket region open. To the surprise of everyone, the cool-as-a-cucumber Inzamam took the bait by dancing down the wicket with twinkle-toed footwork to whip it through the on-side. Warne, though, by stretching every sinew had saved his best for the last.

 

With furious rotations on the ball, the mighty craftsman imparted lovely late drift and curve to completely beat Inzamam in the air and the ball spun sharply through him. In anticipation of a wicket with a superman-like leap, Warne jumped in the air. But that was the day when even one of the greatest wicketkeepers of all time, Healy, showed that he was after-all a human by missing the crucial stumping chance and the ball rocketed to the boundary boards for four byes.

 

Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed's nerves of steel deny Australia historic win at Karachi

Ian Healy can only watch as Shane Warne’s ball goes for four byes that handed Pakistan a sensational victory © Getty Images

 

For a second or two, Healy seemed to be blinded and didn’t move towards the ball with his gloves as swiftly as everyone would expect him to do. It meant that Inzamam’s coup de theatre act of sharing a last-wicket partnership of 57 runs with Mushtaq helped Pakistan to a believe-it-or-not win.

 

On expected lines, every Australian cricketer looked shell-shocked and deflated. On the other side, Pakistan’s cricketers rejoiced after what was truly an epochal win like there was no tomorrow. Inzamam’s rousing charge to the victory line sent an entire country into wild ecstasy and he became the toast of a cricket-crazy nation.

 

Inzamam said on the magical delivery bowled by Warne, “They took out the mid-wicket trying to tempt me to step out and hit through that region. I tried to do exactly that, but completely missed the ball.”

 

Mark Waugh said about the epic Test in his biography, “We were devastated after the game, especially Ian. The chance was a real tough one to take because the ball kept low and just missed the stumps. There’s no way we we’d blame Ian, but Ian would have blamed himself because he would think he could have won as a test match. In the dressing room we sat around stunned for a good hour or so. Everybody was sitting in their spots and not saying anything.”

 

Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed's nerves of steel deny Australia historic win at Karachi

The Pakistan team rejoice after what was truly an epochal win © Getty Images

 

What followed

 

Australia held the upper-hand in the next Two tests played at Rawalpindi and Lahore, respectively. Frustratingly, they were stopped from winning by one cricketer and he was the controversial Pakistani captain — Salim Malik. He made 237 runs at Rawalpindi and followed it up with a gut-busting innings of 143 at Lahore to take Pakistan to safe waters on both occasions.

 

It was a tough baptism by fire for Australia’s new captain Taylor. Yet, keen cricket observers were of the opinion that in spite of his blunder in the first Test to take the new ball, he showed great promise as a captain.

 

Australia didn’t help their cause by dropping as many as 13 chances. In fact, in the 1980s and during Australia’s tour to Pakistan in 1994-1995, Australian fielders couldn’t even catch cold in Pakistan.

 

In 1988-1989, the Allan Border led Australian setup dropped 14 chances. Way back in 1982-1983, the Kim Hughes led Australian team dropped a mind-boggling 21 catches.

 

Curiously, in Taylor, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh and Boon, Australia had an assembly of crackerjack close-in fielders. In addition to it, Australia possessed in their ranks an excellent wicketkeeper in Healy. Yet barring Mark Waugh, most of Australia’s fielders reportedly dropped chance after chance.

 

Match-fixing saga

 

A few weeks after Australia left the shores of Pakistan, the cricketing world was jolted by the news that Pakistan’s captain, Malik, had allegedly offered $200,000 to May and Warne to under-perform before the final day’s play of the first Test at Karachi.

 

In the aftermath one-day tri-series played in Pakistan, Malik astonishingly went one step further and allegedly tried to bribe another Australian cricketer in Mark Waugh on 21st of October 1994.

 

The rip-roaring contest between Australia and Pakistan at Karachi gave ample proof of cricket being a game full of glorious uncertainties. Right till the very end, it seemed like cricketers from both teams weren’t ready to give even an inch. The match-fixing saga took a bit of sheen away from what was a glorious exhibition of exhilarating Test cricket. Yet, it would no doubt go down into history books as one of the greatest Test matches ever played.

 

Brief scores:

 

Australia 337 (Michael Bevan 82, Steve Waugh 73; Wasim Akram 3 for 75, Waqar Younis 3 for 75, Mushtaq Ahmed 3 for 97) and 232 (David Boon 114; Wasim Akram 5 for 63, Waqar Younis 4 for 69) lost to Pakistan 256 (Saeed Anwar 85; Joe Angel 3 for 54, Shane Warne 3 for 61) and 315 for 9 (Saeed Anwar 77, Inzamam-ul-Haq 58*; Shane Warne 5 for 89) by 1 wicket.

 

Man of the Match: Shane Warne

 

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)