Pakistan and West Indies clash doesn’t interest anymore © Getty Images
Pakistan and West Indies clash doesn’t interest anymore © Getty Images

 

By Faisal Caesar

 

They were once superpowers in world cricket and their battles were a treat. Their nail-biting clashes dominated world cricket for more than a decade. The players from both countries were the heavyweights of the game. A Pakistan versus West Indies series – be it a Test match or an ODI – was electric.

 

Pakistan came to the West Indies for their inaugural series in 1958. It was a contest lot closer than the 3-1 scoreline in favour of the West Indies seem to suggest as it was dominated by two phenomenal batting performances that remains indelible in the record books.

 

In the first Test at Kingston Oval, Pakistan were routed for 106 in their first innings and followed on 473 behind, a seemingly hopeless cause. But the legendary Hanif Mohammad dug in defiantly, holding through for the most of the last three days of the six-day Test match and shared in four successive century partnerships. When he was finally out for 337 on the last day, he had batted for 16 hours and ten minutes! No batsman before or since has batted longer in any first-class match. With the advent of T20s, such epic marathons look unlikely to be repeated.

 

A few weeks later Hanif’s score of 337 was surpassed by Gary Sobers at Sabina Park in the third Test. Taking on the full advantage of a Pakistani attack reduced by injuries and a batting paradise, Sobers smashed the then highest Test record score to post a new high of 365 not out.

 

In spite of the batting domination, the West Indian crowd was thrilled by the pace and guile of the Jamaican Roy Gilchrist and the crafty Fazal Mahmood. Tackling Gilchrist’s hostile pace with guts and grit earned Hanif respect in the hearts of the West Indians, while Fazal’s beautiful cutters drew lavish praise as well.

 

Inexplicably, it was another 19 years before Pakistan returned to the Caribbean, their meeting in the interim confined to two short series in Pakistan. None of the players from the inaugural rubber survived till 1977 but their successors were on equal star billing.

 

“Big Cat” Clive Lloyd led his West Indies team on way to emerging into the most consistently successful of all time. Roy Fredericks, Gordon Greenidge, Viv Richards, Alvin Kallicharran, Derryck Murray, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft and Michael Holding were his main men. Mushtaq Mohammad captained an exceptionally-talented Pakistan side comprising of Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Sadiq Mohammad, Asif Iqbal, Wasim Raja, Wasim Bari, Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Iqbal Qasim and Sikander Bakht.

 

From the word go, both the teams were aggressive and bold, typified by the stylish hard-hitting left-handed genius Wasim Raja who topped Pakistan’s averages and amassed 517 runs against the dreaded pace attack.

 

The West Indies’ last pair clung on for a draw in the first Test at Jamaica when a Pakistan victory looked inevitable. They won the second Test at Queen’s Park Oval by virtue of a volatile display of fast bowling from Colin Croft, who bagged eight for 29 and had the better of a high-scoring draw at Bourda.

 

Inspired by Mushtaq Mohammad’s brilliant all-round performance, Pakistan squared the series at Queen’s Park second time around to set up the Sabina Park Showdown. On a fast bouncy track, the West Indian venomous fast bowling, leg-spin of David Holford and Greenidge’s butchery murdered Pakistan. West Indies won the Test series by 2-1.

 

The next meeting between the two teams was in 1980 in Pakistan. Though Pakistan created flat tracks to negate the West Indies pace battery, it couldn’t avoid a series defeat. Joel Garner and Sylvester Clarke were astonishing while Imran Khan’s bat blossomed to script his first Test hundred.

 

In 1986 and 1990, in Pakistan the West Indies demonstrated their resilience by shaking off heavy defeats in the first match to immediately win the second and be denied only by the lack of time.

 

In the first Test at Faisalabad in 1986, Pakistan were skittled out for 159 in their first innings by the pace of Antony Gray. The West Indies made 248 in their first innings with Wasim Akram taking six for 91. In their second innings, Pakistan scored 328 – courtesy some gutsy batting by Salim Yousuf and Wasim Akram – to set the West Indies a target of 240. But Abdul Qadir’s leg-spin routed the West Indies for 53. The West Indies blasted Pakistan at Lahore, but failed to win the Karachi Test due to the courageous batting performance by Imran Khan and Tauseef Ahmed. Chasing a target of 213 runs Pakistan were reduced to 95 for seven. But Imran and Tauseef hung at the crease to ensure a 1-1 draw.

 

It was in this Test series of 1986 at Faisalabad, Imran Khan introduced neutral umpires to cricket by inviting umpires from India.

 

The West Indies succumbed to a eight-wicket defeat against Pakistan at Lahore in 1990, destroyed by the pace of young Waqar Younis and the batting of Salim Malik. But the West Indies blasted Pakistan in the second Test and had the home team back to the wall with six wickets down. Again the third Test ended in a tense draw.

 

Pakistan’s tour of the West Indies in 1988 saw one of the greatest battles in the history of Test cricket. A clean sweep in the ODI series had given the West Indies a false sense of security. In the first Test the West Indies were without Malcolm Marshall and Viv Richards. Pakistan seized the opportunity. Imran Khan’s high class fast bowling earned him 11 wickets in the match and Javed Miandad’s 114 secured Pakistan a 1-0 lead in the series. Richards and Marshall were back for the final two Tests and the fight for supremacy was fierce.

 

Imran grabbed nine more wickets while Marshall grabbed seven and Richards and Dujon hit centuries in the second Test. Pakistan were set a target of 371 to win the second Test and they were reduced to 169 for five by the West Indian pace battery. But the gritty Miandad hit another hundred and, with the help of lower order courage, saved the Test match for Pakistan.

 

It set up a grand finale for the Kensington Oval, the West Indian fortress where they had not been defeated since 1935. It was hard to say the better of the two sides. Pakistan set the West Indies a target of 266 runs to win and had eight of the Caribbean wickets for 207. A Pakistan victory was inevitable.

 

The tension was acute, heightened by the frequent Pakistani appeals and angry reactions. Pakistan let the match slip, as Dujon and Benjamin hung on.

 

Imran Khan was crestfallen. In the five rubbers in which he had been involved against the West Indies, three as captain covering 18 Test matches, Pakistan had been repeatedly frustrated. He wrote later he was convinced by the fact that he and his men were denied by the umpiring errors.

 

In 1993, Pakistan toured to West Indies again. Pakistan led by Wasim Akram came back strongly in the ODI series from a 0-2 down. They could have won the last ODI had the crowd not interfered. But before the Test series, Pakistan cricket was hit by drug scandals. And it simply killed the charm of the Test series. Pakistanis were down mentally.

 

Ambrose and Bishop devastated Pakistan with the ball, while Desmond Haynes and Brian Lara fired with the bat. The West Indies easily took a 2-0 lead but Inzamam’s magnificent 125 in the third Test denied the Caribbean a 3-0 clean sweep.

 

But the West Indian kingdom had fallen when it toured Pakistan in 1997and lost 0-3.  Pakistan toured to West In 2000 and the first two Tests were undecided. Inzamam with the bat and Wasim Akram with the ball were simply breathtaking. The decider at Antigua was almost won by Pakistan but for the local umpire who denied a catch at short-leg catch. Adams hung on till the end to give the West Indies a one-wicket win.

 

Pakstan toured again in 2005 and managed a 3-0 win the ODIs, but couldn’t win the Test series again as they hung on to a 1-1 draw by winning the last Test. In 2006, Pakistan won both the Test and the ODI series against the West Indies at home. Mohamamd Yousuf in this series became the player to score most Test runs in a calendar year to break Viv Richards’ 30 year old record while Lara charmed the Multan crowd with a 216.

 

Pakistan’s tours to the West Indies have so far been frustrating and mostly marred by controversies. They are yet to win a Test series in the Caribbean. Pakistan are touring the West Indies this year after six long years. This time the Pakistan team is much stronger than the West Indies. Perhaps this is the time Pakistan could give their nation and their millions of fans a sweet victory in the Test series.

 

The clash between these two teams is no longer eagerly waited, no longer charm crowds. Yet, both teams are unpredictable and are capable of creating enough drama and excitement.

 

(Faisal Caesar is a doctor by profession whose dream of becoming a cricketer remained a dream. But his passion is very much alive and he translates that passion in writing about the game)