When the Australians under new captain Mark Taylor landed in Pakistan in 1994, they had the curse of history and the angst of unrealised expectation of the past weighing on their shoulders.
Australia had gone 35-years without a series win in Pakistan. Every predecessor they had met before boarding the long flight had labelled a series there “exhausting and unrewarding”. The team had been given training in how to answer “awkward questions” from the press. But the questions they would be asked by the fiercest fast bowling duo in cricket in the mid 1990’s – Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, only they could answer.
When Taylor reached Karachi’s National Stadium for his first look at the pitch, his immediate concern was the composition of his team. Although Karachi had a reputation for helping spinners, this strip, laid only six weeks before the Test started, looked like a raging turner. Not one to mince words, Ian Healy wrote before the Test: “Going to have a dirty big go here — won’t be easy”. Akram and Younis were not going to be the only threats on this pitch.
With his most experienced bowler Craig McDermott ruled out because of an infected toe, Taylor went in with 4 bowlers – Glen McGrath and Jo Angel to start off with, Shane Warne and offspinner Tim May to bear the burden of the bowling. The Waugh brothers would do their bit when needed. Pakistan had exactly the same combination, with Mushtaq Ahmed the legspinner and Akram Raza with his off-breaks.
No one wanted to bat on Day 5, so when Taylor won the toss, there was no doubt about what his decision would be.
Mark Taylor’s debut as captain was unfortunately off to an inauspicious personal start when he failed to score first up. At 95 for 4, Taylor’s worst nightmares that had kept him awake much of the previous night were beginning to come true. It was mainly thanks to a magnificent 82 from debutant Michael Bevan and some positive batting from Steve Waugh and Ian Healy that Australia end up with 337, a score that was certain to test the Pakistani batsmen on a turning track.
At tea on the second day, with Pakistan at 154 for 2 on the back of a fluent 85 from Saeed Anwar, it looked like Pakistan would put up a big score. But after two quick strikes from Warne that took out Inzamam-ul-Haq and Rashid Latif in quick succession, the Pakistan middle order caved in. Despite a patient 39 from Wasim Akram, the Pakistani innings folded up at 256, handing Australia a precious 81-run lead.
At 1 for 1 in the second innings with Taylor back in the changing room after achieving a captain’s pair, and Slater following him with the team score at 49, Australia was in a spot of bother. But David Boon, the veteran of many a gruelling battle on the cricket pitch in the company of the supremely gifted Mark Waugh, pulled the Aussies out of a hole. At 171 for 2, it now looked like Pakistan which had cause for worry.
Jarrod Kimber in his Test Cricket: The Unauthorised Biography describes Wasim Akram thus: “When Wasim bowled, the ball had a mind of its own. It could be placed on the same spot, repeatedly on a good day, but it also leapt up, cut left, cut right, swung in, swung out. It was as if it was being operated by a remote control….When Wasim bowled, it felt like anything could happen.”
About Waqar Younis, Kimber says: “For five years, the only thing that slowed down his deliveries were stumps and toes…..You knew where he was going to bowl it, how it was going to get there, how fast it would come, and what would happen if you missed it. Still you were out.”
That was when Waqar and Wasim bowled with the new ball. With the old ball reverse swinging beyond the worst Aussie nightmare, they were simply unplayable. From 171 for 2, Australia was all out for 232. Wasim and Waqar had nine wickets between them.
Pakistan had to score 314 to win the match in five sessions of cricket. More than they had made thus far in the match and something they had never done before in their quest for a win. At the end of the fourth day, Angel dismissed Saeed Anwar after a fighting 77 leaving Pakistan 155 for 3. Inzamam would later say: “A target of 315 was big enough and quite difficult. It was a question of partnerships. We had planned for short partnerships, but it was proving to be difficult for our batsmen.”
At stumps, the Aussies knew they were in with a good chance on a wearing fifth-day pitch with Warne and May bowling in tandem and young McGrath showing early signs of what he would become.
But the fourth day was not done with its drama.
Tim May was to say later: “The game was pretty much in the balance at that stage, but we were confident of victory. I think that we just had a meal in one of the hotel restaurants and then went back to our rooms – that was pretty much the standard routine when touring Pakistan in those days.”
That was when Shane Warne received the phone call. Five minutes later a shell-shocked Warne was in May’s room. Saleem Malik had called with a proposal.
Ian Healy recalls: “If he and May bowled badly, and Pakistan won, there would be US$200,000 for each of them, Shane was told. Warney came back to Maysie, his roommate, and told him what had just happened, and Maysie replied, “I hope you told him where to go.” But Warney was so stunned, he hadn’t said anything.”
Tim May adds: “Probably the only thing running through my head was, “Wow, match-fixing in cricket really does occur?” We all had had suspicions, but we just couldn’t believe that it actually happened. As regards deciding what to do, it simply was not in our culture or our team ethic to accept such offers.”
After a stressful night, when the team gathered for breakfast the next morning, Tim May had a crick in the neck and Glenn McGrath had a hamstring niggle.
But Australia still had Shane Warne.
Healy remembers: “We started brilliantly, with Warney causing problems with his flipper. He quickly took three wickets, [Jo] Angel chipped in with the key scalp of the Pakistan captain [Malik] and at 184 for 7 it looked as if a rare Australian victory in Pakistan was about to occur.”
It was however too early to celebrate. While the Pakistani batsmen succumbed to Shane Warne working his magic, Inzamam-ul-Haq was holding up one end, powerless to intervene in the demise of his partners. Then at the fall of the seventh wicket, Rashid Latif walked in, and quite inexplicably, given how Warne was bowling, Mark Taylor decided to take the new ball.
As Latif was to recall later, “I managed to hit a few boundaries off Angel and Steve Waugh and all that pressure that had built up was released. It suddenly seemed that the wicket had turned into a batter-friendly one. Before I was trapped by Steve Waugh, I managed to make 35 of the 52-run eighth-wicket partnership.” When Waqar followed Latif back into the pavilion, Inzamam was left only with Mushtaq Ahmed for company and 56 runs to get.
Playing Warne bravely from the back foot on a track turning square and shielding Mushtaq by rotating the strike through well-run singles (something that would normally be anathema to him), a Zen-like Inzamam was steadily pushing Pakistan towards the target. Tim May was to say about Inzy’s innings: “He was just a cool-headed bloke.”
Then it all came down to the wire, and with three runs to get, it happened. Mark Taylor took out the midwicket trying to tempt Inzamam to step out and hit through that region.
Inzy fell into the trap – hook, line and sinker.
Ian Healy relives the delivery that was to haunt him for years afterwards: “From round the wicket Warney bowled a beauty and Inzamam, I’ll never forget it, went to work it through the leg side, his feet came together, and the ball spun through him, between bat and pad. I thought it was going to bowl him and got a bit stiff with my gloves and body – if your eyes don’t stay with the ball as it spins past the bat, you are in trouble. The height wasn’t a problem, but my glove didn’t move to the ball, so when it missed the off stump it buzzed low between my legs and down to the boundary. Four byes! It wasn’t an easy stumping but I should have made it, especially in that pressure situation. I couldn’t believe it. While my team-mates choked on appeals and held their heads, in total despair I kicked over the stumps.”
Inzamam-ul.Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed had put together the largest last-wicket partnership in the history of Test cricket to win a match. With the next two Tests ending in draws, Australia would have to wait a few years more for their first series victory in Pakistan since 1959-60.