Imran Khan was unstoppable at Leeds in 1987, which helped Pakistan take a very important lead in the five-match Test series……
The greatest charm of a Test match is undoubtedly when a team travels abroad. In unfamiliar conditions and in hostile situations, a group of eleven men come together to face the onslaught of the home team. Maybe that is why overseas Test wins are so rare, which, when they do come about, carve their own special place amidst the memories of the legion of cricket followers.
The year 1987 is remembered with much fondness in Pakistan’s cricketing history for the come-from-behind victory that was achieved in Headingley, Leeds. After a loss back in 1982, Pakistan showed the way with a series win in England against England, which remained a commendable feat indeed. Playing a full Test series of five matches abroad for the first time, Pakistan made their way to Leeds for the third game after draws in the first two matches. With uncertainty awaiting them, the tourists were determined to make a change and Leeds was the destination where it all unravelled.
Choosing to bat first, England skipper Mike Gatting’s decision turned out to be a bad one as the hosts were struggling to get going. The constant fall of wickets and a rampaging fast bowling duo of Imran Khan and Wasim Akram, who took three apiece, reduced England to 31 for 5 to create a wave of silence all around the ground. The top score amongst the top-five was 10 made by David Gower in 18 deliveries, with Chris Broad, Tim Robinson, Bill Athey and Gatting himself having no answers to the perfectly executed in-swingers and the out-swingers that were being bowled by the duo of Imran and Akram.
Some resistance was offered by lan Botham and debutant David Capel, who made 26 in 164 and 53 in 161 balls, respectively. The sixth wicket partnership fetched 55 runs but Mudassar Nazar, known as the Man with the Golden Arm, emerged to wipe away any hopes of a fightback. Jack Richards and Neil Foster both stuck around for 29 deliveries each, giving assistance to Capel but Mohsin Kamal sent all three back to the pavilion, which effectively meant that England were all out for a paltry 136.
The match was in the grasp. A win, though distant and faint in the horizon, could be sniffed. All it needed was a mature head and a patient batting effort to overhaul the target, which would then give the Pakistanis a psychological advantage. The day ended with Pakistan batting on 76 for 2, with both the openers Shoaib Mohammad and Mudassar Nazar back in the pavilion. However, Mansoor Akhtar and Saleem Yousuf prevented any more casualties and a new day awaited.
The day that belonged to Pakistan. A day that not only changed the course of the match but one that was going to change the way cricket was being viewed in the country. A day of success and celebration and a day which showcased the importance of grit even against the mightiest odds.
Though the visitors lost Mansoor and Javed Miandad in quick succession, Saleem Malik entered the crease with full swagger and confidence. He first put on 66 runs for the fifth wicket with Saleem Yousuf and then combined with captain Imran to take England well over the lead and pass the 200-run mark. Imran scored 26 in 80, giving perfect company to Malik who was his poignant self en-route his 99 off 238 balls. He was never for once overwhelmed by the match situation and continued in his monk-like trance to end up a run short of a well-deserving century.
But Malik’s departure did not mean curtains, for Ijaz Ahmed and Akram braved it out to take the score well past 300 and when the latter did eventually fall for 43 off just 42 balls, Pakistan had taken a lead of more than 200. Pakistan were all out for 353 and only a miracle could save the home side from an embarrassing loss.
The now-distant whiff of triumph was now within reach; with only the last step remaining to be sealed.
A dubious decision by the umpire led to Broad’s departure in just the second ball of the innings. The opener allowed the ball to go through the off-stump, removing his arms from the line of the ball. However, the ball rebounded off his gloves to land in the safe hands of wicket-keeper Yousuf. Pakistan slowly but surely tightened the screws on the home side, finishing Day 3 by taking 7 wickets for 186 runs. A customary rest day after the third days was the norm in Test cricket back then, with most of the Pakistan supporters wary of rain washing away the rest of the game.
However, Day 4 arrived with lots of sunshine and with plenty of cheer. The Asian country were just moments away from scripting a drastic upset and all citizens, cricket lovers or not, wanted to savour the moment. PTV promised to telecast the first session of Day 4 live from Leeds as a country sat with bated breath.
Imran came. Imran bowled. All it took him was 31 balls to wipe away the rest of the batting order as England, despite Gower’s 55, were all out for 199. To add to the cheer, Imran, while clinching a seven-wicket haul in the second innings, became the eighth bowler to scalp 300 Test wickets. His match-haul of 11 wickets won him the Man of the Match award but more importantly, the win gave his team a moment to cherish forever.
With the remaining two games ending in a draw, Pakistan galloped away to a maiden Test series win in England. After an ODI win against India, the Test triumph further ensured that their graph was on an upswing. England on the other hand had lost a Test series to both India and Pakistan since 1986 and faced some undesirable questions that needed to be answered.
It did take the Green Army 19 more years to win a series in England after 1987, but just as the 1983 World Cup win changed the way cricket was viewed in India, a similar outcome came off the win in 1987. The win heightened the confidence levels in the group of cricketers from the nation, and it would not be a hyperbole to state that the 1992 World Cup win was a result of a morale boost that was brought about by the win in Leeds in 1987.