“A 22-year old batsman showing maturity beyond his age in attacking the opponent was a very rare occurrence in those days. Not only that knock helped Pakistan to romp into the finals but also instilled a self-belief among the players that they can win from any situation whatsoever”
Almost every country begins its World Cup campaign with a cold heart and a single-minded focus on securing the ultimate prize i.e. the glittering World Cup trophy, but as the journey nears the business end of the tournament; emotions begin to take over. One just can’t keep them out from the contest as it becomes a matter of one good or bad choice proving to be the ultimate difference between jubilation and heartbreak. Two pictures, captured 23 years apart, come to my mind to describe the aforementioned raw emotions. Both the pictures are glued together by the presence of Blackcaps (coming out with contrasting results) on one side of the spectrum.
The first one is of a teary-eyed AB de Villiers ruing his team’s inability to get past a mercurial Grant Elliot in 2015 while the other one is of a 40-year old charismatic captain of Pakistan Imran Khan sprinting into the Auckland stadium, smiling ear-to-ear, as Pakistan stormed into their maiden World Cup final in 1992. Oh, Wait! Did I just say ‘Pakistan stormed into the finals’? Well, the end journey certainly deserves such a description but the first 35 overs of the Pakistani chase were anything but a ‘stormy going’. So, how did the transformation happen? Who was Pakistan’s hero of that day? Let’s revisit the story of Inzamam-ul-Haq’s 60 of just 37 balls against New Zealand which fixed Pakistan’s final showdown with England in 1992.
It was the 21st day of March 1992 and the Auckland stadium in New Zealand was hosting the first semi-final of the Benson & Hedges World Cup where the hosts New Zealand were pitted against a resurgent Pakistanis who had crawled their way back into the semi-finals from the jaws of elimination in the group stages. Martin Crowe, arguably the most accomplished batsman ever produced by the New Zealand soil, led the charge as his belligerent 83-ball 91 powered his team to a par-looking (for those days) 262/7.
Kiwi Captain’s innovative bowling strategy of opening the bowling with the spin-option of Dipak Patel, along with a relentless battery of medium pacers had worked wonders in the tournament, bringing unprecedented success for Crowe, as captain, and New Zealand, as a team. Against Pakistan in the semi-final too, the strategy was very much dominant even in the absence of the regular skipper Crowe who had opted to sit out of the Pakistani chase in order to prevent aggravation of a hamstring injury sustained during the batting. Pakistan were 4 wickets down for just 140 runs after the end of the 35th over; with 123 runs still to get from the remaining 90 balls.
It might look very achievable in this modern era T20 style batting but those were simply different times when fancy shots of today’s slam-bang version of cricket haven’t polluted the batting exercise yet. At that time, Pakistan needed a batting approach way ahead of that 92 era and Inzamam walked out to provide just the same. His partner, on the other hand, was the veteran middle-order batsman Javed Miandad who was also struggling to get going against the dibbly-dobbly pace of New Zealand bowlers. Inzamam’s arrival liberated all of them from their slumber.
He launched a counter-punch on the opposition to meet fire-with-fire as the much-needed boundaries started flowing from the lazily elegant batsman’s blade at regular intervals. The fifty came up in just 31 deliveries for the youngster who was on a mission to absolve his captain of the sin of painstakingly slow batting that day (Imran had scored 44 runs after facing a whopping 93 balls) and he did so, up to an extent. 87 runs had already been knocked off by the pair in a matter of just 10 overs; when a moment of brilliance from Chris Harris while, at the same time, callousness from the young batter resulted in Inzamam registering his first-ever (of many more in the future) run out when Pakistan needed 36 runs from the last five overs.
Javed Miandad (57*) and Moin Khan (20* off 11) made sure that Pakistan crosses the hurdle in the penultimate over itself.
A 22-year old batsman showing maturity beyond his age in attacking the opponent was a very rare occurrence in those days. Not only that knock helped Pakistan to romp into the finals but also instilled a self-belief among the players that they can win from any situation whatsoever.
Imran Khan had every reason to be madly sprinting wherever he liked as he was on the cusp of becoming only the second Asian captain to lift the World cup trophy and all that had happened because a new Pakistani batting sensation, nicknamed Inzi, had announced himself in the cricketing arena and that too in some style.