Flash Back: Test Cricket in the 90’s

Ahead of Pakistan's 400th Test match today, the author relives glorious moments from Pakistan Cricket during the 90's.

I was around 8 or 9 years old when I started watching cricket. It was the early 90’s and the likes of Imran Khan and Javed Miandad were still around. Pakistan Television (PTV) back then wouldn’t provide live coverage to all the matches and therefore, to receive updates, fans like myself had little choice but to rely on radio commentary. For a lot of young people in the country one day cricket was the real thing but then there were crazy ones like me for whom even Test Cricket was equally entertaining.

I remember reading this English magazine called, “The Cricketer” and I remember looking up in the records to see how Pakistan had fared against different opponents. The fact that Pakistan had lost more Test matches than it had won against the likes of West Indies, Australia and England was something I wasn’t happy about. Even though, I was really proud of the fact that we had done really well against the arch rivals India; just before going to sleep every night, I would still wonder how many more years before Pakistan would be able to turn the table against its other opponents.

However, as time passed priorities changed and records didn’t matter much. Still, yesterday (a day before the first Test match against the Windies in UAE) for reasons that even I don’t understand I felt like looking up in the record books again. Well, it was depressing to note that Pakistan’s record has gone from bad to worse against Australia and England. Even South Africa seems to have given us a very tough time in the recent years but for someone who has seen the West Indies beat Pakistan day in and day out during the years 1992-93, it was particularly pleasing to see that we have finally earned a better head to head record against the Windies.

Still, who really cares! It is not the records that worry anymore but it is certainly the memories that matter. So because I really feel like revisiting my childhood and my early teenage I write this article to share with you an account of Pakistan’s top 3 memorable Test series performances that defined cricket for a Pakistani fan during the 90’s.

1. Pakistan vs England (1992)

Imran Khan had just retired following the World Cup and Miandad had taken over as the captain for Pakistan’s tour to England. The year was 1992. There was no live coverage on TV and therefore, I would listen to radio commentary and then watch highlights the next day.

The first Test match ended in a draw but the second turned out to be a cliff hanger. The two Ws (Wasim and Waqar) not only bowled England out of the game but also batted exceptionally well during a match winning partnership.

However, the victory celebrations were short lived as the English press came up with ball tampering allegations. The entire summer then, was marked with a controversy that became a source of unity for the Pakistani dressing room and resulted in a 2-1 victory for Team Green.

2. Pakistan vs New Zealand (1994)

1993 was not very good for Pakistan cricket as the team didn’t win much and the year ended with a massive revolt against Wasim Akram who back then was leading the side. Subsequently, he was replaced with Salim Malik for the tour to New Zealand.

I was a fifth grade student then and I remember that the opinion in the class room was divided. Half the boys in the class (including myself) believed that Waqar Younis must have been at fault and that he shouldn’t have led the revolt. The other half believed that Wasim Akram was not a good captain and deserved what he got. There were others (conspiracy theorists) who believed that Salim Malik must have played a role in the entire episode.

Nevertheless, both in the ground and in my classroom the focus was more on Wasim vs Waqar rather than Pakistan vs New Zealand. The competition between the 2 Ws was fierce and it was the Kiwis who had to pay for it. Pakistan won the first two test matches convincingly and thus, the series 2-1.

During the Test series Wasim was the highest wicket taker – a fact because of which those favouring Waqar faced a lot of flake over arguments during the lunch breaks.

Among fools like us however, I remember, there was one wise kid who prophesied, “They will be friends again and you will keep fighting like dogs for the rest of your life.” As it turned out, he was right and the “fight like dogs” reference still hurts a little.

3. Pakistan vs India (1998-99)

The year was 1999. I was into my teenage and had started playing club cricket. Pakistan was to tour India following a disastrous home series loss to a low key Zimbabwe team. Rumors of revolt against another captain (Amir Sohail) were making headlines. Eventually, Wasim Akram was handed over the captaincy for the fourth or the fifth time.

We weren’t very hopeful of a good performance, still, it was India and nobody in Pakistan wanted to lose. Test cricket was at its level best during the series. The scenario would change every session.

Pakistan were bowled out on the first day of the first Test match in Chennai for only 238 runs. However, Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq led the bowling attack and ensured minimum damage. India could only secure a meager lead of 16 runs before Shahid Afridi joined the party to score his first Test century. The joy was however, short lived as a familiar batting collapse meant that India had to chase a total of 270 runs only.

Pakistan was able to take the first five wickets quickly but then a partnership between Sachin Tendulkar and Nayan Mongia made things difficult. With less than 100 runs to go I was desperately waiting for a wicket to fall but Moin Khan (the wicket keeper) missed a simple stumping chance. Frustrated and angry I decided not to watch the game anymore and went for a practice session in the club that I used to play for.

Everyone in the club was extremely disappointed. Nearly everybody wondered if the match was fixed. In the evening however, while having tea at a dhabba we were offered free Jalebis (sweets) and were told that they were being served because Pakistan had beaten India by 12 runs!

The joy was short lived again as in the next Test match Anil Kumble took 10 wickets in an innings to ensure an Indian victory and a 1-1 result.

The next Test match in Eden Gardens, Calcutta was part of another tournament (Asian Test Championship). There was unfinished business between both sides and the euphoria was sky high.

Nearly anyone who watched cricket during the late 90’s would remember a young Shoaib Akhtar bowling Dravid and Tendulkar out to announce his arrival at the international arena in that game. Eventually, Pakistan managed to win the Test match and with it the hearts of millions of fans back home.

This whole reminiscing makes me reflect that we are quick to criticize Team Green whenever they lose. However, just before they play their 400th Test match today, I guess the time is right to thank them all for allowing us some fantastic memories over the years!