On Friday at London’s Kennington Oval, Pakistan will begin their attempt to win another major trophy on British soil. The stadium, having historically tormented bowlers of all caliber, is well known for its flat batting tracks. Despite the obvious association with flat tracks to Pakistani success, the Oval has not been a happy hunting ground for the men in green. Out of the eight games played, Pakistan have only managed to win two, with the other six all ending in defeat.
Their opponents, West Indies, on the other hand, have seemingly won the ground their favour in the fifty over format. Pakistan and West Indies have knocked heads twice, with the Caribbean giants coming out victorious both times in during their glory days in the late 70s and early 80s.
West Indies, major favourites for the 1979 world cup, came up against a resilient Pakistan team in the semi finals at the Oval. A top order, consisting of Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, and Viv Richards, managed a commanding 293. It would have been much more had it not been for Asif Iqbal’s stunning four wicket haul. Pakistan, in reply, with two of their own legends, Majid Khan and Zaheer Abbas, put on a 166 run partnership for the second wicket. The cup’s biggest upset was on the cards. But, after Colin Croft took out the two set batsmen, and a young Javed Miandad - all in the span of 11 runs - Pakistan’s hopes were shattered. West Indies went on to win the World Cup.
West Indies 293/6 (Greenidge 73, Asif Iqbal 4-56) beat Pakistan 250 all out (Zaheer Abbas 93, Majid Khan 81, Croft 3-29) by 43 runs.
In 1983, with a stellar West Indies lineup (two time world champions), it would always be difficult for Pakistan to secure victory and set up a date with India in the World Cup final. They were put to the test by some devastating bowling by pacy quartet Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, and Michael Holding. Mohsin Khan’s resilient 70 came at a meagre strike rate (below 40), and when Zaheer Abbas (30 of 38 balls) was dismissed Pakistan stumbled to a mediocre in their 60 overs. West Indies, in reply, after the early setback of Gordon Greenidge, barely struggled. A Viv Richards classic, aided by a half century from Larry Gomes, closed out Pakistan at the same stage and stadium as four years before.
West Indies 188/2 (Richards 80 not out, Rashid Khan 1-32) beat Pakistan 184/8 (Mohsin Khan 70, Marshall 3-28) by eight wickets.
Despite the historical imbalance, much has changed since West Indies’ hayday. Pakistan’s last official visit to the Oval was in 2010 in one of their most impressive displays in recent cricket history. 2-0 down and the spot fixing tragedy still fresh in their memory, Pakistani’s were down and dejected, and it seemed cricket was becoming more of a chore than a passion. However, after fighting knocks from youngsters Fawad Alam (64) and Asad Shafiq (40), Pakistan managed a respectable but below par 241. No one knows what was said during the innings break, but the fight, passion, and brilliance that’s associated with the Pakistan bowling attack came through. The hero was Umar Gul. In a magnificent display, his 6-42 spelt misery for England as the series stayed alive and Pakistan won a match in the most testing of circumstances.
The Oval was also venue to Pakistan’s warm up match against South Africa where the Proteas were humbled by a young and fresh Pakistan attack (who are of course without Umar Gul due to injury). Despite it being just a warm up, Pakistan’s batsmen, too, were unusually clinical in disposing South Africa’s fancied attack.
History may not be on their side, but all the signs suggest Pakistan are ready to correct their Oval woes. Perhaps the British batting paradise will rightfully be associated with Pakistani success after this summer’s Champions Trophy after all.