It was the best of cricket; it was the worst of cricket.
Pakistan and West Indies played out a match that will be described as an exciting tie but was considered painfully boring for the first 90 overs of it. Misbah-ul-Haq’s men, who could very possibly have been 3-0 up in this series (or 3-0 down for that matter), will go into the fourth ODI down on morale but equal on the scoring table and perhaps also with Jason Holder’s name etched in their minds.
The events of the third ODI all called to mind two things.
The first was the matter of belief. The same questions that are asked as Chris Froome rides up Mont Ventoux, or when LeBron James rides the elevator to deny Tiago Splitter, were asked. That same question was asked after MS Dhoni did for India versus Sri Lanka as Holder did for the West Indies. That question, of course, is: how do we know this is all clean? It’s a matter of concern that the greatest attribute of sport – the emotional roller coaster that it provides – is seen as too good to be true. Personally, I believe that this was as clean as a whistle. Just looking at those final three overs, each of Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Wahab Riaz, Umar Akmal and Misbah would have needed to have been in on the plot for it to have worked. In fact, going through each and every mistake over the previous 97 overs and you can easily conclude that everyone, including the umpires, needed to be in on the action. And even with everyone involved it would have been nigh on impossible to deliver a tie in that fashion. Just look at the last ball: if Holder connects Windies win, if he misses then its Pakistan’s game, just because he edged it the match turned out the way it did. The fact is that Pakistan eased up as the 8th wicket went down, and as the Windies refused to self-destruct, Pakistan panicked in trying to get back into the zone.
The other, more relevant, aspect was that on the same day as Samir Chopra wrote his ode to Mushtaq Mohammad’s team that went to the West Indies, it was somehow appropriate that the last wicket pair did what they did. Many of us grew up on the stories of nail-biters between these two sides. It goes back to the 1975 World Cup, when a 64- run last wicket partnership between Deryck Murray and Andy Roberts denied Pakistan a victory by scoring the winning runs off Wasim Raja in the final over of the game. IF Pakistan had won that match, they would have just needed to score big and beat Sri Lanka in their last group match to go through to the semi-finals (which they did, beating SL by 192 runs), and West Indies and Australia would have been a playoff for the second berth. Instead the other two went through, met each other in the final, and started a decade long rivalry at the top of the cricket tree. Would Lloyd’s team have been as self-confident if they hadn’t been World Champions? Would Australia, after the World cup final loss, have been as ticked off as they were at the end of the year when they beat the Windies 5-1 in a home Test series; a series which led to Lloyd’s team adopting the ruthlessness of Australia and begin a 20-year domination? How would Pakistan’s history have been if they had won a World Cup even before Imran Khan became a regular in the team? On such fine threads as that Roberts-Murray partnership does the history of world cricket hang.
Pakistan would have their revenge 12 years later, though. After reaching the final in the first three editions of the World Cup, WI failed to qualify for the semi-finals of the 1987 edition. All they needed was one more victory and they would have qualified. That victory could well have been the match at Lahore where Pakistan went into the final over needing 14 to win with the last pair standing. Courtney Walsh would end up conceding those 14 runs (13 of them to Abdul Qadir), and the video of that over would be shown often enough on PTV in the 1990s that those born even after that match have a vague recollection of watching that final over. This was in the middle of a great rivalry (profiled in his unique brilliant way by Rob Smyth here) where Pakistan came as close as anyone to taking the crown from the West Indies. This era also included the match at Port of Spain where Abdul Qadir, the number 11, blocked out the final over from Viv Richards after Ijaz Faqih and Saleem Yousuf had batted for more than an hour for the 9th wicket.
But most famous, and obviously relevant, for all in our generation was one cloudy morning in Antigua. In one corner stood the crumbling but still proud empire of the West Indies – who had lost only one series at home in the previous twenty-six years! They had also staved off the attack from Steve Waugh’s Australia only a year prior to this. In the other corner stood Pakistan’s generation of the 90s looking for the great mark they needed to leave behind in Test cricket. Sure they had beaten every team bar South Africa (mostly in Asian conditions) over the previous seven years (if you consider the 1st Test of the 1999 Asian Test Championship as the 3rd Test of the series against India – as Pakistanis are wont to do), but they had never had a great victory outside the continent. After the loss at Hobart earlier that season, followed by the results of the Qayyum Report, added to the age of that side, it was assumed (rightly as it turned out) that this would be the last hurrah for this generation. A rain affected series came down to the final Test. Pakistan’s Yousuf Youhana-led 269 was countered by Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Jimmy Adams giving their team the lead of just 4 runs. Then, despite the efforts of Inzamam-ul-Haq and Yousuf, the West Indian pace quartet tore through Pakistan to leave them with a target of just 216; in response, Wasim Akram single-handedly kept Pakistan in the game over the 4th day, removing Wavell Hinds on the last ball of the day’s play. But requiring 72 to win with six wickets in hand, the hosts were the favourites. Instead, as was their habit, the Pakistani bowlers turned it up to 11 as they removed five players for 53 runs in the first session and a bit. Then, for the final 19 runs, the walking wicket that was Courtney Walsh somehow survived with Jimmy Adams. That day included a bunch of missed run outs, including Saqlain Mushtaq failing to collect when Walsh and Adams were both at the other end (I am sure Umar Akmal sympathizes), Moin Khan panicking, Wasim Akram bowling like the god of wind injected with steroids (in his last great Test performance), and for a few hours the then-unknown Billy Doctrove becoming the most hated man in Pakistan. We thought he was bent, the following decade would show that he wasn’t – he was just incompetent.
And talking of incompetence we return to yesterday’s match. The decline of these two great historical nations over the past decade or so can best be illustrated by this: after all the names that I have mentioned over the last few paragraphs from Richards and Walsh to Akram and Qadir, it somehow felt appropriate that the match yesterday was decided by Wahab Riaz bowling to Kemar Roach and Jason Holder. O how the mighty have fallen.