The wait is over. The Aussies are finally back in Pakistan after almost a quarter of a century.
Pakistan fans all over the world are excited, more so, in the aftermath of last October’s successive tour cancellations by New Zealand and England at the very last minute over “security concerns”.
Things have taken a positive turn thereafter. Not only those “concerns” proved unfounded, the security and the sporting environment in Pakistan improved dramatically ever since.
Successful visits by the West Indian squad as well as the resounding success of the 7th edition of the Pakistan Super League have all proven the PCB and the government’s assertion that Pakistan is totally safe for all kinds of international sporting events.
Judging by the top class performances of the present young Pakistan squad and the dominating performance by the Aussies in the recent months, one could expect an exciting series.
The anticipation and arrival of the Aussies has rekindled memories of another tumultuous tour back in 1994 that I happened to cover up close across Pakistan. Despite some memorable contests on the field, that tour continues to haunt the two teams thanks to the ghosts of the match fixing, laid bare by the Australian spinners Shane Warne and Tim May the following year after I had broken the story from South Africa in January 1995.
Recently I came across a video clip of ace leg spinner Shane Warne in which he recalled getting approached by the then Pakistan captain Saleem Malik in the middle of the first Test at Karachi. Warne said Malik had offered to pay 200,000 USD to him and Tim May to bowl outside the off stump in order to force a draw. “We cannot lose this Test in Pakistan, otherwise our houses would get burnt”, Warne quoted Malik.
Warne says he reported the matter to his captain Mark Taylor, who ironically had a pair of ducks in that game which also was his Test as captain, manager Bobby Simpson and John Reid, the ICC match Referee, from New Zealand.
Pakistan eventually went on to win the Test by one wicket on a thrilling note on the fifth day as Ian Healy missed a stumping chance off Inzamam-ul-Haq who had led a remarkable fightback with Mushtaq Ahmed with an unbeaten last wicket partnership of 57.
Being the only print media reporter from Lahore who had specially flown in to cover that game at the National Stadium, I was seriously taken aback to hear Warne’s side of the story.
What struck me the most was the fact that the very same evening referred to by Warne, when Pakistan were very much alive in that Test at 155/3 while chasing 315, there was a Press Conference following allegations by former medium pacer Sarfraz Nawaz suggesting he had credible information the bookmakers were trying to influence the outcome of the match.
As someone who until then had very close friendly relations with the captain Salim Malik and the rest of the team members, I was getting appalled at the condition of the captain and the manager Intikhab Alam as both were mumbling for answers to the stinging barrage of questions by my Karachi media friends. At that point, I honestly felt they were being targeted unfairly over mere allegations by a loud-mouthed Sarfraz Nawaz, notorious for making controversial statements.
Watching Arif Ali Khan Abbasi, the BCCP ad-hoc committee member who was practically the chief executive of the board, step outside briefly, I stopped him at the door and asked “Chief, do you believe your team members are innocent?”.
“Yes, I do”, replied Abbasi.
“Alright, so instead of sitting there silent, why don’t you go back and tell everyone that you stand behind your captain and the team”, I told him.
Abbasi nodded, wasted no time, went back to the room and did exactly the same in the most unequivocal terms, saying he had full faith in his captain and team.
However, if Warne’s recent claim is true, the “offer” he received from Malik was made the very same night of that Press Conference I’ve referred to after the fourth day’s play at the Karachi Pearl Continental Hotel where the two teams were staying. If so, Malik sure had ‘some’ guts to have made such an offer to an opponent player in an environment when allegations of a compromised match had already surfaced and the media was questioning him over allegations.
People do tend to mix up time, events and sequence of details. Shane Warne is no exception. The events he mentioned recently have all been documented before and are part of one of biggest, most shameful scandals in the history of the sport.
Malik ended up paying a heavy price for his mistake in the form of a life ban while most of his team mates were let go despite being accomplices in one form or the other.
Recalling the Karachi Test match, it was an outstanding, thrilling contest otherwise. Pakistan conceded a 58-run lead but then fought back hard in the second innings with Wasim and Waqar sharing nine wickets between them. Set to chase 315 to win, Pakistan were apparently in a decent situation at stumps on the fourth day with an in-form Saeed Anwar standing at 67 along with night watchman Akram Raza.
Saleem Malik, himself, battled hard the next day with a resilient 43 following the dismissal of Saeed Anwar but it was Inzamam-ul-Haq who won it for Pakistan with his solid 58 after finding a defiant partner in last man Mushtaq Ahmad who thwarted the Aussie attack for an unbeaten 20.
The victory, as happens so often, silenced the critics and everyone moved on. Despite the claims of an unethical offer by Malik, Shane Warne and the rest of the Australian squad remained hushed throughout the remainder of the series, which by the way also included a Triangular event featuring South Africa.
A fairly decent-sized Australian media corps — whom I personally looked after during trips to Lahore and Peshawar, arranging visits to Khyber Pass and the Torkham border with Afghanistan, thanks to my organisation The Frontier Post – had no clue either of any such approach to Shane Warne.
Some of the big names from the Australian media on that tour were renowned cricket writer Mike Coward, Trent Bout of The Australian, Greg Baum of The Melbourne Age and radio journalist Peter Walsh from The ABC. Such was the importance of the series between the then World Champions and the Aussies, that The Telegraph London had sent in it’s cricket correspondent Peter Deeley for extensive coverage instead of relying on the agency bulletins.
Australia based Sri Lankan origin reporter Ihtisham Kamerdeen, who was covering the series for the Associated Press, and was affectionately referred to as “The Hitman” by his colleagues also happened to be there.
The colleagues who covered almost the entire series from Pakistan besides myself included the most prominent photo journalist Mueenuddin Hameed from the Jang Group, veteran England-based cricket correspondent Qamar Ahmed and PCB’s current Director media Sami Burney, who at that time used to work for Dawn. None of the above-mentioned guys, however, got a wind of what had transpired at Karachi.
Having met Warne and Mark Waugh at the team hotel, with some Pakistani players, my next private encounter with the Aussies happened at a party hosted by a close friend in Islamabad before the second Test at Rawalpindi. There was no indication or chatter, whatsoever, until then suggesting something unusual had taken place during the first Test.
Ironically, Saleem Malik, whom even to date I consider a shrewd captain and one of the best batsmen ever produced by Pakistan, was in prime form during that series. With Shane Warne dominating the first Test through his eight wickets at Karachi, Malik was in no mood of letting the leggie dictate terms to him.
A master at playing the spinners, Malik fell to paceman Craig McDermott for 33 in the first innings with Pakistan yet again conceding the lead after the Aussies had piled on a massive 521/9 declared. Opener Aamir Sohail top scored for Pakistan with a customary, highly entertaining 80 off 83 deliveries followed by Wasim Akram’s unbeaten 45.
After getting forced to follow-on, the Pakistani batting line-up woke up, amassing an impressive 537 in the second innings. With openers Saeed Anwar and Aamer Sohail scoring 75 and 72 respectively, Saleem Malik found his masterly touch, amassing a massive 237 to literally take the game away from the tourists.
Shane Warne struggled throughout that match. His only wicket was Inzamam-ul-Haq in the first innings. Malik played him with ease in the second innings as Warne remained wicketless after conceding 60 odd runs off his 16 overs. Mark Taylor tried everything in his armour and made his entire team bowl in the second innings, the only exception being the wicketkeeper Ian Healey. The match ended in a draw. Pakistan keeper Rashid Latif took advantage and bowled a couple of overs as it was obvious there was no chance of a result.
The third Test at Lahore was a do-or die for the Aussies. Pakistan made several changes to the squad, resting ace bowlers Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis besides replacing wicket keeper Rashid Latif with Moin Khan, who made the most of his recall with an outstanding, unbeaten 115 to lead Pakistan to a safe 373 in the first innings.
The formidable Australians who were determined to level the series battled hard to take the first innings lead with leftie Michael Bevan, playing his first Test series, top scoring with 91, his third fifty in four innings.
They made early dents into the Pakistan second innings by sending back Basit Ali, Saeed Anwar and Inzamam-ul-Haq for 60. Saleem Malik, continued his outstanding form and tore the Aussie attack apart in yet another classy 145. The most memorable part of the game was the return of Aamer Sohail from the hospital with a fractured finger to score an unbeaten 100 at number six, shattering all hopes of a series equalizer by the touring party.
I was part of a three-member jury that picked up the Man-of-the-Match and the Men-of-the- Series awards. The other two members were Mike Coward and Qamar Ahmad. With his massive series aggregate of 521 runs, the captain Salim Malik was a no-brainer from Pakistan.
Shane Warne was the Man-of-the-Series for Australia for his 18 wickets. My vote, however, went for Michael Bevan, who had made his Test debut earlier and had scored three massive fifties out of his four innings. I, somehow, felt he deserved the award more considering he was a debutant.
The 1994-95 series left lasting memories that are still fresh in vivid details in one’s mind. One of them was an invitation to be a part of a special meeting between the legendary Abdul Qadir and Shane Warne at the Pearl Continental Hotel, Lahore.
The other two journalist present in that memorable first meeting between the two greats were my dear friends Shahid Sheikh, Editor Sports of Daily Jang, Lahore, and Adnan Sipra, the son of celebrated sports writer Imtiaz Sipra, who was a very smart, capable cricket writer himself, working for The News, Lahore at that time.
I still remember the expressions on Warnie’s face as he talked to his icon that afternoon. We got the impression that it was a dream-come-true for Shane Warne, or at least he made us believe so for such noticeable was his fascination upon seeing the maestro.
The late Abdul Qadir was as great a person as he was a master leg-spinner. He was all praise for Shane Warne instead and shared his knowledge with the then emerging great.
One truly hopes this series would be memorable for all the right reasons, with the two teams producing some top-notch cricket, bringing the fans and the two countries together.
Note: This article was written before the sad demise of Shane Warne.