The 1992 Cricket World Cup had many firsts to its credit. It was the first World Cup with white cricket balls, coloured clothing and black sightscreens. But what dwarfed all the firsts was a second. Yes, I am talking about the winners of the fifth edition of the quadrennial event – Pakistan (it became the second Asian nation to win the World Cup after India had won it in 1983).
The journey from being on the brink of ouster, to lifting the World Cup, is a heady cocktail of luck, resilience, and the never-say-die spirit. Just like human evolution, Pakistan’s campaign at the Benson & Hedges World Cup can be divided into three stages – pre tournament, downfall and resurrection.
Early tournament blues: Pakistan’s tryst with misery started well before the first ball was bowled. Just before the tournament, Waqar Younis, who - in the words of Imran Khan – was bowling at his fastest at that time, had to return home. Then, there were injuries to flamboyant southpaw Saeed Anwar and fiery speedster Ata-ur-Rehman, rendering them unfit for the tournament and delivering a huge blow to their war plans. If that was not enough, Pakistan captain Imran Khan was not fully fit and is believed to have played his matches after taking pain killing injections. As a result, Pakistan had Aamir Sohail, Inzamam-ul-Haq and some unsung others, like Iqbal Sikandar and Waseem Haider, who were never heard of- pre or post the World Cup.
Shaky start: The Pakistani cricket team has always carried the reputation of playing like kings on a day and paupers on the very next. A team abound with talented players but at the same time struggling with discipline. The team lived up to this image perfectly in the initial stages of the tournament. It started its campaign on a disastrous note, losing to West Indies by 10 wickets. Pakistan, which was one of the semi-finalists at the 1987 World Cup, was staring at the ouster, having won just one of their first five matches.
Had it not been for the rain gods and a bit of luck, Pakistan would have been sent home packing. In their round-robin game against England, Pakistan had its back to the walls after being bowled out for a paltry total of 74 and was all set to lose, with England comfortably placed at 24/1 after 8 overs. However, gods connived and a spell of rain saved the day for Pakistan, leaving the match as no result with both teams taking one point each.
Pakistan beat New Zealand in their final league match and scraped through to the semis, edging out Australia which had 8 points, one less than Pakistan.
The ascent: By the concluding stages of the league round, Pakistan began finding its rhythm. A win over previously undefeated New Zealand in their final league game served as an energiser for them and by the time they faced off against the same opponents in the semi-finals, they were bursting with confidence.
The semi-final: The semi-final of the Benson & Hedges World Cup is one of the most memorable games in the history of the event. It was an apt reflection of Pakistan’s never-say-die spirit and its immense self belief. Batting first after winning the toss, New Zealand scored a solid 262 runs. Chasing the total, Pakistan lost wickets at regular intervals, despite batting conservatively, and when Imran Khan and Salim Malik departed, it seemed all lost for the sub-continental giants. With Javed Miandad being the only known batsman remaining at the crease and Pakistan requiring 115 runs in 15 overs at the rate of 7.67, it seemed as if curtains had been drawn for the Imran Khan-led side.
But destiny had better things in store for Pakistan and Miandad, in company of the young 22-year-old Inzamam-ul-Haq, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Haq, a nondescript name in the cricketing world then, announced his arrival on the international arena with a match winning 60 off a mere 37 balls. The win took Pakistan just one shot away from the coveted trophy.
The crowning glory: Pakistan and England faced off at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in the final. After receiving two early blows, Imran Khan and Javed Miandad rescued the team and steadied the innings adding 139 runs for the third wicket. Inzamam (42 off 35 balls) and Wasim Akram (33 off 18 balls) added some quick runs towards the end of the innings and took the team’s total to a competitive 249 for the loss of 6 wickets.
England also got off to a shaky start and lost four wickets with just 69 on the board. Neil Fairbrother and Allan Lamb then started the rearguard action and took England to 141 for 4. Just when they were looking to have recovered, Wasim Akram struck with the wickets of Lamb and Chris Lewis in consecutive deliveries, leaving English at 141 for six.
The writing was pretty much on the wall when Fairbrother was caught by wicketkeeper Moin Khan off the bowling of Aqib Javed with score reading 180 runs. It was a matter of time before Imran Khan wrapped up the English innings, accounting for the final wicket of Richard Illingworth, thus winning the match by 22 runs and sealing Pakistan’s fate as the winners of the 1992 World Cup.