Written By: Nadeem F. Paracha
The Pakistan cricket team hasn’t played a Test match against India since 2006. India considers Pakistan to be an unsafe place to tour and has often accused Pakistan of facilitating ‘terrorism’ in Kashmir. Pakistan accuses India of the same, especially after capturing an Indian spy in 2016 who confessed of funding and facilitating terrorist groups in Balochistan and Karachi.
India’s concern that Pakistan is unsafe for cricket is ironic because never has any Indian cricket squad been threatened with violence in Pakistan; whereas it was in India that the Pakistani cricketers were threatened in 1999, 2013 and then again during the 2016 T20 World Cup held there.
One of the most prominent examples in this respect stretches back to Pakistan’s 1999 tour of India where it played 3 Test matches. This was Pakistan’s first Test tour of India after 1987. The relations between the two countries had nosedived in 1998 when both the governments conducted multiple nuclear tests.
In January 1999, a 16-men-squad captained by Wasim Akram landed in New Delhi. The players had not even left the city’s Indira Gandhi Airport when reports of a possible attack on the team’s hotel began to circulate. Newspapers had earlier quoted some members of a Hindu nationalist group in Delhi who said they would storm the hotel where the Pakistani players were to stay and put them back on a plane to Pakistan.
Even though the players managed to make it to the hotel, Shiv Sena activists entered the stadium in Delhi (which was to host the second Test) and dug up the pitch, destroying it completely. Then as the Pakistani players flew to Chennai to play the first game, a Hindu nationalist outfit asked the spectators to stay away from the game because they were going to release hundreds of poisonous snakes in the stands.
After the police closely inspected the stands, the Pakistan’s squad reached Chennai’s Chidambaram Stadium to play the team’s first Test match in India after 11 years. The stands were packed with people, even though security personnel could be seen on the concrete gables above the stands and outside Pakistan team’s dressing room.
The pitch had some grass on it but seemed good for batting. Akram won the toss and elected to bat. Saeed Anwar and Shahid Afridi opened the batting for Pakistan. But with the score at 32, Afridi was squared up by a zippy Srinath out-swinger and caught by Ganguly at first slip. At 41 Pakistan lost Anwar and then quickly collapsed to 91 for 5.
Yousaf Youhana (later Muhammad Yousaf) and wicket-keeper Moin Khan stabled things a bit for the tourists and took the score to 154 when Yousaf was trapped LBW. Moin was joined by Akram and both pushed the score to 214 before India managed to dislodge Moin for a gritty 60. However, Pakistan were eventually bundled out for just 238 an hour before the close of the first day’s play. In this hour Indian openers struck a quick 48.
Pakistan got its first breakthrough in the first session of the second day’s play when Akram removed the stylish Laxman with the score at 67. 67 for 1 soon became 71 for 2 when Akram also removed the second opener, Sadagoppan Ramesh. Almost immediately, prodigious off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq got the prized wicket of Sachin Tendulkar, caught by Saleem Malik. India was now tottering at 72 for 3. Azharuddin went at 103 but Dravid and Ganguly managed to stem the rot and pushed the score past 150 when Dravid fell, padding up to a straight one from Saqlain.
Ganguly’s fifty and some last minute hitting from Sunil Joshi helped India reach 254 (all out), gaining a 26 runs lead. Saqlain picked up five wickets. In its second innings, Pakistan lost Saeed Anwar early and at the end of the second day’s play Pakistan were 34 for 1, just 8 runs ahead.
After the day’s play Akram was quoted by Indian newspapers as saying that Pakistani players were still receiving threats of violence but the team had decided to just concentrate on playing cricket. On day 3 of the Test, Ijaz Ahmed was sent packing very early but Inzamam-ul-Haq and the 20-year-old Shahid Afridi added a quick-fire 92 for the fourth wicket, both sprinting past their fifties in style.
With the score at 139, Inzamam fell but Afridi continued to score freely. He soon posted his first ever Test century. But when Afridi lost his wicket with the score at 279, rest of the batting collapsed. Pakistan were all out for 286. India had 271 to chase with two days of the Test remaining. Now favorites to win the Test, India’s chase began disastrously. Rippers from Akram’s fellow fast bowler Waqar Younus removed the Indian openers cheaply. At the close of the third day’s play, India were reeling at 40 for 2. On day 4, Pakistan reduced India to 82 for 5 by lunch. The Pakistani players were jubilant and enjoyed their lunch. But Akram told a BBC reporter that the political and sporting pressure on his men and him was immense. But now they were sensing a win.
However, after the lunch break, as Tendulkar and Mongia went about repairing India’s innings, Pakistan began to slightly panic. The pair first took India past 150 and then 200. Soon, India just needed 52 to win with five wickets still in hand.
Tendulkar was playing brilliantly; middling the ball and making the Pakistani bowlers (suddenly) look rather ordinary. He quickly reached his century. Mongia began playing his shots as well but with the score at 218 he tried to loft Akram out of the ground but only managed to sky the ball towards Waqar who ran in and held the most important catch at mid-off.
Joshi came in and just blocked, letting a Tendulkar do all the scoring. The pair took the score past 250. Then at 254 India just needed 16 to win and it still had four wickets in hand. Surely, Pakistan was staring at defeat now? It seemed that way until Tendulkar tried to lift Saqlain over mid-on for a boundary. The ball seemed to hang high in the air for ages. Akram ran in and placed himself underneath it and cupped it successfully. A deafening silence descended over the packed stands.
Just two runs later, Pakistan grabbed another two quick wickets, leaving India 14 to get and with just one wicket in hand. The tables were being turned. Srinath and Prasad added two runs and India now needed 12. But Saqlain produced a jumpy off-break to Srinath which the batsman went back to defend. He was successful, but the ball hit the ground and rolled back to hit the stumps. Pakistan won.
It was the most esthetic victory for a team under threat of violence. Even though Pakistan lost in Delhi it came back to post a win in Kolkata. Pakistan’s manager, Shahryar Khan later wrote that this was the tensest and most stressful series he had ever been a part of. He added that relations between the two teams were cordial but the crowds (especially in Delhi and Kolkata) were hostile and threats of violence from Hindu nationalists never stopped. But Pakistan managed to come out the better side.
The writer is a Pakistani journalist, cultural critic and satirist. He is the author of a detailed book on Pakistan’s ideological, political & social history, called ‘End of the Past.’