In the city of Bangalore, the captain of a touring team arrived. His mission was simple: to topple India on their own patch. To this end, the visitors stocked their squad with the best spinners their country had to offer.
This team had not won in India for a long, long time. The two sides were fierce cricketing rivals going back decades. Their previous encounters had been marked by several controversies – not all of them of the sporting variety. Watching them, one might be convinced there was genuine animosity between the two.
This captain, of course, was Imran Khan.
Steve Smith was unsuccessful in his recent attempt to claim Bangalore [now, Bengaluru], but thirty years ago this week, Imran managed exactly that. After four drawn Tests played against the backdrop of fresh concerns on the border, a deliberately underprepared pitch was the literal ground on which one of the greatest-ever Test matches was played.
Electing to bat first, Pakistan were knocked over for a first innings total of 116. The spinners Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed then restricted the home side to a lead of just 29 runs. Eventually, India were set a target of 221. By this time, with the pitch behaving diabolically, it seemed a tall order.
Eighteen of the twenty Indian wickets in the Test fell to spin even as Sunil Gavaskar batted superbly for his 96. It was, however, not enough. Pakistan won the game by 16 runs to claim their first series win in India and returned home to a welcome befitting the significance of what they had achieved across the border.
India had won two of their previous five series heading into this encounter against their next-door neighbours. In this sequence, they had won their first series in England for 15 years, drawn in Australia and gained some measure of revenge for defeat in Sri Lanka by beating the islanders 2-0 at home.
Pakistan were in the midst of a tough run, with a tour to England and the World Cup among their upcoming fixtures. They, too, had won two of their last five series and in their most recent assignment had held the great West Indian side at home. Pakistan also beat India 5-1 in the ODI series that took place alongside the Tests.
As Rajiv Gandhi and General Zia-ul-Haq entered conference over the military impasse in Rajasthan and Kashmir, India and Pakistan plodded their way to four drawn Tests, meaning the side’s last eleven Test encounters had now ended without a winner.
To combat the falling attendances, the Chinnaswamy pitch was left underprepared in hope of producing that elusive winner. Pakistan reintroduced the fit-again Javed Miandad and Tauseef Ahmed, while seamer Saleem Jaffer was also included.
The great Abdul Qadir was the man replaced – he had managed only four wickets in the series. India made one change, preferring all-rounder Roger Binny over spinner Gopal Sharma.
MANINDER’S FINEST HOUR
Kapil Dev struck early to remove the openers but Pakistan, instead of grinding it out, responded with batting that came down on the wrong side of the line dividing brave and reckless.
India’s left-arm spinner Maninder Singh picked up his best figures of 7-27. The metaphor of a ‘knife through hot butter’ comes to mind here, an appropriate turn of phrase to describe the young man grabbing four wickets in just thirteen deliveries.
From being 60-2, before Maninder removed Miandad, Pakistan lost eight wickets for 56 runs and crashed to their lowest-ever total against India. As many as four batsmen failed to score at all, and Saleem Malik top-scored with a 60-ball 33.
In reply, India battered Imran and Wasim Akram for a combined total of 35 runs from their seven overs. Tauseef then promptly bowled the top three, but the home side were 71-3, just 45 runs behind with seven wickets in hand. When Dilip Vengsarkar, so brilliant in England the previous year, steered India to 126-4, they looked on course for a big lead.
But when on exactly 50, the Mumbai batsman’s error in playing Tauseef only took him as far as the hands of Manzoor Elahi, and the Indian batting crashed. Tauseef and Qasim claimed the last five wickets for only 19 runs. India’s lead was only 29. None of those who followed Vengsarkar reached double figures.
PAKISTAN STEAM AHEAD
Perhaps with the caprice of their first innings still fresh in the mind, Pakistan set about building a target with greater discretion.
Imran’s gambit of pushing Miandad up the order to open with Rameez Raja brought the sides to parity and Raja ended up top-scoring with 47. Malik matched his first innings score while Qasim (26; promoted to number five) and Imran (39) chipped in with handy scores.
Crucially, Maninder struggled to repeat his first innings heroics. When discussing the game years later, the spinner, who was once one of India’s most spectacular young talents, speculated that the pressure to (figuratively) deliver and the almost-constant presence of teammates in his ear suggesting where to bowl transformed his task into a bigger challenge than before.
Bowling nearly 44 overs, Maninder could only take 3-99 this time. Ravi Shastri took four wickets of his own and Pakistan, for all their improvement, were 198-8 after Kris Srikkanth caught Imran – a lead of just 169.
Tauseef then joined wicket-keeper Saleem Yousuf to raise the biggest, and perhaps most vital, stand of the game. A ninth-wicket partnership realised 51 runs, of which Tauseef contributed just 10 (from 62 balls). Yousuf remained unbeaten on 41 when Maninder dismissed Jaffar for a duck. The target for India was 221.
THE CHARGE OF THE GAVASKAR BRIGADE
On a pitch that was by now spitting tacks and breathing fire, this was no easy task. Akram went wicket-less in the first innings, but here he struck two vital blows.
The left-arm quick trapped Srikkanth in front for 6, before getting Mohinder Amarnath caught behind the very next ball. Vengsarkar was then bowled by Tauseef for 19. By stumps on the third day, India were 99-4. Gavaskar had reached his half-century by this point: he was batting on 51 with Mohammad Azharuddin.
Qasim and Tauseef plugged away for 82.5 overs between them but as it had happened so many times before, this was Gavaskar’s moment once again.
Exercising masterful technique and sagacious discretion against two quality spinners on an unforgiving minefield, the little master hit eight fours on his way to an eventual score of 96 off 264 balls. No player on either side came close to him in that game.
Even at 37, Gavaskar’s footwork was crisp enough to best the devilish turn. Playing his final Test, the brilliant opener took India to the very threshold of victory. He did it almost entirely by himself too; Qasim punished the rashness of Shastri (4) and Kapil (2) with dismissal. Azharuddin added only 19 runs to his third-day score and yet it was enough to make him the third-top scorer – behind Mr. Extras with 27.
Gavaskar mined precious runs from solid rock and his patience and timing had no equal. After batting for almost five-and-a-half-hours, and with Test hundred number thirty-five in sight, one of Qasim’s deliveries jumped off a good length and had Gavaskar caught by Rizwan-uz-Zaman at slip.
India were still 41 runs away. Binny (15) hit one over the rope in desperate pursuit of victory, but the life had been eliminated from the batting. Tauseef had Binny caught behind and then bowled Shivlal Yadav to complete a win by 16 runs – their seventh against India and only their third series win away from home.
Pakistan were greeted by a joyous crowd on their return home – one that extended from the airport to the heart of Lahore. They went on to claim series victory in England and, along with India, reached the semi-finals of the 1987 Cricket World Cup held in the subcontinent.
India have only lost three Test series at home in the thirty years since this one. After Pakistan, it was 13 years until Hansie Cronje’s South Africa won 2-0 in India.
It may seem that the Pakistan selectors pulled off a masterstroke by sidelining Qadir for this game, but it is arguable that the leg-spinner, who had received little assistance from pitches in the preceding games, could have performed at least competently on a helpful Bangalore surface.
Imran certainly seemed to think so. The two spinners equitably split the wickets in Bangalore among themselves – nine apiece – but upon the team’s return to Pakistan, Qasim was informed that his services would not be required for that summer’s tour of England. He only played a further six Test matches for Pakistan.