From Hanif to Sobers to Imran to Viv to Wasim to Lara to Yasir: WI-PAK has produced some great memories.
The history of Test cricket between West Indies and Pakistan completed its 60th year in the most recent bilateral series between the two nations, that of 2017. While the series was marked with the swansongs of two of Pakistan’s greats to have played Test cricket, it represents only but a small chunk of the resplendent cricketing history between the two countries. A history that is lidded with innumerable acts of heroism played out by cricketers who have been deemed cricket’s equivalents of goliath and behemoth.
It is only befitting that the very first Test match between West Indies and Pakistan, in Barbados in 1957/58, produced a cricketing episode for the ages – Hanif Mohammad’s incredible rearguard to defy West Indies in their backyard. West Indies’ batting line-up, embellished by the likes of Everton Weekes, Conrad Hunte, Clyde Walcott, and Gary Sobers, to pen down a few, kept Pakistan bowlers in a leather hunt and amassed 579 runs in the first innings. Pakistan, down and out after two days in the field, succumbed with a paltry 106 runs in response. Tragedy loomed ahead with a colossal deficit of 473 runs staring the visitors in their faces. Three and a half days to negotiate with an ever-deteriorating surface ahead, spitting more fiercely with every passing session of play.
This was the setting in which Pakistan’s 23-year-old opening batsman, Hanif Mohammad, thrived and churned out something that was deemed improbable from the very outskirts of the realms of reality. What followed was a remarkable effort that stretched across 16 hours and 10 minutes. The ‘Little Master’ remained not out for nine sessions on the trot, accumulating a magnificent 337 runs in the process. More importantly, it was the time he bided through spells of extreme concentration and conscious efforts of farming much of the strike when batsmen fell from the other end that rescued Pakistan from what originally looked like a certain defeat. Hanif Mohammad’s mind-boggling vigil is part of cricket legend as the longest innings ever played in the history of Test cricket in terms of minutes.
In the same 1957/58 five-match series, history books took a tumble again and gave birth to a megastar, a headliner whose all-round capabilities left an everlasting effect on the global cricketing fraternity. The 21-year-old Garry Sobers had been around the circuit for a good four years. Despite showing loads of potential with the bat and garnering an immense reputation as a seldomly seen pedigree and a genius stroke-maker, he had been unable to translate it into something significant at the international level. Garry Sobers’ moment of reverence came in the 3rd Test at Sabina Park.
In reply to Pakistan’s 328 runs, West Indies commenced their first innings in strong fashion courtesy of an 87-run opening stand between Conrad Hunte and Rohan Kanhai. Little did the visitors know that Rohan Kanhai’s scalp will be the only one they will cherish for a long time. Garry Sobers marched out, and together, the two began to stockpile runs through a spate of masterful strokes, rubbing salt on Pakistan bowling’s injury-stricken wounds. Day three of the six-match Test proved to be catastrophic for the tourists as the West Indian pair continued to pour misery on them. They stitched together an extraordinary partnership of 446 runs - the 7th-highest partnership in Test cricket for any wicket. Conrad Hunte finished at 260, but Garry Sobers stole the ultimate limelight by converting his maiden Test century into a record-beating 365. It remained the highest score in red-ball cricket until Brian Lara bettered it 36 years later.
The red-ball rivalry between West Indies and Pakistan peaked from the mid-1970s and raged throughout the ’80s. This is the same era when West Indies produced a whole battalion of fast bowlers, formidable enough to ravage whole teams. With their ultra-aggressive bowling, they caused mass havoc in the oppositions’ ranks that is akin to the battle of Somme in Wisden’s words. Amidst the devastation that unraveled and the teams that fell to the wrath of the Calypso Kings, Pakistan stood in the way, valiant and undefeated.
While Pakistan lost a home series to West Indies in 1980/81 by a margin of 1-0, they defied the invincible West Indian side thrice in the late ’80s and early ’90s, drawing all three series when other teams were being demolished and overwhelmed. In fact, they were the only team to emerge victorious in a Test match in the Caribbean in the 1980s and were also the only team to avoid a series defeat in the Caribbean between 1974 and 1995. All other touring teams were put to the sword.
Some of the West Indies vs. Pakistan encounters from that age are true epics that have subsumed into cricketing folklore. In the first Test of the first of these three series, in Faisalabad, Wasim Akram and Abdul Qadir routed West Indies for 53 all out in the second innings to clinch a memorable win for Pakistan by 186 runs. This, to date, is the third-lowest total for West Indies in Test cricket. West Indies roared back in the next Test and shredded the hosts’ batting line-up into bits and pieces twice in the game.
Pakistan visited West Indies for a return series in 1987/88, where they kickstarted things with a memorable triumph in Georgetown. The second Test proved to be another classic where Abdul Qadir famously played out five deliveries to save the match for the visitors after they aborted their chase of 372 runs at 341/9. In the third and final Test, the home side was tasked to chase down 266 runs. In their bid to keep their unbeaten record alive and their invincible status intact, Jeff Dujon combined with the tail to churn out a momentous victory for West Indies.
In 1990/91, Pakistan and West Indies cantered to victories in the first and second Tests, respectively. As it had happened in 1986/87, Imran Khan stonewalled in the dying hours of the third Test to rescue the hosts and salvage Pakistan’s reputation.
As the senior lordship hung up their boots and cricketing prodigies and marvels in the shape of Waqar Younis and Brian Lara began to fill up the wings, the West Indies vs. Pakistan duels simmered into a newer expanse. The 1990s were marked by the home team wholly domineering – both Pakistan and West Indies registered comfortable victories in their respective home series during this period. However, the Moin Khan-led side that toured the Caribbean shores at the turn of the century came on the verge of creating history for Pakistan.
With the series locked at 0-0, Pakistan batted first in the third and final Test match at St. Johns. The tourists scrambled to a decent 269 runs on the back of a magnificent Mohammad Yousuf century, his second of the series. West Indies’ riposte was good, and, for once, they were cruising at 214/3 before Wasim Akram returned with a brand-new Dukes ball and wreaked carnage – preying six batsmen for just four runs.
The momentum shifted back and forth throughout the next couple of days before the hosts were left with 72 runs to get on the final day with six wickets in the bag. Pakistan managed to get 5 of those wickets for just 53 runs, with Wasim Akram once again leading the wolf pack with a five-wicket haul to go with his six in the first innings. West Indies captain Jimmy Adams was still in the middle when the last man, Courtney Walsh, trudged out with 19 runs required. The West Indies number 11 was caught at short-leg on the second delivery he faced, which was controversially given not-out on field – one of the many umpiring controversies which marred that tour.
If all of this wasn’t enough drama for a day, let alone a match or a series, Saqlain Mushtaq fumbled a run-out chance at the bowler’s end when both batsmen were strangled at the striker’s. And even this, a remarkable rarity, was not really a rare occurrence in that morning’s play. When West Indies were 188 for 7, they survived another similar scare, and, strangely, it was Saqlain Mushtaq who botched it on that first instance, too. Amidst all the on-field absurdity, the game eventually culminated with West Indies securing a memorable one-wicket victory to seal the series and deny Pakistan their first-ever Test series victory in the Caribbean.
It was a heart-rending defeat for sure, but what has followed since has been two decades of dominance from Pakistan. Since that series loss in 2000, Pakistan has faced the West Indies in 6 Test series, winning 4 and drawing 2. However, the more recent of these series, held in 2017, brought utmost joy to Pakistan fans.
Many legendary leaders from Pakistan, including Abdul Hafeez Kardar and Imran Khan, cannot boast of having this feather in their ever-filled caps. But in his swansong as the chieftain of Pakistan’s red-ball squadron, Misbah-ul-Haq orchestrated Pakistan to their first-ever Test series success in West Indian territory. As has been the case in the rich West Indies vs. Pakistan Test history, this series win didn’t come without its fair share of breathtaking, almost heart-stopping drama.
It was in Roseau in mid-May 2017. West Indies needed 297 runs on day 5 of the third Test to clinch their first series against a top-eight team since 2012. Pakistan were hoping to see off Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, both of whom were featuring in their last Test, with a historic series win. The morning session belonged to the visitors as they rattled the hosts’ top-order within the first hour and made crucial inroads. Yasir Shah then penetrated through the middle-order with twin strikes to put Pakistan on the driving seat, with West Indies reeling at 93/6.
However, there was some gritty resistance put up by the in-form Roston Chase, who was well supported by the lower-order. West Indies’ last three in the line-up faced more than 16 overs and gave them a definite chance of keeping Pakistan at bay and pulling off a dramatic draw. In fact, West Indies’ number 11, Shannon Gabriel, had spent more than an hour at the crease with Roston Chase and brought his side within touching distance of a successful rearguard effort. Nothing Pakistan tried had worked in bringing an end to the pair’s pigheaded resistance.
It, however, all fell apart for the hosts in the ultimate over of the series – a moment of absolute lunacy and self-destruction. Yasir Shah, easily Pakistan’s pick of the bowlers for the series, was brought on to bowl the final set of six to Shannon Gabriel. The field closed in. Possibly perturbed by so many fielders in his eye line and feeling a touch hesitant to dead-bat the ball on the front foot, Shannon Gabriel decided to play one of the most unfathomable strokes in the history of the game.
On a ball that was pitched full, wide outside off, he went for an ugly hoick across the line. It clunked on the inside half of his bat and disturbed the timber work behind him. Roston Chase, stranded at 101*, was left bewildered at the other end. “Why did he do that!?” West Indian commentator Fazeer Mohammed shrieked in despair in the broadcasters’ commentary panel, and so did the souls of Gerry Alexander, Garry Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Conrad Hunte, Vivian Richards, and many other luminaries from the past, you would imagine. For Pakistan, though, it was the mission impossible achieved as they darted towards the overly enraptured Yasir Shah. The most enthralling ending rituals to two marvelous careers as Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, shoulder in shoulder, bowed out.
Another Test series between West Indies and Pakistan now beckons. While the past players, who have added so much flair to this rivalry and enriched it with unforgettable memories, are all but retired, their legacy lives on in the likes of Babar Azam, Shai Hope, Shaheen Afridi, and Jason Holder, among others. And in these individuals, the West Indies and Pakistan fans would hope that the spirit of this fascinating rivalry keeps kindled.