Pakistan began Test cricket in stunning fashion. When they lost their first ever series, against India in 1952, it was by a respectable margin of 2-1. When they toured England in 1954, they managed a 1-1 draw. There can be arguments about whether the England selectors chose the strongest possible XI for all Tests that season, but nonetheless it appeared clear that Pakistan would be a legitimate force to reckon with on the world stage.
However, this initial promise did not lead to a series victory over England - in the following ten series, both home and away over nearly three decades, there were six series wins for England and four drawn ones. While Pakistan had been allocated a full five-match series by England in 1962, the substantial margin of victory by England (4-0) meant that subsequent series between the two teams were reduced to three matches each.
Pakistan had managed to develop a few world-class performers like Hanif Mohammad and Fazal Mahmood, but they struggled to build a side with sufficient depth to consistently beat the top Test nations. By the 1980s, this was starting to change. A close 2-1 loss in England in 1982 was followed by a 1-0 victory at home in 1984, and within a few years there was a genuine belief that Pakistan were the side most likely to challenge the West Indies teams of that era. This was reflected in the 1986 series against West Indies in Pakistan that ended in a thrilling 1-1 draw. This improvement was recognised by England, and Pakistan were invited for a five-Test series for the first time in 25 years.
Pakistan were led by Imran Khan. He was 34, and considered by many commentators to be in the twilight of his brilliant career. He had first been named captain in 1982, but serious injury issues associated with shin splints meant that he hadn't remained captain continuously from that point. Javed Miandad led the team for six Tests in 1985, before Imran returned as captain to lead his side to a 1-0 series win in India in early 1987. The side arrived in England that summer quietly confident of causing an upset. In addition to the considerable all-round skills of Imran and batting genius of Miandad, Pakistan also had a strong support cast that blended both youth and experience, including a young Wasim Akram and spinners Abdul Qadir and Tauseef Ahmed. The batting line-up also looked less shaky than in previous times, with a top order including Ramiz Raja, Shoaib Mohammad, Mudassar Nazar, Mansoor Akhtar and Saleem Malik.
However, Pakistan were not at full strength for the first Test at Old Trafford. Imran led the team, but he had strained a stomach muscle just before the game and played purely as a batsman. Qadir was still in Pakistan with his wife, who was battling illness, and Miandad was short of match practice as he had joined the touring party late due to the birth of his son. As it happened, these disruptions did not influence the final result as poor weather meant that less than 15 hours' play was possible across the five days.
England batted first after Imran won the toss, and compiled 447, highlighted by a patient 166 from opener Tim Robinson. Playing in his 16th Test (he had turned 21 the day before the Test started), Akram took 4 for 111. Pakistan responded with a slightly shaky 140 for 5 before persistent rain forced a draw.
The second Test at Lord's, a bit over a week later, was also affected by rain, and England were the only side to bat. They made 368; Bill Athey rewarded the selectors' faith in him after a lean period by making 123. However, the rain interruptions meant that England did not finish their innings until the end of day three, and with bad weather persisting on day four, Pakistan didn't even get a chance to bat. There were some positives for them, though, ,with both Imran and Qadir - who had now joined the tour - getting an opportunity for a good bowling workout.
The rain made it hard to accurately assess the two teams. The third Test at Headingley, provided significant clarity. After opting to bat, England were bundled out for just 136 in 60.4 overs. Imran (3 for 37) and Akram (3 for 36) led the early carnage, but they were well supported by their third seamer, Mohsin Kamal, who finished off the innings with 3 for 22. In reply, Pakistan were in similar trouble at 86 for 4 when Miandad fell for a duck, but Malik rescued them with 99, and he was supported by the lower order. Akram smashed four sixes in a brisk 43 which helped Pakistan to 353, giving them a lead of over 200.
Imran then claimed both openers before ten runs were on the board. He finished with 7 for 40, giving him both ten wickets for the match and the landmark of 300 Test wickets. Pakistan won by an innings and 18 runs.
A placid pitch and more poor weather dominated the first four days of the fourth Test at Edgbaston, and while the match ended in a draw, the final day was highlighted by an unexpected late push for victory by England. Pakistan had been sent in to bat and Mudassar, who had been promoted to open the batting following a shoulder injury to Rameez, ground out a defiant 124. Miandad showed signs of form in making 75, while wicketkeeper Saleem Yousuf took advantage of being dropped by Ian Botham on 4 in making an unbeaten 91. Graham Dilley, who had been recalled, took 5 for 92.
Pakistan's total of 439 appeared a strong one, but the match was headed for a boring draw when England replied with 521, based on Mike Gatting's 124. Imran again bowled magnificently, taking 6 for 129 off 41.5 overs. The combination of an unresponsive pitch and rain meant that Pakistan had only progressed to 74 for 1 at lunch on the final day. However, an inspired spell of bowling by Neil Foster, in which he took three quick wickets after lunch, tore the game open. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was Imran who led Pakistan's resistance. He batted for over two hours in making a dogged 37, but when Foster returned to dismiss him, Pakistan quickly collapsed to 205. England had a target of 124 in 18 overs; while this would be considered quite achievable in the modern era, back then it was considered unlikely. England made a strong charge, but frequent wickets left them at 109 for 7 and 15 runs short of victory when stumps were called.
England entered the final Test, at The Oval, needing a victory to draw the series. Unfortunately for the home team, Imran won the toss on a good track for batting, and the visitors promptly took full advantage. Miandad was imperious in making a dominant 260, but he was also well supported by centuries by Malik (102) and Imran (118) and Pakistan made their then highest Test total of 708. England's chances of pushing for the series-tying victory had effectively ended, and ultimately they did well to hang on for a draw. They made just 232 in their first innings, with Qadir's mesmerising legspin finally getting an opportunity to shine. He took 7 for 96 off 44.4 overs, which represented nearly 45% of the total overs bowled by Pakistan in the innings. Forced to follow-on, England were again in trouble at 4 for 139 but a fine unbeaten partnership between Gatting (150) and Botham (51) saw the home team through to stumps on day five. In spite of this rearguard action by England, Pakistan still claimed a very meritorious series victory for the first time in England.
The following few years would reinforce this team's claim to being perhaps Pakistan's greatest ever. They went undefeated in Test series from early 1985 until an away loss in Australia in 1990, and boasted series wins over England, India and Australia, as well as two very hard-fought drawn series home and away against West Indies. While the 1987 World Cup campaign ended in the semi-finals, Imran continued both playing and leading Pakistan and ultimately celebrated by raising the 1992 World Cup.
The 1987 England series was not without some controversy, with various accusations of cheating, bad sportsmanship and complaints over umpiring, but these issues are ultimately less important now than the recognition that this series confirmed Pakistan's place as a genuine world-class Test cricketing nation.