The home record of West Indies in the 1980s was awe-inspiring. In 1987-88, Pakistan arrived to play a team that had not lost a series in 15 years, or a Test in ten. A whole generation had grown up not knowing what defeat meant. The Pakistanis were up against habit as much as anything else. Yet they were the most fancied to turn the tide. Imran Khan, the captain, had been persuaded by the country's President, Zia ul-Haq, to come out of retirement. Javed Miandad, who knew he would not be spoken of in hushed tones if he didn't have a century in the West Indies against his name, was waiting to set the record straight.
"After that series," wrote Miandad, "I finally came to terms with my insecurities about scoring overseas. The comments from my detractors ceased. Imran had always been reluctant to hand it to me as a batsman. But after that tour he did."
These two men were the heroes in a series that ended 1-1, but should have gone Pakistan's way if not for the spotty umpiring in the final Test, when the ninth-wicket pair of Jeff Dujon and Winston Benjamin took West Indies to victory.
Imran finished with 23 wickets, and Miandad made two centuries. Part-time bowlers Shoaib Mohammad and Mudassar Nazar took wickets at crucial times thanks to Imran going by instinct and giving them spells; Abdul Qadir punched a spectator who had been riling him and was forced to settle out of court; and it all ended with the West Indies captain, Viv Richards, in tears.
There was no hint of the drama to come when Pakistan lost the one-day series 0-5. The Test series began in Georgetown, Guyana. West Indies were without Richards and Malcolm Marshall, and were led by Gordon Greenidge.
Imran stamped his name on the series with seven wickets on the first day, including a spell of 4 for 9 in three overs, as West Indies fell for 292. Pakistan ended day two 33 behind, but with six wickets in hand. Miandad, unbeaten on 96 overnight, was immobile on 99 for 38 minutes on the third morning before his first century against West Indies, his 16th overall.
The pace battery comprised Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Patrick Patterson and Winston Benjamin. "I taunted the bowlers," wrote Miandad, "I pointed my chest to Ambrose, 'Try and hit me and I'll show you,' I told him." Benjamin "bowled an over in which he delivered six bouncers. Shoaib came down the wicket to tell me that Winston was deliberately no-balling, releasing the ball some yards past the crease, trying to bowl as threatening a delivery as he could."
In all, West Indies conceded 71 extras, a world record. Pakistan finished with 435, helped by a spirited 62 from their wicketkeeper, Saleem Yousuf. An infected toe prevented Imran from bowling more than two overs in the final session, but the rest day and antibiotics allowed him to play a crucial role on the fourth day, when he dismissed Greenidge and Gus Logie. He then turned to the seldom-used offbreaks of Shoaib, who picked up Dujon and Benjamin off successive deliveries.
"It didn't surprise me when we lost in the first Test," said Richie Richardson, who showed he was a master of logic: "You had two good teams competing, and if one doesn't play too well then the other comes up trumps."
Or, they could both have played well and finished with a draw. As in the second Test, in Port-of-Spain, where Pakistan needed the batting skills of the last man, Qadir, to keep their lead in the series alive. Either team could have won in the final session. Qadir saw out five deliveries from Viv Richards after a second century by Miandad had brought Pakistan to the threshold. Miandad fell with 84 runs needed to win from 20 overs (the target was 372, 71 more than Pakistan had ever made in a fourth innings before).
Richards and Marshall were back for this game, but Imran and Qadir dismissed West Indies for under 200 again in the first innings, giving Pakistan the initial advantage. But Pakistan managed a lead of only 20 runs, and West Indies came into their own in the second innings. Centuries from Richards and Dujon took them to 391 and set up a dramatic finish. Things got tense on day three when Richards threateningly waved his bat at Yousuf after an appeal for lbw off Imran's bowling was rejected by the umpire. The situation was soon defused, though.
When Qadir bowled Marshall, it was his 200th wicket, but Dujon added 90 runs for the last two wickets with Benjamin and Walsh. Again it was Imran (five) and Qadir (four) who were the successful bowlers. With Pakistan chasing, Miandad added 113 for the sixth wicket with 19-year-old Ijaz Ahmed. They finished with 341 for 9.
The final Test was in Bridgetown. "They had threatened to prepare a greentop all through, and when we arrived at the Oval (Barbados), it was a greentop," said opener Ramiz Raja. Pakistan were put in. "Straightaway Marshall shot two bouncers across my head. We were in no mood to be defensive, and both Shoaib Mohammad and I played our shots," Ramiz remembered.
Once again the teams finished the first innings on almost level terms, West Indies making 306 to Pakistan's 309. Shoaib top scored for Pakistan in both innings, and there was a thrilling stand of 67 for the eighth wicket between Salim Yousuf and Wasim Akram, who put on 50 in five overs. Then, attempting to hook Marshall, Yousuf deflected the ball onto his face and broke his nose, leaving Aamer Malik to keep wicket.
West Indies were 198 for 3 when Mudassar dismissed Desmond Haynes and Logie with successive balls. Dujon was run out one run later. The tail rallied, though, and when Pakistan were reduced to 177 for 6 at the end of day three, it seemed all over for them.
On the fourth morning, Imran and Yousuf - who batted with a runner because he was still dizzy from the blow - added 52 for the eighth wicket. By close of play it was even again: Pakistan, dismissed for 262, had hit back to remove Haynes, Greenidge, Richie Richardson, Carl Hooper and Logie. West Indies needed another 112.
Ambrose and Richards fell in the first half hour on the final day, but things were beginning to go wrong for Pakistan. "After Wasim had got rid of Ambrose and Richards, I had Marshall plumb lbw on the back foot to a flipper, but the umpire turned down the appeal," recalled Qadir. Still, when Dujon and Benjamin came together, West Indies, needing another 59 to win, were 207 for 8. If the Pakistanis were celebrating, it was understandable - but it turned out to be premature.
"We would have wrapped up the game but a couple of crucial umpiring decisions robbed us of victory," wrote Miandad. "We would have been successful if it was not for the poor umpiring that spoilt our chances in the end," Qadir agreed. They had surprising support from Benjamin. "I thought Pakistan were a bit unlucky not to have got the benefit of that Dujon bat-and-pad catch," he said.
"I thought that towards the end of the match the umpire was no-balling me unnecessarily, allowing Benjamin to go for big shots," said Qadir, who was also involved in a fracas with a spectator who kept taunting him as he fielded on the boundary. Qadir punched the man and had to later pay US$1000 in an out-of-court settlement.
Benjamin recalled how he, hearing the wicketkeeper telling Qadir, "legbreak, googly, flipper," started repeating the order to himself. Luckily for Benjamin, Qadir didn't change the sequence, and having predicted the googly correctly, Benjamin hit the winning boundary off it.
Wisden said of the series, "The umpiring, except for a few debatable decisions, was good." Imran agreed only in part: "Unfortunately, during the second innings of the Bridgetown Test, we were disappointed. Three vital mistakes went against us."
"It probably represents some of the best cricket that's ever been played anywhere," wrote Miandad.
The final word must belong to Benjamin. "When I saw our captain crying in the dressing room at the end of the game, I realised how much it meant to him. To see the great Viv Richards in tears made me realise what cricket meant to him and how important this win was for West Indies."