Mohammad Ramis recalls the greatest moment of Pakistan's cricket history
It's about 10:15 pm. Some 87,182 fans are in attendance on a stimulating autumn night at Melbourne Cricket Ground. A pleasant breeze is blowing across the stadium and celebrations are about to start throughout the cricketing globe. Imran Khan is on his way to bowl the 599th (legitimate) ball of the match from the Members End. He starts his run-up....gathers some speed....crosses the umpire....jumps....lands and finally delivers the ball. Richard Illingworth, England's number eleven batsman, comes down the track and heaves hard n' high. Rameez Raja, who has all the time in the world to grab it, runs a few yards to complete the catch at around mid-off. Pakistan win their first World Cup beating England by 22 runs and earn the title to "rule the world" for the next four years. Well, that's what happened.
By any stretch of imagination it was a great achievement by a team that only two weeks earlier were, as their captain put it, "at the rock bottom in morale" and had climbed back out of the coffin and was now at the receiving end of resurrected glory.
In Pakistan, it was the 18th of Ramadan and still early evening - about 05:15 pm. Forgetting the approaching iftari (breaking the fast) people came out of their houses to celebrate; it was the jubilation of their lives. Throughout the Holy month they had been praying for their team and now they were proud of their tigers. And why not? Imran Khan's erratically brilliant Pakistan team won their first World Cup final while Gooch and England lost their third. It was a success, a triumph that deserved every bit of wild celebration. Though, there were no champagne bottles popped at the MCG that night, perhaps only due to religious restrictions, but upon their return the players were placed on the highest pedestals of heroism.
Earlier in the day, remembering the baleful potential of rain, and knowing that no one had won a World Cup final chasing runs, Imran had chosen to bat first. At first England prospered. In nine overs Pringle reduced Pakistan to 24 for two. The Union Jack waving fans decided to compete with Melbourne's weather men, and raised placards saying "Weather forecast: England's reigns soon." But the vagaries of one-day cricket can be as baffling as 'English weather'!
Imran and Miandad, the sole survivors in this World Cup of the 1975 tournament, settled down to see off the new ball. Progress was slow: Imran was nine from 16 overs when Gooch spilled a running catch. But even though Pakistan were only 70 halfway through, and Miandad had summoned a runner, they accelerated to add 139 in 31 overs before Miandad attempted a reverse sweep. Soon Imran's strokeplaying protégés, Inzamam-ul-Haq (35 balls) and Wasim Akram (18 balls), took up the fight. Their 52 in six overs brought the runs from the last 20 overs to 153, though Pringle's final over cost just two and saw them both dismissed. Pakistan finished with 249 in their allotted overs and the record Australian crowd that had flocked to the MCG and the millions watching the telecast thought they had a match on their hands.
The start was ominous for England as Akram had the first breakthrough. He forced makeshift opener Ian Botham (0) to grope on the off-stump with one of his classic deliveries that left the batsman after pitching on the middle and off-stump. The caught behind decision didn't seem to please the batsman at all. Alec Stewart who was escaping the judgment for so long finally managed to edge one off Aaqib Javed. Unfortunately, it went straight into the safe gloves of Moin Khan. As if that was not enough, the googly merchant Mushtaq Ahmed rose to the occasion with a superb spell, which had even the free-stroking Graeme Hick in a daze. Eventually, bewildered by a trademark Mushtaq googly he was trapped plumb in front and Gooch followed, sweeping in frustration, to be taken brilliantly at square-leg by Aaqib Javed. With England still requiring 181 from 29 overs, Allan Lamb and Neil Fairbrother rescued their team through a fine partnership. The two put on 72 in 14 overs the match was still very delicately poised.
But the Pakistanis rolled back with a bang. The shrewd captain, Imran Khan brought back Akram in the 35th over and the latter struck the two most decisive blows to virtually seize the initiative. Akram produced a dream spell, one that should not be gauged by the number of wickets but by the virtue of quality and timing under the tension. Two absolutely stunning deliveries changed the course of the match. Bowling over the wicket, Akram first had Allan Lamb (31) with a beauty of a ball that had squared him up. For a split second, one thought Lamb had shown good temperament and technique to cover the stumps adequately. But that was not to be. Even as he was completing the shuffle, the ball swung back so sharply, that it slipped through the gap between bat and pad at lightning speed to leave not only Lamb but also the England camp baffled. For that was one wicket which they didn't want to lose as Lamb - preferred for his experience to Smith, whose fitness was in doubt - had the ability to transform the proceedings with his batting prowess.
A bigger shock was in store for England. One of their most talented cricketers, Chris Lewis - but one who rarely lived up to expectations - came to the crease. A natural stroke maker with the ability to play a long innings apart from hitting the ball with élan, Lewis was expected to the man of the hour. But, the scene was similar. The method and the execution of his dismissal too were a repeat of Lamb's ouster. A huge dipping inswinger shot through Lewis' defence to rattle the furniture, resulting in a roar of appreciation from the huge Melbourne crowd. Akram had done the job assigned him. With a sensational burst of top class bowling, he sent shivers down the spine of England batsmen. Perhaps never in the history of World Cup did a two-wicket burst by any bowler prove as devastating as this one by Akram. Mind you, that was a World Cup in which only four bowlers got Man of the Match awards for their effort. The entire Melbourne crowd was on its feet applauding the great fast bowler for his exceptional combination of pace and swing which brooked no answer from the Englishmen.
Later, the tail threw the bat to no avail. With wickets falling at regular intervals it was only a formality and a matter of time before Imran Khan finally achieved all he had wanted to. The great captain enjoyed an all-round triumph himself with the match's highest score and the final wicket. He dedicated the victory to the cause of a cancer hospital in Lahore for which he was fund-raising in memory of his mother. In his 40th year and nursing a troublesome right shoulder, he declared this as his finest hour and the most fulfilling and satisfying cricket moment of his life, a claim clearly supported by the pictures of him holding the £7,500 Waterford crystal trophy, eyes wide with exhilaration, after the ICC chairman Sir Colin Cowdrey had presented it to him.
After that Imran called it a day but his inspirational role is still alive even today. Before the World Cup he had virtually hand-picked the team, and after the disappointment of losing a key player, pace bowler Waqar Younis, to a stress fracture before leaving Pakistan, and a disastrous start when they won only one in five matches (two of which he missed), he urged them to imitate a cornered tiger before they went on to make it happen - to five successive wins. The Pakistanis reached the giant stadium in peak form, while England looked exhausted. The players who had toured New Zealand unconquered had gradually weakened in the face of constant travel and frequent injury. As Pakistan had picked up, they had been losing, first to New Zealand and then, most embarrassingly, to Zimbabwe. "It's not the end of the world", said Gooch after the match. "We got beaten fair and square".
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