The mid-pitch conference at Sharjah lasted at least twenty seconds. Javed Miandad, one hand on hip, one on bat, lush moustache dominating face, now remembers remarkably little of it. 'It was one of those nothing ones, where you just hang around, catch a breath,' he says. The conference the ball before had been, he believes, the crucial one. 'That was when I had told him that we have to take a single, no matter what.'
'Him' remembers it differently, as perhaps he would. Tauseef Ahmed--no off-spinner so resembled Lionel Ritchie--wasn't even supposed to be there. The wicketkeeper Zulqernain had been sent above Tauseef, after Ramiz Raja told captain Imran Khan that he hit big sixes in club games in Lahore. He could, but he didn't--despite Tauseef telling him to go for a single to get Miandad on strike just before he went out--and when he was bowled attempting one of those sixes, two balls were left, five runs needed.
Tauseef's memory is sharper, and in it, he inverts what Miandad wrote in his autobiography. Perhaps his children believe him. 'I told Javed when I came out that we simply had to take a run no matter what, even if the ball went to the wicketkeeper. Javed asked me whether I was sure, and I said we don't have a chance otherwise.' So Tauseef bunted towards cover and ran. Mohammad Azharuddin, one of the world's best fielders, ran in, picked up and missed the stumps from no more than four feet.
Then came the mid-pitch conference. 'He came to me and asked me, "What do you think he'll try to do?''' continues Tauseef. 'I said he'll definitely go for a yorker. Javed said, "Yes, and that means it could also become a full toss if he doesn't get it right." In any case, Javed was standing out of his crease a little.'
Nineteen years later, on a train ride from Visakhapatnam to Jamshedpur, a group of Indian and Pakistani journalists sat in a berth with Chetan Sharma, once cricketer of India and planner of that yorker, then reporter for Zee TV. The journey was twenty-seven hours in the middle of a hectic tour, so talk naturally could be of one thing alone. A few beers down, surreptitiously consumed as if he was doing so in a dorm at boarding school, Sharma was the entertainment. Story after story came out, achievements and disappointments, selectorial slights, a*****e teammates, of what is wrong with everything in Indian cricket, the media, the world. Journalists being journalists, especially Pakistani ones, and fond of dealing in misery, there was only one story everyone wanted to hear. It wasn't about Sharma's unexpected ODI century as a pinch-hitter against England. It wasn't even about a World Cup hat-trick. After a cigarette break, it was decided that the question would finally be asked; having held out for five hours, the great, stinking big elephant in the room would have to be poked. Two hours in, an outsider walking by recognizing Sharma, had stepped in excitedly wanting to chat; the journalists felt that could've been the moment but he merely asked about Sharma's hat-trick and left.
Finally, the man from Reuters asked: 'Chetan bhai, tell us one thing… what were you…' Sharma interrupted. He knew this question. He had probably answered it to himself a million times over. 'Arrey yaar, I just wanted to bowl a yorker.'
He wanted to, but he didn't. After the mid-pitch chat, Miandad stood at his wicket looking around the field. He needed four somewhere. He counted fielders around the ground--perhaps hoping it had swallowed a few--and took guard. Had Miandad successfully petitioned God for the ideal delivery, he could not have conjured up a better one; a thigh-high full toss, swinging in to his legs. He put it somewhere in the region of the stands at midwicket, arms raised almost in one motion from finishing the shot, and off he ran. Iftikhar Ahmed, the TV commentator, waited three seconds before concluding: 'It's a six … and Pakistan have won … unnnnbelievable win by Pakistan …' He was calmer than many could hope to be and certainly more than the strangled screech heard just before his voice, a more manic subcontinent predecessor to Budweiser's ingratiating 'Waazzzup'; that it came from the short, round Mushtaq Mohammad, only nominally an impartial expert in the commentary box, is unsurprising.
Like cartoons running away from a building on fire, Miandad and Tauseef hurtled to the pavilion from where a sizeable crowd was already pouring out. Smartly, Miandad--just behind Tauseef--curved away off-screen, while Tauseef went straight into the fans. He was greeted by fast bowling teammate Zakir Khan just before a shurta, local police, seemed to knock him down with his baton, trying to control the crowd. 'No, no, he didn't hit me,' Tauseef busted one enduring comic myth, 'he just bumped into me and knocked me over.'
That one shot was like a mince grinder in reverse. Into that burst went every strand of the transformation Pakistan had undergone over the preceding decade and half; the emergence of a superstar core, the spread of the game, the growing power of the player, the administrative vision of Abdul Hafeez Kardar and Nur Khan, the birth of departmental cricket, the rise of TV, more money. On the other side came out one solid lump of a golden age, the most golden age, in fact, Pakistan has ever had.
Until came the logical conclusion in 1992 of the World Cup triumph, Pakistan were arguably the best side in the world alongside the West Indies. They lost just one Test series till 1993 (and only three in the decade between 1985 and 1995) and won a host of ODI tournaments, not least in Sharjah itself. Until 1999, by which time
they had fallen--but still only lost six series from thirty-six--they remained one of the top sides in the world.
To Miandad, describing the innings is dependent on his mood and bearing. Sometimes it is a simple gift from God. 'Let's take it from the start,' he begins, and he really does. 'I believe in Quran and its verses. I read it right? So I used to always pray to God that in my own field, help me do this one big feat that will always be remembered. This was my prayer.
'I saw there were bigger players before me, who weren't remembered. So I always prayed that I do something big. I used to tell myself, even if I die in the field, I don't care. It's like a soldier dying on duty. It is shahadat (martyrdom). That innings was like a gift to me. I didn't play cricket like that, ever. That match … it was like a film. When I dream, it was like a film whose story has been written and now the film is being made. You cannot imagine one of the best fielders, from a few yards away missing three stumps, that you went in such crisis, wickets are falling, you are saved from a run-out, one four is stopped in last over, last ball finish, where the match was and where it went. This is a gift. To describe it is impossible. This was a gift from God.'
Sometimes he takes recourse in rationality. 'When I started, we'd already lost a few wickets, so the plan was to bat till the end so that even if we lost, we did with some dignity. Gradually, I started taking chances. Mostly I took risks with the running, but I'd hit a boundary and then stop for a few overs, before trying it again. We got to the last 20 overs still needing 9 or 10 per over. That was when I started actively working it out in my head, what we needed every over, where to get it, who to work with. By the time the last ball was to be bowled, I had become a computer: I knew exactly what Chetan was going to do, so I stood well out of my crease. He tried a yorker but being that far out, it became a high-ish full toss and I just swung. As soon as I connected, I knew it was gone.'