Purely in terms of money, the 1992 Pakistan tour of England was, at the time, probably the most lucrative staged. Crowds flocked to the five Tests and five ODIs and takings exceeded the Test & County Cricket Board's expectations, even though three of the Tests did not go into a fifth day.
But it also left a bad taste in the mouth that was to linger for years, with England, especially the tabloid press, murmuring all summer about what they claimed was ball-tampering on the part of Pakistan's fast bowlers, while the Pakistanis took out their frustration on the umpires, both on and off the field.
The series, the first since the infamous home-and-away affairs in 1987 that plunged cricket to a nadir with the Shakoor Rana-Mike Gatting affair, was supposed to be a fence-mending affair. The absence of Gatting, serving a ban for leading a rebel side to South Africa in 1989-90, spared some potential embarrassment. But there was still no shortage of those willing to fan the flames, and England's defeat in the World Cup final in March remained an open sore.
From the off, Pakistan believed they were being dealt an unfair hand by the TCCB in regards to the umpiring, and they had a point. A sensible move would have been to use England's most experienced officials, but the board picked eight different umpires for the five Tests. Bizarrely, John Holder, who had stood as a neutral in Pakistan's 1989-90 series against India and was trusted, was not one of them. Dickie Bird and David Shepherd, the big guns, were also barely used. Pakistan had been accused of this in 1987-88 and it was hard not to feel the English board was extracting some revenge. Either that or they were guilty of almost unbelievable naivety.
An odd, unloved and unrepeated format saw the five Tests sandwiched between the second and third ODIs, ensuring interest never really built for the limited-overs games. England won the first two ODIs, the second ending with an almost inevitable squabble between Javed Miandad and Ian Botham, when Miandad claimed Botham had sworn after dismissing him. It set the tone.
The opening Test, at Edgbaston, was a rain-blighted draw, and then Pakistan won a thrilling game at Lord's by two wickets. But under the surface, tempers were simmering. They all boiled over of the fourth evening of the third Test at Old Trafford.
Roy Palmer, in his first Test, had infuriated the Pakistanis after giving Ramiz Raja leg-before following an at best half-hearted appeal. Perhaps his bigger crime was to be the younger brother of Ken Palmer, the man who Pakistan had vehemently taken objection to in 1987.
When Aaqib Javed let fly a bouncer too many at the hapless Devon Malcolm, Palmer stepped in with a warning for intimidatory bowling. As Palmer went to hand Aaqib his sweater, replays showed it got tangled in his belt, but Aaqib reacted with disproportionate anger, which cost him 50% of his match fee. "I shouldn't have said anything," he later admitted, "but as a fast bowler you get worked up over these things."
Malcolm, meanwhile, was unhurt, although his pride was dented when match referee Conrad Hunte referred to him as being "one of the worst No. 11s in Test cricket".
As Pakistan's captain, Miandad might have been expected to step in to calm things down. Instead he inflamed the situation, openly arguing with Palmer. "Had Imran Khan been captain then, the whole situation would probably have been better handled," Aaqib said. Their manager, Intikhab Alam, hardly helped either, telling anyone who would listen that Palmer was "rude and insulting" and complaining the umpires "looked at the ball very frequently" when Pakistan were in the field.
Palmer suffered a torrid time throughout. "We appealed excessively throughout the match and he didn't like it," said Moin Khan. "We weren't happy, as we thought he was giving wrong decisions. Javed at one time threw his bat down in frustration, so things were boiling over."
In the fourth Test, where England levelled the series, Pakistan's suspicions about the umpiring had substance, particularly when Graham Gooch was run out by a yard at a crucial stage in England's first innings. The anger shown in England at the height of the 1987-88 tour was in every bit replicated back in Pakistan.
The crowd, which was predominantly Pakistani, harangued Merv Kitchen, the umpire concerned. "They went wild," recalled Derek Pringle. "They gave Merv a hard time." They also abused John Major, the prime minister, who was watching.
But by this time England had their minds on the way Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram were getting the old ball to reverse swing. They were particularly clinical when it came to blasting out England's tail. Mutterings became louder when Pakistan secured the series with victory at The Oval, Akram taking 6 for 67. Some said it was little more than sour grapes after a lost series.
"We didn't tamper with the ball," Aaqib said. "In any case, everyone reverse swings it now, so is it tampering? No, we just did it better than anyone else." Pringle supported that defence. "I didn't feel cheated. It was a special thing they had at that time."
England clinched the one-day series 3-0 with two to play, at Nottingham, but the lid came off during the fourth ODI at Lord's when Allan Lamb revealed to a tabloid newspaper that the umpires - John Hampshire and Ken Palmer - had changed the ball at lunch during the England innings. "I've blown the whistle on Pakistan's ball-tampering because they've been getting away with murder all summer. No one has been brave or honest enough to finger them until now." He went on to claim he had alerted the officials to alleged tampering.
A clearly blustered MCC secretary John Stephenson said the outcome of a hearing would be released quickly. What actually followed was a series of contradictory statements, described by Colin Bateman in the Daily Express as "either a mammoth cover-up or a mammoth mistake".
"In the darkness," noted Wisden, "further seeds of mistrust and animosity were sown for the future." Five days later - with allegations, counter-claims and threats to sue for libel still coming thick and fast - the ICC ruled the matter closed without either clearing or convicting Pakistan. To this day the ball has never been released for inspection by the authorities.
As Wisden reflected, "what heightened the atmosphere was principally the media coverage, and that of the British tabloids in particular. When Khalid Mahmood, the tourists' courteous but hard-pressed tour manager, said after the series: 'There is no hostility between England and Pakistan, only in the tabloid newspapers', he was close to the heart of the matter. Relations between the two countries have lacked understanding at most levels, but if the media coverage had been more restrained there would not have been the amount of controversy there was."
What happened next?
- For speaking out and breaking his contract, Lamb was immediately fined an estimated £2000 and suspended for two matches by Northamptonshire; later, at a TCCB disciplinary hearing, he was fined £5000, with costs of £1000, the stiffest penalty of its kind in English cricket to date. This was reduced on appeal, but only to £4000 (half of it suspended for two years) and £500 costs
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Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa