The Unpredictables – Part V – 1980s: The Asian Cricket Tigers Take on the World, Episode 1

By Fazal Abbas

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Pakistan as a country has been through a number of highs and lows since traumatic partition in 1947 and its cricket has followed the similar pattern, showing how this sport is embedded in social, political and cultural facets of the country. Initially dispersed, unrecognised, underfunded and weak, Pakistan’s cricket team grew to become a major force in world cricket. If cricket is known for its glorious uncertainties, Pakistan team is even more renowned for its unpredictability. In this series of blogs we shall dig into social, political, cultural and sporting history of cricket in Pakistan.

Read previous parts here:


Part I – 1940s: Partition and Founding Stones of Cricket in Pakistan (1947 – 1950)

Part II – 1950s: Pakistan announces itself to cricket world (1951 – 1960)

Part III – 1960s: The Lost Decade (1961 – 1970)

Part IV – 1970s: Revival of Pakistan cricket (1971 – 1980) [Episode 1, Episode 2]

Part V – 1980s: The Asian Cricket Tigers Take on the World [1981 – 1990]


In a low scoring series against West Indies (WI) Miandad had batted better than most along with Wasim Raja. However he faced acute hostility from senior players, especially his vice-captain Zaheer Abbas. Nevertheless he led Pakistan to tour of Australia in 1981-82.

Revolt against Miandad and start of Imran’s era


Pakistan played 3 tests during the tour and lost series 2-1. However, Pakistan showed great fight in third test in which 6 batsmen made fifties in first innings. Imran bowled fierce spells of bowling and Pakistan won by an innings and 82 runs. Pakistan could manage to win only 4 out of 10 round matches in Benson & Hedges ODI World Series Cup. However, the highlight of the tournament was infamous confrontation between Miandad and Denis Lillee during the first test. Lillee was fined and banned for two ODIs later. Javed remarks were: “We were after all only Pakistan and he felt he could take liberties with us.”


Denis Lillee and Javed Miandad in a fight


Fight between Javed Miandad and Denis Lilee:

Javed Miandad Vs Dennis Lillee – Cricket Fight by shenshah_007

Sri Lanka toured Pakistan in 1981 – 82 and almost 10 senior players refused to play under Miandad’s captaincy. Miandad voluntarily stepped down after second test match. Imran was made captain which bitterly disappointed Zaheer Abbas again. Pakistan won 3-Test and 3-ODI match series 2-0 and 2-1 respectively.

It was a time for revolution in world cricket. One Day (ODI) cricket was gaining popularity day by day though Test cricket was still regarded as foremost and serious cricket. For Pakistan it was start of Imran’s era.

Imran Khan takes over


Imran Khan has been described as an authoritarian. It is true that he demanded and got his own team and selection committees all but became redundant. But he got results and no one could have accused him of being anything but fair minded. He believed in winning and was not afraid to lose. He wanted what he considered the best team. He even sacked Majid Khan, his cousin, from the team believing that the majestic batsman was past his prime. He took the Pakistan team to England in 1982, lost the series 2-1, but not without a tremendous fight that saw Pakistan win the test match at Lord’s in which Mohsin Khan scored a double century and Imran himself showed his development as an all-rounder. The lesson had been learnt. Pakistan was not to lose another test series against England, either in England or at home. Imran set about restructuring the Pakistan team. He was not afraid of raw and inexperienced youngsters and throwing them in the deep end. He believed in ‘on the job training’.


Imran Khan took 7 for 52, England v Pakistan, 1st Test, Edgbaston, 1st day, July 29, 1982. (Source: ESPN Cricinfo)


[Mohsin Khan’s 200 vs England]

The balance of power was tilting. Pakistan cricketers were no longer patronised by dominant white cricketing nations rather they came to be feared and resented. Pakistan provided cricket the flavour which Brazil provided to football. Two discoveries under Imran’s period stand out: swing blowing, reverse swing in particular, and emergence of wrist blowing in form of Abdul Qadir, an artist with the ball.

Abdul Qadir - Prudential Cricket World Cup

Abdul Qadir, the magician with ball


In 1982-83 Kim Hughes brought the Australians and they were thrashed 3-0 and then came India with Sunil Gavaskar as captain. It was Imran’s first real test and he came off with flying colours. Pakistan decimated India, winning the series three-nil. However, by now Imran was experiencing recurring pain in his left shin.

Cricket World Cup 1983


Three months after tour of India the x-rays revealed a huge crack on the shinbone of Imran. He needed a period of rest and recuperation. But selectors insisted on keeping him in the team and he was to play as batsman only in World Cup 1983.


The teams line up at Lord’s before the 1983 World Cup (Source: ESPN Cricinfo)


Pakistan stumbled through the qualifying round. Near the end of the group matches Pakistan needed to beat New Zealand with a good run rate in order to qualify for semi-final. A masterful century by Zaheer and Imran’s 79 not out brought Pakistan on 261. New Zealand gave a tough competition to Pakistan, With help of good deep fielding Pakistan defeated New Zealand by just 11 runs, edging it out on run rate by only 0.08 runs per over.

The victory took Pakistan to a semi-final against their regular nemesis, WI. Pakistan set a target of 185 only which WI strolled to for loss of just 2 wickets. Imran drew fierce criticism back in Pakistan, especially when India won the World Cup with just putting on 183 runs.

However, this world cup had a moment left till the end which would turn out to be one of the historic ones for Pakistan. It was lunch time the day after India’s victory at Lord’s in 1983 when the President of BCCI, NKP Salve was seething over the rejection of this request for four tickets for his party. Salve speculated what would have happened if the final had been held in India. Nur Khan, the counterpart of BCCP picked up the cue instantly: ‘Why can’t we play the next World Cup in our countries?’ The two men put tireless efforts later on to bring the World Cup to Indo-Pak sub-continent.


NKV Salve


Air Chief Marshal Malik Noor Khan


The darkest hour for Imran and emergence of Wasim Akram


Imran skipped Pakistan’s tour of India in 1983-84 and Zaheer captained the team and did well enough to draw all the tests. Imran was back to take Pakistan to Australia but did not play in the first three test matches, still nursing his stress-fractured shin but he played in the last two test matches as a batsman and came close to scoring a century at Melbourne. The captaincy alternated between Zaheer and Miandad.


Zaheer Abbas


Pakistan achieved its first ever series win against England when England toured Pakistan in 1983-84. India toured in October 1984 which proved to be dull series and was called off mid-way due to assassination of Indira Gandhi. New Zealand (NZ) team followed and Pakistan won the test series 2-0. The series was marred by controversies as NZ consistently complained about questionable decisions of Pakistani Umpires.


Ian Botham wonders how to put all his luggage into the car before departing on England’s tour of Fiji, New Zealand and Pakistan, December 28, 1983

Pakistan had a return trip to New Zealand only weeks later, Javed replaced Zaheer as captain and his first move was to insist inclusion of Wasim Akram in touring party, who was performing well in domestic circuit. The third test produced the first great performance by Wasim, only his 2nd match, taking 5 wickets in each innings. However, match ended in heartbreak for him. Pakistan was without Qadir in this match who had a row with Zaheer and was sent home. He muttered threats of retirement but some of his great days were still ahead.

Wasim Akram’s 10 wickets against New Zealand in third test 1984-85

Wasim Akram 10 wickets vs New Zealand 3rd test… by jazbatv
Imran remained under treatment in England during this whole period. He feared his career was over as the proposed treatment was a new invention and very expensive.

The Unpredictables – Part V – 1980s: Asian Cricket Tigers Take on the World, Episode 2