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

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 1Episode 2]

Part V – 1980s: The Asian Cricket Tigers Take on the World [1981 – 1990], Episode 1, Episode 2\

The Shakoor Rana incident – the history repeats itself


The Pakistan-India cricket series are always fuelled with passion and drama, However, ironically there is another rivalry in cricket which has produced more drama and controversies both on and off the field i.e. Pakistan vs England. It all started from the abduction of umpire Idrees Baig in 1955-56 and during England’s tour of Pakistan in 1987-88, the history repeated itself.

England stayed behind to tour Pakistan, a tour whose memory will live in infamy. Even before it began, the tour looked like a mistake. It attracted little interest from Pakistani fans, coming so soon after the disappointment of the World Cup. Still smarting from the series lost in England, it was apparent that there was no love lost between the two teams.

Pakistan won the first test match at Lahore amidst mutterings from the English about poor umpiring. but it was during the second test match at Faisalabad that the tension boiled over. In what came to be known as the Shakoor Rana-Mike Gatting slanging match, there was a hot exchange and much finger-wagging between the umpire and the England captain. Play was suspended the next day because of prolonged parleys centred on the demand by umpire Rana for an unconditional apology from Gatting. The visiting media had a field day as they tried to dowse the fire with petrol! The apology was finally given and play was resumed and the tour continued.


[Shakoor Rana Mike Gatting fight]


England would not play another Test series against Pakistan for five years, and would not visit the country again for thirteen years. The morally troubled England team faced a dismal future in the wake of Shakoor Rana affair. Pakistan, on the other hand, were going from strength to strength, and greatness lay ahead.


Come back of Imran, whingeing Aussies and the tumultuous political arena

Pressure was mounting on Imran to comeback. BCCP formally asked him, he declined. A series was looming against the West Indies and General Zia uttered a personal plea. Eventually Imran was unable to resist. He realised that his campaign for a cancer hospital in Lahore would be better served if he continued in international cricket. Miandad resigned, once again showing extraordinary grace, self-knowledge and understanding.

The home record of WI 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’s return began dreadfully as the WI whitewashed Pakistan 5-0 in the ODI series.

Team’s morale was low before the first test in Georgetown but Imran produced outstanding spell of bowling of 7 for 80 resulting WI all out for 292. Pakistan were 57-2 when Miandad arrived and faced a barrage of bouncers and bad language, the stimulus he needed to raise his game. He made a gritting century and was supported by Salim Yousuf (62), Shoaib Muhammad (46) and then the record score of 71 extras. Pakistan got lead of 143. In the end Pakistan needed only 30 in second winnings and won the match by 9 wickets. It was the WI’s first home defeat for a decade. The three match series ended in 1-1 draw. Players who took part in that series still relish it memories and consider it one of the best played series.


Qadir was in the thick of the action, with ball, bat … and fists © Getty Images


Perhaps the most ill-timed tour in Pakistan’s cricket history, by Australia in September and October 1988 was also one of the more unfortunate exercises in cricketing diplomacy. For the second consecutive series in Pakistan, the visiting team was virulent in its criticism of the pitch and the standard of the umpiring during the first Test match of a series. As they had against England the previous year, Pakistan won by an innings, with 17 Australian wickets falling to their spin bowlers. The remaining two Tests were then drawn and the series won 1-0.

However, there were other factors contributing to the tour’s failure to excite more than controversy. The death in a plane crash of General Zia ul-Haq, the President of Pakistan, in August had unsettled the country, with fears of rioting and civil war being expressed. Furthermore, the political parties were preparing for the general election in mid-November. Karachi and Hyderabad were in the grip of ethnic violence, which resulted in the cancellation of the two one-day internationals scheduled for those cities on October 14 and 15 respectively, while the first international of the intended three-match series, at Gujranwala on September 30, had to be called off because floods affected a vast area of the Punjab and Sindh. In their place, an ODI was played at Lahore after the Test match there.



Benazir Bhutto’s PPP won the largest no, of seats, 94, in the National Assembly elections in November and became first woman to rule Pakistan, or indeed any Muslim state. In the provincial elections, the Muslim League under Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz, took power in Punjab. The inaugurated a long period of political fight between two parties for the next 10 years.


Benzair Bhutto taking oath as Prime Minister after elections of 1988

In 1990, Benazir’s political fortunes waned sharply. She clashed repeatedly with the conservative president Ishaq Khan, who eventually dismissed her and her government in favour of Nawaz Sharif’s Muslims League. Nawaz Sharif succeeded Benazir Bhutto as prime minister in November 1990.


Nawaz Sharif taking oath as Prime Minister after elections of 1990


Pakistan’s cricket administration was unaffected by these changes. In spite of Arif Abbasi’s successful commercial initiatives and the success of 1987 World Cup, Pakistan cricket was not a major source of income or patronage. Both Benazir and later Nazwaz Sharif left in place Zia’s nominee as chairman of the cricket board, General Zahid Ali Akbar Khan.

Another World Cup was knocking on the doors, this time to be held in Australia and New Zealand. However, Pakistan cricket team was in disarray going into the 1992 World Cup.

Wisden’s Player of Year during decade of 80s: Javed Miandad (1982), Imran Khan (1983), Salim Malik (1988),



Next in ‘The Upredictables’ series: 1990s: Triumphs, Fight backs and Controversies



  • Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack
  • ‘Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan’ by Peter Oborne
  • ‘The Pakistani Masters’ by Bill Ricquier
  • ESPNcricinfo archives (
  • ‘Cricket Cauldron: The Turbulent Politics of Sport in Pakistan’ by Shaharyar M. Khan and Ali Khan
  • Imran Khan’s Autobiography ‘Pakistan: A Personal History’
  • ‘All round view’ by Imran Khan
  • ‘Controversially Yours’ by Shoaib Akhtar
  • Cricket Archive (
  • PTV Sports (
  • Pakistan Cricket Board (



The author is a Chartered Accountant from Lahore, Pakistan currently working in Portland, USA at one of the leading accountancy firms of the world. His interests include politics, history, sports, music, arts and movies. The views expressed are author’s only. He tweets at @fazalwarraich (