Waqar Younis (left) and Wasim Akram hold up the trophy

We'll take Kennington: the two Ws hold up the silverware after the win in the fifth Test

David Munden/Popperfoto / © Getty Images


The forgotten invincibles

In the summer of 1992, England hosted one of the greatest touring sides the country has seen

Rizwan Hussain and Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

In their first Test series in England, in 1954, a gruelling tour that lasted over four months and took in 30 first-class matches, Pakistan became the first team to win a Test on their debut visit to the country. For a side with nearly no experience of playing in English conditions, Pakistan's results were a pleasant surprise - they won nine matches in all and lost only three. Their performance won them many accolades, with Wisden noting: "The players were also splendid ambassadors. Rarely has a more popular set of cricketers toured anywhere, and wherever they went, they made a host of friends by their modest charm and obvious eagerness to learn."

Thirty-eight years later there came a vastly different but also successful tour. The 1992 touring Pakistanis were not freshmen seeking validation from former colonial rulers. They swaggered into the country, brash, abrasive and in your face, and world champions. For Pakistan, the result was a momentous, generation-defining tour; here were the gasp-inducing collapses, the reverse swing of Wasim and Waqar, the supporting legspin of Mushtaq Ahmed; this was the tour that gave Pakistan the nucleus of its #TheMighty90s side, a golden generation.

Yet when we think of the great touring sides to England, this 1992 Pakistan side does not immediately spring to mind. It is easy to recall a number of Australian sides - the Invincibles of 1948, or the champions of 1989 and 1993, the latter the board from which sprang Shane Warne; even the several vintages of West Indian visitors through the 1980s. You'll be hard-pressed to find much celebration of the 1992 tourists. A book written about the tour was by Pakistan's media manager on the trip, Khalid Mahmood, published four years later and more concerned with responding to ball-tampering allegations. Those, and other controversies, in fact, are partly why the achievement is not celebrated as much as others. "In terms of cricket, a great summer but one not recalled with fondness," as Martin Williamson, a former ESPNcricinfo journalist, explained.

Statistically, it can be said without any embellishment or exaggeration that the tour was one of the most successful by any visiting team to England. It was as gruelling, if not more so, than that inaugural tour - Pakistan played 36 matches of one kind or another in a stay that ended three days shy of four months.

In 1992, Pakistan swaggered into the country, brash, abrasive and in your face, and as world champions

Given the depth of talent in that squad, the Test series was probably closer than Pakistan would have liked it to be, but they tore through the county circuit like few sides before them. Of the 12 first-class matches they played against county sides, they won nine; the only game they lost was their first one, against Worcestershire, who would win the County Championship that season. It was the best record against county sides since Bradman's 1948 team won 15 out of 20.

Four Pakistani batsmen - Saleem Malik, Asif Mujtaba, Aamer Sohail and Ramiz Raja - scored over 1000 runs on the tour; Javed Miandad made over 800, and Shoaib Mohammad and Inzamam-ul-Haq, on his first tour to England, scored more than 700. Wasim Akram, arguably the best pace bowler in the world at the time, took 82 wickets in 14 matches, despite a stress fracture of the shin early on. Waqar, returning from a six-month absence, was saved mostly for the Tests, but Aaqib Javed and Mushtaq Ahmed took 36 and 66 wickets respectively.

Above all the margin of their wins was testament to their quality. They won most matches in two to two-and-a-half days at a time when county matches were still three-day affairs). Four of their wins against the counties were by seven wickets or more; twice they won by more than 200 runs, once by 107 runs, and once by an innings. In ten of the 14 first-class matches they played outside the Tests (12 against the counties, one against Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and one against a World XI), Pakistan scored at 3.5 runs or more per over. In seven of those, they went at more than 4 per over. "County after county was overwhelmed by cricket which was all aggression and excited appealing and vitality, not safety-conscious, fearful of failure, and content with a draw, in the English manner," noted Wisden, not without a little envy perhaps.

The net result was that Pakistan became the only team to win the short-lived Tetley Bitter Challenge - a lucrative £50,000 jackpot on offer at the time to touring sides. Tetley had launched the challenge in 1990, when New Zealand toured - that summer the deal was that the tourists would win the prize money only if they beat all the county sides. The idea, according to Tim Lamb, secretary of the English board at the time, was to reinvest some meaning in the side games.

Grudge match-up: Miandad b Botham in the second ODI, at The Oval

Grudge match-up: Miandad b Botham in the second ODI, at The Oval Adrian Murrell / © Getty Images

Until the early 1980s tour matches were a financial high point for counties, especially if Australia were the visitors. Williamson recalls around 10,000 watching the 1981 Australians at Lord's before Botham's Ashes caught fire. Middlesex fielded 11 Test players, including Jeff Thomson. By the end of the decade, however, the gloss had worn off and too often counties, with an eye on the championship, ended up fielding weakened XIs.

Lamb explained to the Cricket Monthly that it was necessary to provide the counties with an "incentive", which meant it was only fair they offered similar prize money to the touring teams. As an example, in 1992, a county could earn £4000 for beating the Pakistanis, while they earned a paltry £250 for a win in the Championship. "In 1991 it was tweaked so West Indies only had to win a proportion of games, and by the time Pakistan visited in 1992, the format was that they would win £50,000 if they won eight of the 12 tour matches, and also pocket £2500 for each tour match they won," Williamson recalled. By way of comparison, in the five-Test series, the winner of each Test earned £8000, while in the five-ODI series the winner of each game earned £5250.

The tweak to eight wins, according to Lamb, was to make the jackpot a more "realistic" target. "It was not unreasonable but was attainable, as the Pakistanis demonstrated," Lamb said. "Of course £50,000 in those days was a hell of a lot of money. In that era county cricketers, and I'm sure the Pakistani players, were not paid a great deal of money compared to football, tennis and golf.

"That was really the rationale behind it: to add extra resonance to the county matches against the tourists, to motivate the counties to put down stronger teams for the benefit of the England team, and in order to be fair and balanced to provide a jackpot prize fund to the touring team, which the Pakistanis succeeded in winning. It was fantastic."

"We had supreme confidence and self-belief in our ability that we will win. And during that England tour, we stumbled upon the magic formula which made our team near unbeatable" Waqar Younis

The brewery benefited from the publicity. Cornhill Insurance was the Test series sponsor and long embedded in the English game. Tetley wanted to stand out as the England team sponsor without trespassing on Cornhill's sponsorship. Lamb and his team came up with an "elegant balance", an idea that was "out of the ordinary" but did not "alienate" Cornhill.

"Fifty-thousand pounds in cricketing terms was a lot of money and therefore [Tetley] gained a lot of good PR and publicity out of making that money available. I don't think it mattered to them who the money went to. It was just the fact that they were able to be associated with this new idea, this comparatively large amount of money in the context of cricket at the time. And it was an important element in their sponsorship deal."

The jackpot, as Miandad acknowledged, united the tourists like little else, which says something given how fractious Pakistan sides of that generation would become; so much so, Miandad remembers the "unity" on that tour was unlike any other he had experienced.

Dean Jones was part of the Durham side that lost to Pakistan by 107 runs, among the closer contests. They took a first-innings lead, declaring only four wickets down, and still lost. "I recall the prize money," Jones recalled to the Cricket Monthly, "because Javed Miandad told me, 'Why are you playing? We need to win this game. It means a lot to us.' I told him I had to play as it was my last game. He said, 'Good luck, we've got a good bowling team.' I reminded him it was the same bowling team I had scored runs against."

Pakistan win at Lord's: Javed Miandad remembers the team's unity on the tour being stronger than it was at any other time in that era

Pakistan win at Lord's: Javed Miandad remembers the team's unity on the tour being stronger than it was at any other time in that era © Getty Images

Jones at least won the personal battle, scoring a hundred in each innings. "If you made the mistake with Wasim or Waqar or Mushy, you did not get a second chance. And that is what happened that season."

The games came thick and fast, with little downtime, and it allowed Pakistan to get into the zone. A number of the squad were familiar with the county circuit. Miandad had had a long association with Glamorgan and Sussex; Malik had blossomed at Essex; Akram, Waqar and Aaqib played for Lancashire, Surrey and Hampshire respectively, and Waqar had already been one of Wisden's cricketers of the year. Others, such as Shoaib and Mujtaba, had played in English leagues. The squad was also a fine blend of experience and youth. A number of them had played Under-19 cricket together. Between the oldest and youngest were players such as Akram and Malik, who were neither too senior nor too fresh.

There was also the understanding that this was a rare, exceptionally talented crop, among the finest produced by Pakistan. "Why do you still remember the Pakistan team from '90s?" Waqar recalled to the Cricket Monthly. "We were all match-winners in that squad and we had supreme confidence and self-belief in our ability that we will win. And during that England tour, we stumbled upon the magic formula which made our team near unbeatable."

For the duration of the tour, the squad played with a rare, inexplicable kind of energy, a self-confidence that gave them an aura of invincibility. Michael Jeh, a former first-class player who writes for ESPNcricinfo, came across the Pakistanis while playing for Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He found them to be almost Australian in their on-field behaviour.

"I recall the prize money, because Javed Miandad told me, 'Why are you playing? We need to win this game. It means a lot to us.' I told him I had to play as it was my last game. He said, 'Good luck, we've got a good bowling team'" Dean Jones about the Durham tour match

"They behaved like world champs," Jeh remembered. "Moin Khan was unbelievably abrasive. I remember going in late on day one to bat and they thought I was Indian and said nothing to me. The next morning they discovered I was an Aussie and they got stuck into me big time. I remember asking Moin when was the last time the Australian RAF bombed Pakistan, because they were nice to me when they thought I was Indian but turned feral when they found out I was Aussie!

"Sheer pace, prodigious swing and legspin, they had it all. Whatever the conditions were, they could deal in that currency. You got the feeling that confidence was sky high and that they were buoyed by the fanatical Pakistan expat support in Britain."

On August 3, Pakistan won the jackpot with their eighth win against a county side in 11 matches - with a match to spare, in other words. The acting captain, Malik, and Mujtaba put on a swift 86-run stand to break the chase of 193 and Pakistan got home in 34.1 overs. The pattern was by now familiar: the county side would stay abreast on first innings but then get blown away as the game moved to the second innings. Less than a week later Pakistan clinched the Test series as well, at The Oval. The Tetley challenge continued for a few more years but no other team ever came close to matching Pakistan's accomplishments.

Sweatergate: Aaqib Javed and Javed Miandad after Aaqib's tugging match with umpire Roy Palmer (second from left) during a changeover at the Old Trafford Test

Sweatergate: Aaqib Javed and Javed Miandad after Aaqib's tugging match with umpire Roy Palmer (second from left) during a changeover at the Old Trafford Test Patrick Eagar/Popperfoto / © Getty Images

The sheen was taken off that showing by the friction on the tour. Part of it was just the combustible history between the two sides - the last time they played, after all, Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana had come together to produce one of cricket's most infamous photos. The captain, Miandad, was someone the English press wasn't particularly enamoured with, in stark contrast to his predecessor Imran Khan. The tone was set when Miandad and Botham engaged in a verbal scuffle in the second ODI, less than a month into the tour. The tiff unleashed a torrent of obnoxious tabloid articles targeting Miandad. In the Daily Mirror, Mike Langley compared Miandad to Gaddafi, and described him as "a wild man with a face you might spot crouched behind rocks in an ambush along Khyber". The political columnist Simon Heffer famously described Pakistan as the "Pariahs of cricket" in the Sunday Telegraph. "Miandad's ethical deficiencies," he wrote, "make him the last man to captain his country, even if it is only Pakistan."

Whispers of ball-tampering simmered just underneath the surface through the tour but burst into the open once the summer was over, as Allan Lamb made some explosive allegations in the Daily Mirror. Pakistan were unhappy about the umpiring and never shy about saying so; the dispute between Aaqib and Roy Palmer in the third Test was an especially ugly flashpoint. All of it was a harbinger of the darker taints this generation of players would endure as the decade wore on, their brilliance having to battle for attention with controversy and scandal.

But that brilliance, most evident on that tour, was unquestionable, as Scyld Berry, who covered the tour, pointed out to the Cricket Monthly. "When was the last time four batsmen scored over a thousand runs in first-class matches on a tour of England as Pakistanis did in 1992? That is one solid batting line-up. When has any bowler, as Wasim did, taken 82 wickets on a tour of England? Saleem Malik batted superbly in both the county games and Test matches. He held the middle order together, the best technique on either side. Very few overseas teams have tried to bulldoze their way over the counties like they did."

Rizwan Hussain is a journalist based in Karachi. Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo