Graham Thorpe and Nasser Hussain celebrate England's win
Laurence Griffiths / © Getty Images

Dancers in the dark

When Thorpey and Nas emerged from the gloaming in Karachi with England's first win in Pakistan in 31 years

Alan Gardner  |  

One of the first things you notice when looking at this picture is that a flash has been used; not something we might think of as a key feature of cricket photography, given the sport is either played during the day or under the dazzling glare of floodlights. But the decision of the photographer, Laurence Griffiths, to illuminate the sweaty grins and sparkling whites of Graham Thorpe and Nasser Hussain as they walked off the field at Karachi's National Stadium sheds further light, as it were, on the circumstances of one of England's all-time great overseas Test wins.

Hussain was 18 months into his spell as captain, and had begun to forge the band-of-brothers team spirit that helped drag England up from the bottom of the unofficial Test rankings. Beating West Indies during the home summer, for the first time in 31 years, provided a measure of their progress, but few expected them to be a match for Pakistan on their first tour of the country since the Mike Gatting-Shakoor Rana finger-pointing fracas of 1987.

High-scoring draws in Lahore and Faisalabad left the series delicately poised going into the Test in Karachi, where Pakistan had not lost in more than 45 years of competition. But England hung in the game until the fifth day, then tenaciously set about chasing a target of 176 in 44 overs. Moin Khan, Pakistan's captain, tried to slow things down in the hope that fading light would save his side from defeat; but Steve Bucknor, the senior standing umpire, was having none of it as play was allowed to continue beyond the Maghrib prayer, Thorpe eventually inside-edging the winning runs to fine leg as the fielders stood around wondering where the ball had gone.

Bucknor can just be glimpsed in the background, slowly making his way off in the manner of a beat cop who has done his small bit to dispense justice on this particular day. The sun has already sunk below the stands of the stadium and as Thorpe and Hussain, England's two dancers in the dark, share a momentary embrace to celebrate hard-won victory, it is as if the opposition has melted from the scene, too.

Watching the footage back, it is hard to gauge just how sepulchral the conditions had become. There are other, grainier photographs of the winning moment - using a longer exposure to let in more ambient light - which depict a brighter scene, the Pakistan players and groundsmen still visible milling around in the background. But the sharpness of Griffiths' high-contrast image gives us a glimpse, like the Matrix suddenly being revealed to our eyes. Minutes later, after the players had ascended to the dressing rooms, it would be pitch black at the ground.

England went on to win in Sri Lanka that winter, another improbable victory that made it four series victories in a row for Hussain. For a supporter of English cricket raised on the dross of the 1990s, it was a flash of inspiration in the gloom.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick