The Pakistan team after the 2-1 victory

Pakistan celebrate their series win in foggy Delhi


'Our bowling coach told me if I got Kohli out thrice, he'd take me out for dinner'

How two young fast bowlers and a doughty offspinner helped Pakistan win the series the last time they played bilaterals in India, on the historic 2012-13 tour

Interviews by Himanshu Agrawal  |  

In December 2012, Pakistan landed in India for the two countries' first bilateral series in five years. What made this remarkable was that Pakistan hadn't toured India since 2007 - and India had last played in Pakistan in the Asia Cup in June 2008 - after geopolitical tensions between the neighbours ratcheted up.

It was an extraordinary diplomatic coup that brought the two countries together for the series, leading on from the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh inviting Pakistan PM Yousuf Gilani to attend the World Cup semi-final in Mohali in March 2011.

On Christmas Day in 2012, India and Pakistan played their first ever T20I on Indian soil. The Pakistan squad had landed in Bengaluru to heightened security two days before. A few in the squad had never toured India before - including a 7'1" tall bowler who was yet to play a T20I for his country, and an emerging left-arm fast bowler who would leave his mark. Also in the side was the spinner who nearly dismissed Sachin Tendulkar in a World Cup semi-final.

Saeed Ajmal, Pakistan offspinner: Security was very tight, especially when we went out for purposes other than going to the ground. And outside the ground, there was a lot of love: everyone wanted to click photos with us. In 2011, we weren't even allowed to push back the sliding windows on our bus, because that would mean people outside would be able to see us!

Junaid Khan, Pakistan fast bowler: We wanted to go shopping but the security persons wouldn't allow us, as they were worried that fans might mob us for photos. However, we still went. I went with Saeed bhai, Nasir Jamshed and Umar Akmal. So when we were shopping and some of the fans wanted to meet us, we told the security persons, "Yaar, aane de" [Let them come]. We knew they weren't going to cause us any harm.

Pakistan were greeted by houseful crowds at every venue

Pakistan were greeted by houseful crowds at every venue © Associated Press

Also in the visiting party was ICC match referee and former Sri Lanka batter Roshan Mahanama. Officiating in all five matches - two T20Is and three ODIs - to be played on the tour, Mahanama knew it wasn't going to be just another series.

Mahanama: India vs Pakistan is always high-profile, and I know how big it was considered by the ICC at the time. The security is also something which the referee needs to consider, and from the time I arrived in Bangalore, I knew straightaway that it would be a series where a lot of aspects would need to be looked at.

The first T20I kicked off with thousands of dancing spectators at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, and millions more watching on television. Among those playing was Mohammad Irfan, who had represented Pakistan in ODIs before but had yet to debut in T20Is. Pakistan won the toss and opted to bowl. And Irfan was picked to bowl the first over

Mohammad Irfan, Pakistan left-arm fast bowler: To play India at home is like a dream for a lot of us. But it also brings with it its share of pressure. Back in Pakistan, if you happen to perform against India, you become a hero. And you receive a lot of warmth from the public. I knew that one good performance could help eliminate all the pressure, and also perhaps open doors for future opportunities. When I ran in to bowl in the first T20I in Bangalore, there was such a crowd that I hardly knew what I was about to do.

India's openers, Gautam Gambhir and Ajinkya Rahane, added 77 in just under 11 overs, and the hosts seemed headed for a big total. But within two overs, India were 90 for 2 after Shahid Afridi sent Rahane back, and Gambhir ran himself out. Virat Kohli arrived at No. 3, but was soon dismissed for 9 off 11 deliveries by Irfan.

Irfan: There was so much noise that when Kohli edged behind, I couldn't hear the snick. It was only when Kamran [Akmal, wicketkeeper] appealed that I also joined in, and it was given out. That wicket helped me relax. I got to bowl my quota of four overs.

Pakistan were set 134 to win, and despite a triple strike by Bhuvneshwar Kumar that reduced them to 12 for 3, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik steadied the chase. In the 18th over, as Pakistan inched closer to a win, tempers began to fray.

Ishant Sharma beat Kamran Akmal with one that swung in, and heated words were exchanged between the two. It took the intervention of Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh to separate them, even as the umpires hurried in. Eventually, the matter went to Mahanama, who fined both Ishant and Kamran.

Ishant Sharma and Kamran Akmal get into it mid-pitch in the first T20I

Ishant Sharma and Kamran Akmal get into it mid-pitch in the first T20I © BCCI

Mahanama: As a former player myself, it doesn't give me any satisfaction to punish a player. One of them pleaded guilty but the other didn't. We had to conduct a hearing for the one who pleaded not guilty and fined both in the end. You don't want to let things get out of hand. As officials, what we are more worried about is what people see on TV. If you send the wrong message, budding cricketers might also try and emulate that behaviour, which we don't want.

Ajmal: Every match between Pakistan and India is a historical moment. It's perhaps the biggest rivalry in cricket - even bigger than the Ashes. The players actually play against each other with a lot of mohabbat [love]. Whatever happens on the ground, it's all a very natural reaction and aggression. But outside the ground, there's a lot of friendship between the Indian and Pakistani players.

Mahanama: The players want to give their best, especially with the hype of the contest. It's about their passion for the game, and the pride of playing for their respective countries. Sometimes emotions get the better of the players. But as an official, you don't look into the emotions, it's whether players are playing in the right spirit, or are crossing the line. But whenever we go into a code-of-conduct incident, we try to give them a fair hearing.

Pakistan won that first match, but India levelled the series with a win in Ahmedabad. Irfan, who had bowled economically with 1 for 25 off his four overs in Bangalore, returned even more miserly figures, of 0 for 20, in the second match, though India piled up 192, and won by 11 runs.

The teams moved on to the ODIs, for which India were without Tendulkar, who had announced his retirement from the format just days before. Chennai, the venue of the first ODI, greeted the teams with rain and grey skies. Pakistan put India in to bat, and Irfan, who had debuted and played two ODIs in September 2010, got the first over. At the other end this time was Junaid, who too was green in international cricket.

Irfan: There was some fear, because I couldn't perform in my first two ODIs; I hadn't even bowled my entire quota of overs against England. And now I was not only touring India but also bowling to some big players in their line-up.

Mohammad Irfan hustled batters with pace and bounce

Mohammad Irfan hustled batters with pace and bounce © BCCI

Junaid: When I entered the ground, I was as afraid as though it was my debut game, though I had played 20-25 matches [across formats] for Pakistan until then. As a result of that pressure, I ended up bowling my first ball as a no-ball. When I went in to bowl, that was the first time that I was bowling before such a crowd. The ground looked house-full.

Irfan: In the lead-up to the India tour, I had spoken to Wasim [Akram] bhai because though I was getting some outswing at the time, there was no inswing. He told me, "I understand the pressure you must be feeling, but you only need to keep in mind your strengths. And if you do that, I'm sure the opposition will not be able to play you."

It took just ten overs for India to be blown away in Chennai. In a stunning display of swing bowling, Junaid cleaned up Virender Sehwag, Kohli and Yuvraj, and had Rohit Sharma caught at third slip. Irfan, meanwhile, bowled Gambhir out. India were left shaken at 29 for 5.

Junaid: The way the ball started swinging after my first no-ball, it entirely released all the pressure and suddenly it felt like a domestic match. I had gone to India on the back of six first-class games, which had helped me build rhythm and momentum. I had got 40 wickets in those six matches. Four of those were in Faisalabad, which is known to have some of the flattest pitches in Pakistan. And out of those wickets, 30-plus were either bowled or lbw. So that gave me a lot of confidence. And I can say that I was at my peak.

Irfan: I had this tendency to repeatedly bowl short. So on the day before the Chennai ODI, Misbah-ul-Haq [then captain] asked me to go much fuller. He said pretty much everyone would expect a short delivery from me because of my height. Misbah reasoned that if the pitch was quick, then a short ball would be fine; but if it were slow, it would become quite easy for the batter to hit. He asked me not to worry even if batters drove at my full-length deliveries.

Junaid, just 23 at the time, and Irfan, struggling to cement his place in the team, knew exactly what had to be done - they'd had it all planned.

Junaid: Players like Sehwag can whack you for a boundary even off a good delivery. But our team analyst, Usman Hashmi, had informed us that if an inswinger is bowled to Sehwag - especially from a left-arm bowler - then he tends to struggle. That is why we also had two close-in fielders. I was young, and getting Sehwag out was a moment of enjoyment for me.

Junaid castled Virender Sehwag with an inswinger in the Chennai ODI

Junaid castled Virender Sehwag with an inswinger in the Chennai ODI © BCCI

Irfan: Junaid and I had planned in advance the lengths we would bowl, and also decided to bring it back in to the Indian batters. And it worked for me: Gambhir went driving, and the ball came back in to clean him up. When Junaid started getting wickets one after the other, I was asked to just contain the runs, to maintain the pressure from one end.

We ended up making a fantastic pair: he got the ball to swing both ways, while I got extra bounce off the surface. That combination really troubled the India batters.

Junaid: Kohli already had more than four years of international experience at the time, which included a bumper season for him in ODIs in 2012. So even at that stage, he was an established player. Mohammad Akram was our bowling coach then, and I remember telling them, "I get a feeling that I will get Kohli out in all matches, even if I don't get any of the others." And he in turn told me, "If you get him out, I'll take you out for dinner!" You can call it a sixth sense, but I felt confident!

Yuvraj was a star player - he had won India the 2011 World Cup not long ago - but the way he got out showed that he was completely beaten by the ball. He looked to play across the line and couldn't read it all. What a special moment it was for me!

Pakistan's opening pair had done their job with the new ball. In a little over an hour Junaid had snared the opposition's top batters and had India in deep trouble at home. He and Irfan were living the dream.

Irfan: Wasim bhai and I converse mostly in Punjabi, and he had told me, "They already seem physically intimidated by you." So that gave me massive confidence.

Junaid: The Indian team were at their best at the time, and despite the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, they had plenty of senior players around. I would like to give a lot of credit to Irfan for me getting those wickets. Good bowling from both ends is what puts pressure on the opposition. Irfan and I had gelled very well together. I swung it both ways, while Irfan tested India with extra bounce; I bowled fuller and asked the India batters to come forward, but he went shorter to push them back.

Irfan on being taken apart by MS Dhoni at the death:

Irfan on being taken apart by MS Dhoni at the death: "I got a dressing down from the captain for that" © BCCI

With the fast bowlers' job done for the time being, Ajmal was brought on just when MS Dhoni and Raina started to repair the innings. They had added 40 to take India to 69 for 5, with 32 overs still remaining in the innings. Ajmal, though, was hardly fazed by who he was bowling to.

Ajmal: That is a score where you almost start sensing victory, but who knows?

I always thought about the impact I can have with the ball. I bowled at different stages for Pakistan - even in powerplays.

Raina fell for 43 off 88 balls after a brief recovery, leaving India at 102 for 6. More than 16 overs were left to play, and R Ashwin joined Dhoni. Their partnership proved impossible to break: they added 125 from the remaining 100 deliveries. And at the death, Dhoni showed his aggressive side, getting stuck into all three of Junaid, Irfan and Ajmal. India ransacked 61 off the last six overs to finish with 227. Irfan's figures, at one point 6-2-19-1, eventually read 9-2-58-1.

Irfan: Dhoni is a very cool-headed batter, and he utilised that trait to great effect in Chennai. He was content to take singles when needed, but smashed me at the death. Fir wapas jaake meri class bhi lagi thi! Kaptaan ne class li thi [I was even given a dressing down by the captain] for India going from 29 for 5 to 227, telling me, "Please bowl only what I suggest, and don't change your plans until I ask you to!" (Laughs)

Junaid: I feel that I should have got Dhoni out that day. How I wish I'd got him! I didn't feel a lot of pressure because of the start I got; that helped me get all the negative stuff out of my mind. Each time I ran in to bowl after that kind of a start, I felt that I could dismiss the batter on strike. But Dhoni is a world-class batter, who averaged 50-plus in ODIs. So he was bound to go after me.

Ajmal: Though I might be nervous in my mind, I never show it on the field. Dhoni was set at the time, and had built the innings very calmly. So there was some pressure on me too. If MS is set, he can hit any bowler in the world for six.

A target of 228 didn't really trouble Pakistan, although Bhuvneshwar, on ODI debut, removed Hafeez first ball. He also got Azhar Ali, leaving Pakistan at 21 for 2, before a patient 112-run stand between Younis Khan and centurion Nasir Jamshed steadied the ship. Pakistan won by six wickets to go 1-0 up.

Nasir Jamshed scored 101 not out and 106 in successive matches in the ODI series

Nasir Jamshed scored 101 not out and 106 in successive matches in the ODI series © BCCI

The series moved to Kolkata, where Jamshed scored another hundred, but Pakistan crumbled to 250 all out after an opening stand of 141 between him and Hafeez

Ajmal: I had never thought I too would have to bat when Nasir and Hafeez had put on 141 for the first wicket. I ended up hitting a boundary when I came out to bat! We were on track for 350, but what a collapse we had.

Irfan and Junaid started Pakistan's defence looking to close the series out in Kolkata. But this time, Sehwag and Gambhir made a stable start, with 40 from the first nine overs.

Junaid: Just before India's chase, I told Irfan, "I haven't played in Kolkata before, but in each match that I have seen there, the ball comes on almost doubly quicker in the second innings. And despite bowling at 140-plus kph, you could get uneven bounce, with balls sometimes hitting a crack and taking off. That is when batters struggle." But he said, "Lala, I feel India are getting back into it: it's a quick outfield and still a flat pitch, and they need only 251."

India were jolted five balls into the tenth over when Junaid had Gambhir inside-edge onto the stumps when he was on 11 off 25 balls to end an unconvincing stay. Just like in Chennai, India's batting then folded quickly. Junaid got Kohli too - for the second time in as many games - as India suffered a collapse of 4 for 28 after getting to 42 without loss. Junaid and Ajmal shared three wickets each, and Pakistan won the match by 85 runs, and with that, the series.

Junaid: The openers seemed to be playing in defensive mode. After Irfan had started the innings and I bowled the second over, I went over to him and said, "Don't you feel Gambhir isn't coming on to the front foot against you?" He'd thought the same, and if you see the replays, Gambhir blocked even a half-volley from Irfan, which was the third or fourth ball of the innings. And I think Kohli was under pressure to score off me. But I was so confident that I knew I would get him even in the remaining match of the tour. The combination [Irfan and I] had at the time was outstanding.

Ajmal: That was my first time in India, though some of the boys had toured there before. It was like a dream come true to have won the series. It was a lot of fun to play in and beat India. We had a brilliant time. There was a great crowd there, and to perform in front of them was exciting.

Saeed Ajmal in Delhi:

Saeed Ajmal in Delhi: "Despite getting five wickets in a career-best performance, I couldn't get the Player-of-the-Match award" © BCCI

Irfan: The win in Kolkata was no doubt an achievement; just that two overthrows from Hafeez which went to the boundary were frustrating! As the bowler, I was trying very hard to keep it tight and he was giving them away just like that. I went to Misbah bhai and said, "Please ask them not to throw needlessly. I don't mind a single being taken, but these four overthrows are all getting added to my account!" I was a bit wary too after getting the treatment in the dressing room in Chennai! (laughs)

Junaid: It's all a matter of confidence - if you have enough of it, you have done half the job. And if you saw them batting in the Kolkata ODI, you could feel that they are on the defensive side. This confidence was given to me by my abbu [father]. He advised me on what to think and what not to.

One match remained on the tour, but Pakistan had won the series - their first ODI series win in India since 2005, and India's first defeat at home in seven series since September 2009. The celebrations began, and for the Pakistan bowlers, the party extended to the next ODI in Delhi. India were shot out again, this time for 167, batting first on a cold and foggy afternoon. Irfan struck early, with the wickets of Rahane and Gambhir, Junaid got Kohli for the third time, and Ajmal took a career-best 5 for 24. As memorable as the match was the extreme weather.

Junaid: The weather was so similar to Lahore. I remember Mohammed Shami was making his debut in that match, and ahead of the game, both he and I were marking our run-ups during practice. So Shami told me, "Yaar, you all were lucky to have played in good weather during the first two ODIs. This is going to be my debut, and look at the cold!" But I told him, "The weather will work in your favour, because even if you sweat - since this is your debut - you won't even come to know, because of the cold!" We were even bowling fast while wearing our sweaters. That weather in Delhi is the coldest I have played in, along with Ireland in 2013.

Ajmal: There was a lot of fog, and we found it difficult. The ball was gripping and turning in Delhi, and despite getting five wickets in a career-best performance, I couldn't get the Player-of-the-Match award!

Junaid finished with eight wickets in the three ODIs, and dismissed Virat Kohli in each match

Junaid finished with eight wickets in the three ODIs, and dismissed Virat Kohli in each match © BCCI

Junaid: Younis bhai had told me ahead of the match that this could be Kohli's time to hit back after being dismissed twice by me. See, if a top batter like Kohli would have got runs against me in Delhi, it wouldn't have made any difference to him. But it would have been the memory of a lifetime for me if someone like me had got him out again. That is what Younis bhai told me too. And thankfully, it all worked out for me.

When Kohli was new at the crease, I bowled a few inswingers. But when I realised that his front foot was getting across to play the inswinger, I slipped in an outswinger, which is perhaps why he got a leading edge, as he was playing to the leg side. As fate would have it, the catch went to Younis bhai himself! Misbah bhai was chasing me after I dismissed Kohli that day, but I was instead heading towards Younis bhai, whom I hugged and said, "Paaji, teen baari hogayi!" [I have done it thrice!]

Though they had to chase only 168 for a 3-0 clean sweep, Pakistan fell ten short. What was 113 for 3 at one stage turned into 157 all out, as Ishant and the spinners gave the hosts a consolation win. But Pakistan went home with the trophy, and with some memorable experiences - both on and off the field. The tour stories from Ajmal, Irfan and Junaid also told of the love they received from their counterparts and from the fans.

Ajmal: I drove around with Kohli in Delhi, and he took me to his locality in his car at around 1am. I had to sneak out, since the security was so tight! Kohli is very aggressive as a captain, but all that is just on the field. I remember him coming next to me and shouting his heart out when Ashwin had dismissed me in the 2014 Asia Cup match. It was a close game too. And just after he did that, I told him "Virat, sharam kar (Have some shame)", as I was walking back (laughs). And during the presentation ceremony of that match, he said to me, "Thoda aggression to chalta hai na?" [A bit of aggression is fine, no?]

Junaid: Yuvraj and I both had a contract with Oakley [a sunglasses company] at the time. I received an email from Oakley, where they had mentioned that they had sunglasses meant for me to Yuvraj. So after the Chennai ODI, we were shaking hands when I told him that I had to take them from him. Yuvraj said either I could go to his room or he could come to mine. Because he was older than me, I decided it was better that I went to him. So when I went over, he joked, "You get me out on the field, but I still get your job done off it!"

We went shopping in a mall ahead of the match in Delhi, and believe it or not, the shopkeepers there weren't willing to accept any payment from us! I was surprised to see that. Being a Pathan, my culture has it that we can't really take something from someone for free. However, there were a few people among those shopkeepers who seemed to be getting upset at us not accepting their gifts, so the security persons travelling with us asked us to go ahead and take them, just to please the shopkeepers.

As hotly contested as the series was, there was much love for the Pakistan players among fans and the players off the field

As hotly contested as the series was, there was much love for the Pakistan players among fans and the players off the field © Associated Press

Ajmal: In Delhi, there was a lady police officer who had even given us food that she had brought from home. While talking to her, I mentioned that I wasn't a fan of outside food, so she said that she would get home-made food for me. She cooked it herself, and brought it for us. Before that, she had told me how difficult it was for them to arrange match tickets, so I traded them for food!

Junaid: There wasn't a lot of social media then. But my manager, who handled social media for me, called me up after the victory in Kolkata, and said, "Lala, there are a lot of messages from fans on Facebook. Please spare just 15-20 minutes of your time to reply to some of them." Believe it or not, there was no end to those congratulatory messages, even after I spent an hour and a half replying to people! That is when I had to tweet an apology to fans and say it was time to sleep, so I wouldn't be able to reply anymore (laughs). And I can tell you that easily about 40-50% of those fans were Indians! Some of them were even praising particular deliveries of mine.

Irfan: It was a brilliant tour. It was very enjoyable. We went out to eat in Ahmedabad. We were really hungry and the food was very tasty. Being fast bowlers, we tend to eat a bit extra too. The service had just begun but the crowd had begun to gather. So the police asked us to go and we had to leave in the middle of dinner.

Junaid: You know how difficult it is for everyone to get tickets for an India-Pakistan match. There was this security person with me in Kolkata, who had come with me to the gym. He said that his wife really wanted to watch a match between India and Pakistan at the ground, but that they couldn't afford tickets for it. I had four tickets with me. The next day when we were on our way to the gym again, I asked him, "What will you do if I give you one ticket?" He said he would give it to his wife. I asked him what he'd do with two. He said, "Mazaak na kare!" (Please don't joke!). That is when I asked, "What if I give you four of them?" Again he thought I was fooling around. I gave him those four tickets. There was a look of amazement on his face, almost as if he was dreaming. He tried to touch my feet but I stopped him. He also said, "Par hum to India ko support karenge. [But we'll be supporting India.] I said it hardly mattered - what mattered was him going to the ground and enjoying the match.

Irfan: I made a name for myself after that tour. People started recognising me. Before touring India, some of us had wondered if everything would go well there. But that was my best tour for Pakistan.

Himanshu Agrawal is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo