Abdul Qadir bats

Qadir: poor man's Miandad

© Getty Images

High Fives

A twist in the tail

A leggie, two offies and two fast bowlers walk into a bar… and produce a classic tail-end innings each

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan  |  

Abdul Qadir, 16 not out
Pakistan v West Indies, Lahore, World Cup, 1987

The only sight more thrilling than a bareheaded batsman facing a fast bowler is a bareheaded tailender facing one. No contemporary lower-order batsman is loco enough to walk in helmetless, but in 1987, at a pulsating Gaddafi Stadium, an intrepid Abdul Qadir faced Courtney Walsh. Pakistan needed 14 off the last over with a wicket in hand. "Can he do it?" asked the commentator two balls in, and with 12 required, the question mark dangled mid-air.

When the mood took him Qadir was a tail-end Javed Miandad: possessed of only a fraction of the batting ability but chock-full of his spirit - annoying, street-smart and ever-ready for a scrap. Here he was in his element against Walsh, clapping his bat, egging his partner on, putting pressure on the fielders, cashing in on an overthrow, and scampering between wickets like a shoplifter running from the cops. During one manic second run, sprinting along a diagonal, he finished not too far from the square-leg umpire.

With 10 needed off three, Qadir brought the house down, flat-batting a short-of-good-length ball - not over midwicket, as he possibly intended - but way over wide long-off. He then stood, legs crossed and leaning on his bat, unfazed by the mayhem he had just instigated. Four off two became two off one. And when Walsh let Saleem Jaffar off with a warning - choosing not to Mankad him - it was Qadir's game to lose. As expected, he backed away again, squirting the ball wide of short third man. A boundary may have been assured but Qadir charged for two anyway, his bat raised like a baton during the second run, basking in glory.

Devon Malcolm, 12
England v Australia, Trent Bridge, 1997

A summer that began promisingly had quickly reverted to type. Australia shrugged off a massive defeat in the first Test and returned to dominating the Ashes. Now, in the fifth Test, after amassing 427, they were salting the wounds. England were limping at 290 for 9 when Devon Malcolm (batting average 6.40) walked in.

Malcolm was a tailender's tailender: technically deficient yet often in the mood to pull off the spectacular. Back in 1994, he had been so enraged when struck on the helmet that he flattened South Africa with 9 for 57. The following winter he smashed an 18-ball 29 in Sydney, embarrassing Shane Warne and evoking chuckles from Richie Benaud on air.

Malcolm talks to Simon Hughes during the Trent Bridge Test where he got stuck into Glenn McGrath

Malcolm talks to Simon Hughes during the Trent Bridge Test where he got stuck into Glenn McGrath © Getty Images

Here he was up against Glenn McGrath, who welcomed him to the crease with a bouncer. Malcolm responded by slashing the next ball to long-off and then - ignoring all footwork - creamed a low full toss to midwicket. The drama resumed in McGrath's next over. First a defensive push straight out of French cricket, then an agricultural swipe that carried the ball to the midwicket fence. McGrath shook his head. Mark Taylor folded his arms. Tony Greig had a laugh on air. We didn't know it then but this was Malcolm's joyous swansong. His next three innings would end in ducks. And that would be the end of his Test career.

Rajesh Chauhan, 8 not out
Pakistan v India, Karachi, 1997

India had not won an ODI in Pakistan for close to 14 years. They hadn't even visited for nearly eight. And now the three-match series was about to slip away. When Rajesh Chauhan walked into Karachi's National Stadium - bareheaded - he faced a mountain. His last six ODI innings read: 1, 0, 2, 4, 0 and 0. Now he was up against Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mushtaq in front of a crowd willing him to fail.

Chauhan survived one ball from Waqar, sneaked a single, and prepared to face Saqlain with eight needed off the final over… when the umpires decided to replace the discoloured ball. Pakistan were appalled - Saqlain resembled a schoolboy who had had his lollipop snatched - but Chauhan was upbeat. He knew the harder ball would travel further, and skipping down the track, met the first delivery on the full, almost falling over but packing a meaty punch. The ball soared over square leg. Everyone looked to the heavens. Saqlain was stunned, the crowd silenced and the series alive. Chauhan would retire with 76 international wickets but this one six would never be forgotten.

Courtney Walsh, 0 not out
West Indies v Australia, Bridgetown, 1999

Courtney Walsh recorded 43 Test ducks - the most in history. One wondrous March day in 1999 he also recorded the greatest unbeaten 0.

West Indies needed six to pull off a miracle. Australia needed one wicket to retain the Frank Worrell Trophy. Brian Lara, in other-worldly form, was presently off strike. Walsh's task was crystal clear: to see off three deliveries from a red-hot Jason Gillespie. A cloud of uncertainty loomed. Three years earlier, in a World Cup semi-final, also against Australia, Walsh had walked in with West Indies needing six off four. He was bowled first ball, attempting an expansive drive against Damien Fleming.

Walsh takes the wicket of Matthew Elliott on day one; he took six more in the game, but little did he know his main contribution would come at the tail end of the match

Walsh takes the wicket of Matthew Elliott on day one; he took six more in the game, but little did he know his main contribution would come at the tail end of the match © Getty Images

There was nothing expansive about Walsh in Bridgetown. He left the first ball (a no-ball), tucking his bat under his armpit and pumping his fist; he walked across his stumps to the second, daintily tapping it back to the bowler; he trapped the third, a near-perfect yorker that zeroed in on off stump, and watched it rest near his feet; he glided the fourth, a full ball, safely to gully. Steve Waugh shut his eyes, dismayed. Clearly the game was up.

Muttiah Muralitharan, 30
England v Sri Lanka, The Oval, 1998

Muttiah Muralitharan grabbed seven wickets in the first innings and a staggering nine in the second. But in between he struck a 36-ball 30 - full of mischief - that knocked the stuffing out of England. When he walked in, Sri Lanka had a valuable lead; by the time he finished, with five delightful fours, adding 59 with Suresh Perera, they had run away with the Test.

Murali the bowler was a magician. Murali the batsman was an amateur knife-thrower. There was no method, just pure madness. If it was short he backed away, took his eyes off the ball and helicoptered it to fine leg - a stroke that married the grace of a falling sweep and the rusticity of a dhobi pounding a damp towel on a washing stone. If the ball was full he backed away and swung through a sweeping arc over midwicket. Through it all he wouldn't stop smiling that impish grin that made you think he would be out next ball… until he struck another outrageous shot garnished with another mischievous smile. Sri Lanka finished with a 146-run lead. Murali was handed the ball later that afternoon. That was the end of that.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a writer based in the USA