Most incredible matches in World Cup history: 10 - Bangladesh v Pakistan (1999)
The new rule changes in One-Day International cricket may have found their share of disapprovals from a varied set of experts (both on and off the field), but there is no denying the fact that this World Cup will go down as one of the best ones ever. I have every reason to hedge my bets on this one – because the schedule shows a lot of the top teams will be playing minnow nations in the league stages. Now some of the encounters are usually foregone conclusions; no one expects the UAE to triumph over New Zealand now, do they? Or Australia bowing out to the Dutch? A purist would look at you as if you’d committed the worst of blasphemies by even uttering such wild thoughts!
Then again, not everyone colours inside the lines. Not every ‘minnow’ wants to keep losing to the so-called Big Boys of international cricket. And they certainly do not want to go down without a fight – such is their self-belief that it makes them fearless, and a fearless side is a danger on any day.
Pakistan found that out to their cost on a windy, overcast May morning in Northampton. On the other hand, Bangladesh, making their first ever appearance in the quadrennial showpiece, had nothing to lose at all. But what followed after the 1992 champions won the toss and sent their eastern counterparts in is now part of cricketing folklore.
History on Pakistan’s side
Prior to the rather ‘mouthwatering’ clash of the mismatched at the World Cup, the Bangla tigers had never triumphed over their vastly experienced, battle-weary subcontinental neighbours. In fact, it had taken them 23 matches to record their first ever victory in the shorter format. Their conquest of the ICC Trophy title in 1997 saw them qualifying for the 1999 edition of the World Cup in England – a feat hailed by their passionate fan base, yet none of the Test-playing nations took them seriously until that fateful day in Northampton.
Pakistan had every reason to treat this game as just another day in office. They enjoyed a phenomenal record against the erstwhile East Pakistanis ever since their first encounter back in 1986. In addition, they possessed one of the finest bowling attacks in the world, led by Sultans of Swing Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, with the wily Saqlain Mushtaq, young tearaway Shoaib Akhtar, and the reliable Azhar Mahmood for support. On the batting front, the likes of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar and Shahid Afridi, together with a solid middle-order led by Saleem Malik, could devastate any rival bowling single-handed. All in all, it was touted to be a win-win situation for the former champions.
Or so they thought. May 31, 1999, changed all that.
Stable start, mini-collapse and recovery
Bangladesh’s batting effort could well be compared to the engine of an old Indian scooter: steady start, stuttering in the middle, before recovering to finish with a decent total. They did just about everything right in the first 16 overs, confidently crossing the half-century mark and motoring along at over four runs an over. Shahariar Hossain was at his elegant best, mixing grit with the occasional flamboyance, while his partner Mehrab hardly looked comfortable.
Saqlain’s double strike sent them both back into the pavilion, but skipper Akram Khan and Aminul Islam continued their fight, conjuring yet another fifty-run stand. Thereafter, a flurry of wickets fell, largely through Saqlain’s off-spin (he ended up with a five-for) and Waqar’s deadly in-swingers. Khaled Mahmud’s quickfire 27 enabled Bangladesh to set a target of 224, helped in no small part by wicket-keeper Mashud’s calm, unbeaten knock of 15. A fine recovery act towards the end, yet the total hardly seemed threatening enough for Pakistan’s chosen gladiators.
A tactical masterstroke and a brain freeze
Akram Khan, seeing the cloudy conditions, decided to bring the dibbly-dobbly seam bowling of Mahmud first up. The 27-year-old all-rounder returned the favour by grabbing a wicket in his very first over – Afridi played down the wrong line and tamely spooned a catch to square leg. The fielding side were delighted; they knew the importance of the dismissal, for the right-handed opener was so destructive he could have won the game, for his side, off his own bat. Still, miracles do happen, and Bangladesh got a glimpse of the signs with the early gain.
Ijaz Ahmed can be considered a trifle unlucky – the ball ricocheted off the back of his blade and on to his stumps, putting Pakistan two down with less than ten on the board. In came the portly Inzamam, joining a bemused Anwar out in the middle. He promptly dispatched a Mahmud delivery to the mid-wicket fence, alleviating some of the tension in the Pakistan camp. The duo was expected to get on with the job, but then Inzy’s old malaise struck him at the most inopportune time.
In what can only be described as a brain freeze, the rotund No. 4 batsman didn’t respond to his partner’s call for a quick single. Mehrab swooped in and tossed the ball to the wicket-keeper, who dislodged the bails in a flash. Anwar was not at all pleased, shaking his head in disbelief as he walked back to the hut. There was no redemption for ‘Inzy’ though – he was trapped in front of the stumps to give Mahmud his second wicket of the game; Saleem Malik followed soon after in similar fashion. Pakistan were reeling at 42/5, with Wasim and Mahmood at the crease.
A brief fightback and another lapse of reason
The southpaw, an integral part of Pakistan’s title triumph seven years ago, decided that attack would be the best form of defence. He signalled his intentions with a lofted straight drive off Mahmud for a glorious six. Azhar also got into the act, hitting a couple of boundaries along the way, as the two mixed aggression with clever running between the wickets. In a true testament to their defiance of the opposition bowlers, the duo raised 55 runs for the sixth wicket – the highest of the innings. Hope was kindled.
Then came another lapse of reason. Having managed to score only six runs in the last eight overs, and with the required rate rising, Akram pushed the ball to the on side and set off for another quick single, but Azhar stayed rooted at the non-striker’s end, running only when his partner was almost at his end. Six down, with less than a hundred runs on the board, and Pakistan lost yet another to the malaise of indecision. A quick strike from new man Moin Khan pushed the total beyond the three-figure mark.
However, Akram lost patience and executed a slog sweep off Minhajul Abedin’s slow off-breaks, instead skying a catch to Shahriar in the deep. Pakistan were now seven down, with defeat staring them in the face. Nevertheless, they weren’t about to let up just yet with the enigmatic Moin still around.
Nine, ten, it’s all over at eleven
Much like the sixth-wicket stand, the wicket-keeper began adding the runs in Saqlain’s company. Both of them found the fence twice each, but Bangladesh were really not to be denied. Khan eventually was dismissed with the total on 124, and despite a few more quick blows from Younis, pulling the total past 150, the spirit of the Tiger won out as Mohammad Rafique accounted for the Pakistan pacer and Mashud ran out Saqlain via a review from the third umpire.
Even before the verdict was announced, jubilant Bangla fans stormed the field, surrounding their team and shouting, screaming themselves hoarse. Their heroes had done the unthinkable – beating a full-fledged Test-playing nation by a handsome margin. The County Ground, the scene of this epic encounter, resembled the streets of Dhaka, as wave after wave of Bangla supporters cascaded onto the field.
Khaled Mahmud, the man of the moment, took home the Player-of-the-Match award, but delivered something more than just a victory: Bangladesh would now be taken seriously at all levels. Eight years later, they would script yet another upset, but this maiden triumph over a world-beating side was the defining moment of the 1999 World Cup.