Pak’s 1992 World Cup triumph: How Imran Khan got an ill Inzamam to play, why a sulking Miandad was flown into Australia, a talk which spurred the ‘Cornered Tigers’


Before we come to Imran Khan, we must, as always, go past Javed Miandad. Pakistan cricket, as we know it today, is not cast in Imran’s shadow. Miandad owns the team’s identity. A street-hustler’s lack of trust in people around him, the snarl when pushed to the corner, often self-driven to that spot in the first place, a permanent smirk as if nursing a sense of injustice, the froth of victimhood on the mouth, vengeance in eyes, and a strange confidence emanating from an ethereal junoon. It’s Miandad; it’s Pakistan. Imran bottled this spirit and sprayed it at the opponents but the essence, the rooh, belongs to Javed bhai.

In 1992, Miandad was boiling in injustice. The team had left without him to Australia, his back injury combined with a lack of form had Imran convince himself that he can do without Javed, who was left at home sipping victimhood. He would rant with the team manager, the former Pakistan captain Intikhab Alam, and was convinced that it was Imran and Co. trying to shove him out of public imagination.

Intikhab is a charming avuncular figure these days, Bishen Singh Bedi’s great friend from across the border, who doesn’t fall for any bait thrown. Even when the other party is quoted from a book, he prefers a smile. “Ab voh sab baatein rehne do na” (leave all that aside), let’s talk about good times. First, Javed wasn’t dropped just for form; it was his back injury,” Intikhab says.

Rest is then, Javed being Javed, bhai? A laughter drops. “No, no, he was a great batsman who obviously wanted to be at the World Cup. You know I was in regular touch with him from Australia,” Intikhab tells The Indian Express a couple of days ahead of yet another final against England.

Miandad, Imran Javed Miandad and Imran Khan. (File)

Pakistan had gone there 20 days earlier to get acclimated to the conditions. Wasim Akram would talk about how some of the acclimatisation was done at the parking lots as they couldn’t get grounds to train from the Australian board. “We would run on parking lots to get our run-ups, the feel of Australian grounds,” he said the other day on A Sports.

“Miandad would keep saying how he is fit, and one day when he really sounded genuine about it, I said ‘if you are fit, come over, we do need you’,” Intikhab says. They did need him. The practice games—they had had six of them—were proving disastrous as Pakistan kept losing. Salim Malik, the vice-captain, couldn’t get bat to ball, Akram couldn’t control the swing of the white ball (Ian Botham, Allan Lamb, Chris Lewis would find that ironical), Waqar Younis was sadly nursing a back fracture that would put him out of the World Cup, Mushtaq Ahmed couldn’t land the ball where he wanted, young Inzamam-ul-Haq would find the bounce difficult to tame.

Above all, Imran had a serious shoulder problem. “I remember one day we had a chat and said we would try our best to hide this from the team. We felt they would get demoralised even more – already nothing seemed to be going right. Imran is such a fighter as the world knows, and he was more convinced than me that the gravity of the injury had to be hidden,” Intikhab says.

All that meant Javed’s presence won’t be a ‘hindrance’ anymore. Not only was he called back, arriving in Australia just 10 days before the start of the tournament on Valentine’s Day, he was also made the vice-captain. Now it was Malik’s turn to brood on injustice but he couldn’t say much as runs had dried out. “And what does he do on arrival?” Intikhab warms up. “He scored a 80 in a practice game. For a year or more, he wasn’t scoring any runs and struggling with a back injury. When pushed to the corner, he delivers! Javed toh Javed hai.”

***
And Imran Niazi Khan? “The world knows about him, don’t they,” Intikhab Alam says. Intikhab knows Imran the cricketer more than most. “He was a fresh-faced, very talented kid when I was the leader of the team. You had no doubt about his potential, about his personality. Air Chief Marshal Malik Noor Khan was the president of the cricket board and I told him, “you got to make Imran the captain. He has it. He will deliver. In the end, I would know Imran the cricketer for 18-19 years, beyond my retirement as a player and with him as the manager.”

Former Pakistan cricket Intikhab Khan. (File)

At some point on the tour, saw Imran’s T-shirt “The famous one with the tiger. He says I am going to wear it out to the toss. I immediately realised its purpose and didn’t say anything silly about having to wear a blazer for an official toss. Nahi nahi, Immy ka mann patha chal gaya tha ( I knew what Immy was about to do). He wanted to speak to the players first.”

Cue classic Pakistanism. It depends on the player who you speak to: it’s a myth that never happened or a life-turning moment. Miandad’s book has no mention of any dressing-room talk, and neither does Zahid Fazal, one of the forgotten players of that squad, when The National newspaper’s Tom Hussain tracked him down in 2012.

“There was no dressing room talk. It was an old shirt that he had stuffed away in the bottom of his kitbag. He would wear it for all our crunch matches, especially one-day finals in Sharjah … After we were bowled out for 74 (in a group game against England), we packed our bags [because we thought we were finished]. But Imran insisted we would still win the World Cup.” Fazal would also say in that interview that Akram had joked that Khan, soon to turn 40, had “gone senile”.

Not Aaqib Javed, though. Like Intikhab, he remembers the moment when Imran walked in wearing that t-shirt. “Maybe he thought that I cannot be humiliated this badly, that I cannot get this low in life, that God will not drop me so low. So after this, with so much crap around us, we can only win. There is nothing else left. I don’t know where he got this feeling from, I really don’t know, but he came into the dressing room. He came in wearing the t-shirt. Maybe he just thought, let’s try one final time,” he is quoted in Osman Samiuddin’s book ‘History of Pakistan Cricket’.

Intikhab doesn’t remember much of the speech apart from the general specifics of how it wasn’t over, how they were all talented enough to still win it. “He said ‘Don’t you doubt yourselves, Allah is behind us, we are going to win this. He then told the players individually some things.”

Imran wasn’t a great orator then, prone to almost shy-aloof smile, in a bubble of his own, away from his team and talking less. A superstar, who individuated himself and made a crowd of others. But that day, he was moved to speak for 20 minutes. In Aquib and Intikhab’s telling, Imran reminded individual players that nobody is more talented than them in their area of expertise. Is there a better swing bowler than you? Is there a better young talented batsman than you? And he would provide the answer himself: No one.

In terms of actual content, your Ted X speakers might have more powerful content. But the message’s significance lay in the messenger himself. “If Imran says this, if he comes on TV and says so and so will be the greatest allrounder in the world it is one thing but if another guy says that, say Sarfraz Nawaz, who will be moved by it?” he asks.

“All I know is that after those 15 minutes, when the match began, the way I went into that ground, I haven’t had that feeling ever before and I never had it again after,” Aaqib is quoted in the book. “I could feel that nobody could face me or stop me. I had three slips for much of the game because I just knew. I knew each and every ball was going to go exactly where I wanted it.

“Those 15 minutes… life changed.”

Aaqib once told this newspaper about how he was worked over by Imran magic when he was 16 and about to bowl at King Viv. Older men have trembled. Imran sidled up to him from mid-on to say ““Maaro b*****d ko bouncer”. “After that I began to think like a lion.”

In his autobiography, Imran remembers the 15-minute talk thus: “I tried to drive

home to them that the worst that could happen was we could lose and they need not worry because the blame would come to me”. Imran even quotes from Koran in his book and may be he invoked the same in the dressing room, ‘For a Moslem, hopelessness is a sin’.

On that fateful day, with a tiger growling on his tee, Imran walked up for the toss, and would tell the presenter Ian Chappell, who would ask him, “thought you were the Lion of Lahore, what’s this? Imran’s reply is a YouTube viral hit to this day. “That’s what I have been telling Allan (Border), I want my team to play like a cornered tiger. You know that’s when it is most dangerous.”

“And he said this for Border and Australians, you see,” Intikhab laughs. ‘Dekha Binod’ meme would be perfect slug here, as Australia would be vanquished.

Imran remembers Border’s face during that meeting at toss in his book. “His face bore the expression of a man who was worried about losing and did not necessarily believe that he could win. I felt that was a crucial difference between our two attitudes.”

Just two final puzzles remained. The form of Akram and Inzamam. “The poor boy had a tummy infection and was turning weak. I gave him some sleeping pills ahead of the semi-final game against New Zealand,” Intikhab says.

Next morning, Inzamam would coax Imran to rest him. “Imran sternly told him, ‘tu jeeyega ya marega, tu khelega hi!’ (whether you die or live, you will play).” says Intikhab, slipping into another lovely laugh. At Imran’s behest, Aaqib would convince his friend Inzy to play. Inzamam was unleashed from the ring of self-doubts.

Akram was a touch despondent after the Australia game, despite the cornered tigers chat and the game itself. The white ball was still coming under his control. In the morning, at breakfast, he would glance at the sports pages. “I was having breakfast with Ijaz, and there was a huge headline,” Akram said in a Cricinfo video. “Imran had made a statement: “I don’t mind Wasim bowling no-balls as long as he bowls quick. That gave me lots of confidence and I bowled real quick in that game.” Wasim wriggled free from the doubts about the white ball.

Other concerns had already been nipped. There were many from Salim Malik to Ramiz Raja. Imran wrote in his autobiography that “Rameez Raja, who had not played against India due to a shoulder injury, went round telling people that he was really fit but I had not asked him. In fact, in every team meeting all the players were asked to talk about their fitness and the last time I had spoken to him he had clearly stated that he still had little strength in his left shoulder. But this is typical of a team when it is doing badly”. All that was now in the past. But one thorn still pricked.

“Only Imran’s shoulder was the problem now,” Intikhab continues the story. “I remember after the game at Perth, three of us were sitting in the room – Imran, me and the doctor. It was one in the night. We were to travel the next day to Christchurch. I told Imran that he has to take the (cortizoid) injection now. We had two more days before the game and for the pain to settle down. Imran’s worry was what if the pain flared up on match day. With the doctor’s advice, he would take it that night.”

In the dressing room, Imran would goad his team-mates calling New Zealand a ‘B team”, and they would trounce them twice, in the last league and in the semi-final, to reach the final against England. We know what happened there.

***

Just one story about Akram’s second ball from hell in that famous spell after he had already sucker-punched Allan Lamb with an away-curler from around the stumps. Here is Chris Lewis’s memory of that second ball, his first and last in that tournament. “Here we are! We are 25 years on from the ball and I am still haunted!” Lewis would tell this newspaper in 2018, when we met for a story about his life after imprisonment for cocaine smuggling. “We knew Wasim’s abilities. I saw the ball tail in, just too late. I was going to leave it, but then the bat was already angled back and I was too late. The ball kept going. I wish I had won that match. It would have set me up: a World Cup winner. How many people can say that?”

“But I will tell you a fun story about that ball. I went to Pakistan in 2005 or ’06. We took a bunch of children to Lahore for coaching. I didn’t know that for a country I have never been to, I would be so famous! It turns out there was an advert running for many years. A rice advertisement. It shows Wasim Akram bowling me out! So everybody in Pakistan has seen that, and as I walk through, they go, ‘Chris Lewis Chris Lewis … Wasim Akram’. Everyone did that to me. What can I say, great times!”

Not long after Lewis’s departure that night, Imran would have one last signature leap to hurl the ball that sealed the triumph. As he walked back, with his teammates losing their heads around him, he would be yanked back. Surprised, he would turn and look: It was Miandad. Both would disappear into a bear hug, and Imran would break out into a rare emotional smile.

Miandad would drape a Pakistan flag around their shoulders and the two great cricketers, the rooh and the ruler of the Pakistan team, walked off the field. On that flag, the crescent moon was dancing.





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