July 25, 1996: A Love Story

For some reason the afternoon of July 25, 1996 has stuck with me since. The first day of the first Test between Pakistan & England at Lord’s.

I was too young to call myself a “Cricket Purist” at the time. I don’t remember following Test Cricket enthusiastically before that. Sure I have some memories of waking up early for school & also turning on the radio to follow the score when Pakistan went to Australia or New Zealand but generally Test cricket bored me.

It was one of those mid-summer’s Karachi afternoon when you would rather be indoors anyway. And I had hunkered down in front of TV in my old apartment for the start of the Test series. Pakistan had a rather unceremonious exit from the 1996 ODI World Cup against India. The wounds & horrors of that episode were raw and maybe I wanted to believe that Pakistan will have different fortunes in Test cricket. I was looking forward to repress the World Cup memories with some fresh Pakistani successes.

Pakistan won the toss & chose to bat. The start wasn’t so impressive as Pakistan lost 2 quick wickets. Specially Ijaz Ahmed was somehow bowled between his legs by Dominic Cork. It took the commentators and myself good 5 minutes to understand how it had happened but it did. A fast bowler had bowled a top order batsmen between his legs on the very first day of the first test at Lord’s of all the places in the World. It was’t helping my 1996 World Cup demons.

But then came the mighty Inzamam-ul-Haq to the crease to join Saeed Anwer. And the next 1 hour was simply beautiful. Saeed Anwer & Inzamam-ul-Haq had a 3rd wicket partnership of 130 free flowing runs. The stroke play was marvellous as the Red cricket ball kept rolling across the beautiful Lord’s ground, Saeed Anwer scored 74 and Inzamam went to score his 5th Test century with a 4 and a mighty 6 off of Graeme Hick.

I particularly remember one of Inzamam’s boundaries to this day. His signature cover drive with a bent knee and he held on to the pose long after the ball had crossed the ropes as if to make a statement. He scored 148 runs that day. And just like that I was hooked. It was not exactly love at first sight but I had finally fallen in love with Test cricket. The rest of the Test match and in fact the series was a Pakistan Cricket fan’s dream. It had everything. From free flowing stroke play to the ruthless fast bowling from Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. And who can forget Mushtaq Ahmed as he kept spinning the England batsmen round and round.

Waqar and Mushtaq took 33 English wickets between them in the 3 Tests. Saeed Anwer 362, Ijaz Ahmed 344, & Inzamam 320 were the top Pakistani batsmen. Pakistan went on to win the first Test and the series 2-Nil.

Every time I think about Test cricket it takes me back to that afternoon and that series. For me it was a golden age for Pakistan. I don’t remember the 70s or 80s. Pakistan had many successes before that and many since than. Many more players, victories. But the diversity in both our bowling & batting couldn’t be any better. The Hall of Famers like Saeed Anwer, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, & Mushtaq Ahmed all playing in the same team. You cannot ask for anymore. It was perfect. And the hopeless romantic in me will never ask for anything better.

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