Fresh from the memorable World Cup 1992 campaign, Pakistan embarked on their gruelling four months long tour of England full of confidence. The five match Test series is hailed as one of the best of the 90s, a decade where Australia took over from the West Indies as the best long-format outfit. Meanwhile, South Africa steadily rose from isolation to become the strongest competitor to Australia’s crown.
Pakistan backed by the Ws (Wasim and Waqar) threatened to top the world throughout the decade but the fractious nature of the players of that era never allowed the team to string together consistent results.
Aamir Sohail who made his Test debut in the same series was one of Pakistan’s stars of the decade. In only his third five-day game he launched a stirring attack on the hosts’ en-route a most magnificent 205 at Manchester’s Old Trafford ground — his highest Test and first-class score.
Rarely have the Pakistan batsmen especially the openers displayed such bravado away from home; Aamir’s innings was truly iconic and even 23 years later, no opener from the country has come close to matching the Old Trafford knock especially outside Asia.
Saeed Anwar — the other half of Pakistan’s famed opening pair (Sohail and Anwar) of the 90s — played some sublime innings of his own but even the great Southpaw couldn’t quite outdo the Sohail effort.
The Old Trafford Test was the third game of the high octane series, after a rain affected draw at Edgbaston, the two teams fought tooth and nail at Lords before the two Ws took their team past the meagre 138-run target. The duo had to do the finishing off job with the ball too as the batters made a mess of an extremely paltry chase.
At Old Trafford, on an even wicket, Pakistan got off to a flying start as Sohail and his opening partner Ramiz Raja got into an overdrive with a series of boundaries in the opening session. Raja raced to 54 off only 58 deliveries before falling to a contentious caught behind decision off Devon Malcolm.
In Asif Mujtaba, Sohail found a more than able partner who was willing to block one end as Sohail flayed the English attack, playing with uninhibited aggression and the proverbial impetuosity of youth that would make David Warner proud. Sohail reached his first-ever Test ton in only 127 balls, even after more than two decades the shot that got him past the century mark is vivid in his head.
“A back-drive past fast-bowler Tim Munton took me to that elusive 100 mark; it was such an overwhelming feeling, the realisation of a dream, the dream of scoring a Test century,” remembered Sohail.
The seeds of the Old Trafford special were sown at the home of cricket, the Lord’s — venue of the second Test of the series — where Sohail scored a swashbuckling boundary laden 73 off 108 balls before falling to Phil DeFreitas.
“I thought I had a hundred for the taking in the second Test at Lords, so when I got out I was furious with myself. At Old Trafford, England started an all-out attack against us. This is when Ramiz and I decided to launch a counter punch, and both of us played our shots, the true nature of the pitch with its even bounce and pace helped us score runs.”
Pakistan were being captained by their batting icon Javed Miandad in the series. Miandad, the master of Test batsmanship, was just the calm head Aamir needed after he had waltzed past the three-figure mark.
“After Mujtaba fell, I had Javed Bhai’s company at the other end. He told me that I should continue with the same unabated aggressive approach. It was just one of those days when the shots kept coming off for me and the moment became even more memorable when I reached the 200 mark in the last session of play.”
Vivian Richards’ backing
The 92 squad to England included some gifted youngsters. The likes of Sohail, Zahid Fazal, Inzamamul Haq, Moin Khan, Aaqib Javed and Mushtaq Ahmed had tasted World Cup success in Australia before embarking on the English tour and they were keener than ever to learn from the masters of the game.
Sohail spent considerable time discussing his approach and batting technique for the challenging English conditions with Miandad and Salim Malik but his meeting with Vivian Richards spurred him on towards the highs of Old Trafford.
“Before the Tests we had a first-class game at Glamorgan. I scored a century there (124); Richards witnessed the innings. Zahid asked me to make him meet the legendary West Indian and when we sat down for a chat, I asked Richards about what was the best way of batting in the Tests. He said “What do you want me to tell you, you are doing great by this aggressive shot making, just carry on in the same vein.”
At Old Trafford, Sohail just did that! His 205 is a delight to watch, especially his cover drives and back-foot drives through the off-side; the innings also placed him in an exalted club of two with the late Taslim Arif. The two are the only openers from Pakistan who converted their maiden hundreds into double hundreds.
It was a special innings: Rashid Latif
The tour to England in 1992 was Rashid Latif’s first exposure to international cricket. He was the understudy to Moin Khan for the first four Tests before his memorable debut in the series clinching win at the Oval, the fifth and final Test of the series where Latif himself scored a fifty.
“It was a brave innings from a brave player. At the start of the Test series, Sohail threatened to score big in almost every innings but got out to rash shots, while at Old Trafford he finally made the English bowlers pay.
“The innings was a treat to watch; I remember so many of his boundaries in front of the wicket. I enjoyed his innings from the dressing room. I recall that English fans and journalists praised Sohail wholeheartedly for his performance. I consider it a very special innings indeed.”
Since the Sohail-Anwar partnership ended at the turn of the century, Pakistan’s struggles at the top of the order almost seem impossible to sort. Perhaps, the openers embarking on the England tour next year need to watch Sohail’s 205 at least once.