Twenty-three years after claiming the world champion title, the Pakistan cricket team is all set to return to the historic grounds of Australia and New Zealand to recreate moments that earned them a permanent spot on the cricketing map.
What happened on the field in 1992 might be etched in the memory of every cricket fan in the country and is refreshed every four years by the barrage of video clips and pictures that flood social media and television screens. Few know what happened behind the scenes. And only one man, who trailed the cricketers closely throughout the event as the team’s official photographer, capturing every move and emotion, can shed light on their state of mind and recall intimate details that lead to the momentous victory. Today, Iqbal Munir uses the power of his pictures and memory to take us back in time when Pakistan cricket was all about the glory of the game.
An uneven pitch
Imran Khan picks up a newspaper to read before his flight to Adelaide, South Australia.
When Munir was appointed by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to cover the event, he got straight down to the task. Equipped with his Nikon F3, he boarded a flight to Australia to join the team that had flown out a month before. Everyone was optimistic that Pakistan would emerge victorious that year, owing to the team’s confidence. Munir was, therefore, not prepared to digest what he came across next. While going through some of the in-flight newspapers, he was shocked to read an article in which Imran Khan, the captain for the 1992 World Cup, was quoted as saying, “We lost the occasion to win in the semi-final against Australia in Lahore in ’87. Now it’s difficult to win the World Cup in Australia.” In contrast to what millions in the country believed, Imran seemed to have little hope of winning the trophy. Munir’s hopes were further crushed when he heard Australian legend Greg Chappell rate Pakistan as the fifth best bet to win the nine-nation tournament.
Flexing their muscles during a drinks break.
Imran in consultation with his vice captain Javed Miandad during New Zealand’s innings in the semi-final.
This cynicism was in stark contrast to the false sense of confidence Munir had witnessed at the conditioning camp set up in Lahore. All the cricketers, except Imran perhaps, were in consensus that they’ll make it to the semi-finals since it was a matter of winning only four matches. The squad, however, looked disinterested and seemingly went through the motions, he reveals. “Imran Khan was nursing his shoulder injury, Javed Miandad was cringing in pain due to a back problem and Waqar Younis was down with a stress fracture,” he says. “The camp lacked vigour and enthusiasm and was bereft of coordination and a sense of purpose. [There was] only overconfidence and arrogance.” The players assured that they would easily take down India, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
But when the team eventually left for Australia on January 15, 1992, a lot had changed. They were travelling without Miandad, and Imran had instead picked out Zahid Fazal and Inzamamul Haq as his potential match winners because of the promise they had shown.
The fall before the rise
Top view of a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground during the final match.
According to Munir, the team went through a series of emotional highs and lows throughout their World Cup journey. In Melbourne, on the eve of the opening clash between Pakistan and West Indies, Munir confronted Imran’s skepticism first-hand. The captain was visibly disgruntled with the performance of the team in the warm-up matches. “Even after a month in Australia, there’s a lack of application and whole heartedness amongst the players,” he confided in Munir. Even during the opening match, Imran was seen huffing and puffing at the team’s performance, which lost to its opponent by 10 wickets.
Imran Khan wears his lucky tiger T-shirt and wins the crucial toss against Australia.
Unlike Imran, Miandad, who rejoined the team during the last warm-up match, gave the players a much-needed boost of confidence. Not only did he practice earnestly, but motivated others to do the same. He even guided Wasim Haider to maintain his line and length and much of his positive influence can be seen in the numerous practice shots captured by Munir.
Imran, on the other hand, did little to keep the team’s morale high. Even while flying to Adelaide, in South Australia, Imran was particularly quiet and aloof. He preferred to spend his time reading a newspaper rather that interacting with the rest of the team. During the match against England on March 1, Pakistan’s weak batting was brutally exposed and this drilled a deeper hole in Imran’s confidence. But a sudden downpour midway during England’s batting brought the match to a halt and earned both teams a point. “This one point can turn our fortunes around,” Miandad told Munir and proved to be crucial in pushing Pakistan further in the tournament.
Javed Miandad mocks Kiran More’s excited appeal by jumping in the air.
The team, however, suffered another major blow soon when they lost to arch-rivals India. In Brisbane, they even lost to South Africa despite Haq’s promising 48 runs off 45 balls. At this point, the team had visibly lost all hope of bringing the cup home, including Miandad, who skipped the match due to stomach flu. And it wasn’t until he spoke to his mother over the phone that he was able to let go of the guilt.
The forward approach
With only three matches left to play now, Pakistan could not afford to lose a single game. The players were desperate to claim back-to-back wins but none of them believed they could. And it wasn’t until they landed in Perth that their fortunes took a turn for the better. That night, they attended a welcome reception that was organised to raise funds for Imran’s charitable cancer hospital. Overwhelmed by the gesture, the captain formally addressed his team at the event and said, “We’re Muslims and Islam teaches us never to lose hope. To lose hope is a sin.” Something seemed to have changed in Imran, Munir recalls, and this renewed energy transferred to the rest of the players in the coming days.
Pakistani supporters out in full force for the final.
At Perth’s Western Australian Cricket Association ground, the team held a meeting in the dressing room which continued for hours. The media was quick to pick up on this and the following day, Munir recalled reading an article in a newspaper, which stated, “In Perth, instead of nets the Pakistani team was locked up inside the dressing room.” But the meeting was crucial in reshaping the team’s destiny, Munir shares.
“It was here that Pakistan devised their strategy to win the World Cup. They came out of the dressing room as champions.” Imran resumed the reins of captaincy and swayed the team with inspirational words, including senior batsmen Salim Malik and Ramiz Raja, who were particularly disgruntled with the team. And the result of this dressing-room talk was evident in the way Pakistan emerged victorious against host team Australia and Sri Lanka in the following days.
The man behind the lens
Iqbal Munir, son of late cricket commentator and journalist Munir Hussain, was always passionate about cricket. In 1978, he began cricket photography as a hobby, taking pictures for his cricket publication Akhbar-e-Watan. Recognised for his work, he was later asked to be the official photographer for Pakistan at the 1992 World Cup.
Munir has since travelled all across the cricketing world in pursuit of his passion and has been involved in cricket development, education and awareness programmes for the last several years. He even went ahead and compiled his World Cup pictures in the book Pakistan: World Champions. In 1987, he also penned his first book An Eye on Imran, which was followed by two further editions. He also contributes regularly to various local and foreign newspapers and magazines.
The victory lap
In their winning streak, Pakistan even managed to take down New Zealand — a formidable team that had already qualified for the semi-finals by winning seven matches in a row, owing to favourable home conditions. But the win against New Zealand was only half the job done. The team had to now place their bets on West Indies losing the match to Australia to send them straight into the semi-finals.
Javed Miandad bats to a thundering applause.
Fortune was on their side and Australia won the match. “The entire atmosphere in Christchurch hotel, where the team was staying, turned festive,” Munir recalls. “Yeh cup hamara hai, is ne hamain pukaara hai (The World Cup is ours, it is calling out to us),” the players chanted commentator Iftikhar Ahmed’s slogan in unison. The spirits at the time were so high that one could have almost believed that Pakistan had already won the World Cup.
The next day a confident Pakistani team arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, for the semi-final against the host. After practice, they left to offer Friday prayers at a mosque. This was followed by a casual lunch date organised for Imran’s charitable initiative, which was attended by Salim Malik, Inzamamul Haq, Ejaz Ahmed, Aaqib Javed, Mushtaq Ahmed and Zahid Fazal. “There was unity and laughter and the group speculated about how Pakistani fans would receive the ‘world champions’,” Munir remembers.
Inside the dressing room players lift their trophy.
This restored self-belief came across on the field the next day through a defiant and rearguard action against New Zealand. Haq’s fluent strokes were particularly praise-worthy. Imran himself scored a notable 44 and Moin Khan managed to seal the deal with a monstrous six. “I froze these unforgettable moments on film,” Munir shares. He also recalled that it was Imran’s wish to play the final against England, which became a reality after Graham Gooch’s team went past South Africa in the other semi-final.
When the big day arrived, Imran emerged on the field of the packed Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) wearing his lucky tiger T-shirt for the toss with Gooch. He wanted to be the first to bat, Munir reveals, since England had failed to chase the target in previous two World Cup finals. And after Imran won the toss, Pakistan’s victory became almost tangible.
Players rejoice after taking another wicket.
Pakistan created history that day. “The skipper held the coveted crystal trophy of the fifth World Cup and the world champions took the victory lap of the MCG amidst thundering applause,” says Munir. “I had dreamt of this final moment in Melbourne,” Munir recalls Imran saying at the presentation ceremony. Later the blaring sound of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s ‘Mera Vird Hai Dam Dam Ali Ali’ shook the foundations of the pavilion. Everyone rejoiced as the players went berserk dancing, singing and screaming. “The 1992 World Cup was won by the team that looked to dismiss its opponents. Pakistan did not have players in bits and pieces but had specialist batsmen and specialist bowlers,” former cricketer Sunil Gavaskar aptly commented after the World Cup. “They all knew what was expected of them and when the chips were down, they responded as cornered tigers and recorded a terrific victory,” he added.
Pakistan has time and again proven that they can swing any match in their favour if they put their mind to it. And perhaps at the 2015 World Cup, they will recapture that moment and put Pakistan on the list of victors for the second time.
Emmad Hameed is an editorial consultant at The Express Tribune.
He tweets @Emmad81
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 8th, 2015.