Sharjah was known for producing some interesting and unpredictable cricket matches in the 1980s and 1990s. The Pakistan v/s Zimbabwe match in the league stage of the 1997 Singer-Akai Cup turned out to be one such saga with unexpected twists.
It was the last league match of the series and was more like a semi-final. Sri Lanka had reached the final and it was left to this match to decide whether Pakistan would join them or Zimbabwe.
Pakistan won the toss and opted to bat. They had a very strong team and this made them the favorites. But the Zimbabwean team of the 1990s had the ability to scare anyone on their day.
This is exactly what the African nation did with the ball. Pakistan kept losing wickets right from the start. We soon realized that this isn’t just another bad start from which teams generally recover.
In less than 20 overs, Pakistan was reduced to 51 for 7! The trio of Eddo Brandes, Heath Streak and Everton Matambanadzo was all over Pakistan and it looked as if they would be bundled out before reaching 100, considering all their frontline batsmen were out.
I clearly remember being shocked and amused as a school boy watching the match on TV.
Although the big names had collapsed, Pakistan still had Moin Khan out there. The gutsy wicketkeeper-batsmen had bailed out his team from trouble on numerous occasions in the past. He did it again for his team, despite the disadvantage of having only the tail for company.
Their star off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq put his hand up and gave a solid support to Khan. The scorecard might indicate that he played a test innings by scoring 20 off 81 balls but in the context of the match, the innings was priceless.
Khan succeeded in rescuing his team with a brilliant 61 off 97 balls. The fact that he could hit just one four and one six was proof of how hard he had to work for his runs. The pair of Khan and Saqlain added 77 runs for the eight wicket and Pakistan had something to bowl to by finishing at 151 for 9.
But despite the fightback, the score was very low and there were no demons in the wicket. Zimbabweans still had the upper hand.
However, there were more unexpected events in store. Pakistan’s strong bowling attack lead by Waqar Younis kept striking regularly at the start. His team mate and leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed rose to the occasion and picked up 4 wickets. Apart from playing a gutsy innings, Saqlain picked up a couple of wickets too.
In the end, Zimbabwe was all out for a paltry 119 in 40.1 overs.
At the halfway stage, it looked like Zimbabwe would create another upset after their win against Sri Lanka earlier in the series. But that wasn’t to be courtesy one of the biggest fightbacks in ODI history.
In the end, the match became like a replay of the earlier league game between both the teams. Pakistan were all out for 187 and Zimbabwe were bundled out for 95 after being 39 for no loss at one stage.
This match also brought back memories of India being 17 for 5 against the same team in the 1983 World Cup match and then going onto win due to skipper Kapil Dev’s incredible innings of 175 not out.
Unfortunately, there is no video available of this encounter on YouTube.