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India-Pakistan cricket matches can deliver you gift-wrapped to a neurologist, so we should all get medals for just surviving. My most memorable one came in Sydney, 1992. It was the first India-Pakistan World Cup match ever, so the pressure was immense! I remember going in to play clean-shaven for the first time. I’d shaved off my moustache after my failure to win a close match against Australia. The fans crowded into the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) were raucous, on both sides. I remember digging out a Wasim Akram yorker, the memory of which still hurts my toe!
Everyone remembers my run-in with Javed Miandad. Letting you in on a national secret: I was needling him from behind the stumps, getting under his skin. I’d raise my gloves to cover my mouth as I spoke. I’d seen him struggle with his back, so was telling our bowlers to pitch it up—that would make him stretch forward, straining his back. Javed tried to shush me, but I kept at it. As a Sachin over ended, he could take it no more and sprung into that famous jump sequence, to let off steam against me! I’d pushed him into reacting; it worked well for us. An angry Azhar asked umpire David Shepherd to intervene. Shepherd handled it well, telling Javed he could send him off, though there was no such rule.
That SCG one was also my last match against Pakistan. For me, it was a story that started with their India tour in 1986/87. We’d played a friendly about seven months earlier, but this was my first ‘official’ encounter: a full series of five Tests and five ODIs. Some of the most intense matches ever! Neither side gave an inch and fought tooth and nail. It was also a series where we made many long-lasting friendships. Between games, I spent a lot of time with guys like Javed and Wasim. One incident stands out in my mind: in the middle of an intense, series-deciding Test at Bangalore, we played Holi. Here were rivals going for the jugular on-field, and celebrating the festival of friendship on the rest day. I can see it vividly—running around the hotel with Javed & Co, trying to douse them with colour. Our chief aim was to push Imran Khan into the water. The entire hotel was splashed in colours and they slapped damages on both sides!
We continued to battle in Sharjah, at times twice a year. They were always the better side because they had genuine fast bowlers, while our swing bowlers struggled on those flat pitches. Then in late 1989, we toured Pakistan with a young squad that included a schoolboy named Sachin Tendulkar. That series was historic for a number of reasons—one being Imran’s insistence on neutral umpires. It was the first series to have that; John Holder and John Hampshire did duty. That tour was simply amazing: we were underdogs but still managed to draw 0-0. I have another memory of Javed from this tour, a pleasant one. Sanjay Manjrekar at forward short-leg and I behind the stumps pestered Miandad to sing some ghazals while he was batting. “Javed bhai ho jaaye aur ek sher,” we’d say…and he would oblige! We were trying to distract him as he had survived a few plumb leg-before appeals, but he was only too happy to let the shayari flow.
My next tryst with Pakistan was India’s next too, as visitors—our first tour in 15 years, back in 2004. I went with my fellow selectors—chairman Syed Kirmani, Pranab Roy, Sanjay Jagdale. We were treated like royalty, especially at the food street in Lahore! The highlight for me was a dinner at Miandad’s bungalow. He called me and said: ”Hey Kiran, kya kar raha hai, aaja khaane pe” (Hey, why don’t you come over for dinner?), which was typical Javed. G.R. Viswanath and Dilip Vengsarkar too were in town—the Pakistan Board had invited former captains. So we were all at Javed’s that night, reliving the old days. Dilip kept provoking Javed all night about one topic—Imran’s captaincy. The Javed-Imran rivalry was legendary. Javed kept evading the topic but finally loosened up. “Woh thodi kaptaan tha. Kaptaani toh mein karta tha mid-on se uske liye.” (He was no captain. I’d tell him what to do from mid-on.) We all roared with laughter.
My strongest Pakistan connection is with former spinner Abdul Raqeeb. Abdul bhai was my roommate in England when I was playing league cricket there. We really became close. He even named his first-born daughter Kiran. We remain in touch, and speak to each other on Eid and Diwali. I hope some day Abdul bhai and his family can travel to India, much like how I’d like to visit Pakistan with my family.
(The writer is a former member of the Indian cricket team)