The ICC Cricket World Cup has over the years become ICC’s pinnacle tournament, an event which is eagerly-awaited by the fans and players alike. I was very lucky that my international career kicked off as a 17-year-old against the West Indies in Birmingham during the inaugural event in England. Twenty-one years later, curtains fell on it in the same mega event in Bengaluru. It had been a memorable journey all through these years.
I was lucky to feature in the first six ICC Cricket World Cups and when I look down the road, I think it was due to hard work and training along with the passion to perform which led me all the way. Being one of the two players to play in six ICC Cricket World Cups, is something to be proud of.
When the first edition was played back in 1975, limited-overs cricket was in its very early days. The prime attraction for new players like me, and even for the experienced individuals, was to get a chance to mingle with fellow cricketers, assess oneself and try to know others better.
The ICC Cricket World Cup 1992 remains the most memorable one for me as we came from behind to win the tournament. I am delighted that I contributed to that success by finishing as the second leading run-getter behind New Zealand’s Martin Crowe.
Pakistan had consistently done well in the previous World Cups, but had stumbled in key matches. Had we not lost to the West Indies by one wicket in my debut match in 1975 after Deryck Murray and Andy Roberts put on 64 runs for the last wicket, we could have finished better. Ahead of this match, Pakistan captain Asif Iqbal had to be rushed to the hospital where he underwent appendicitis surgery and followed the proceedings from the hospital.
We again lost to the West Indies in the 1979 and 1983 editions, both times in the semi-finals. We should have won the 1979 semi-final after Zaheer Abbas and Majid Khan had set the stage for a perfect run-chase, but we failed to carry on the good work and collapsed like a house of cards.
The home event in 1987 ended in despair when we lost to Australia in the semi-final. We were clearly the best side in the tournament and produced some magical performances when the chips were down. Abdul Qadir’s performance with the bat against the West Indies in Lahore was a case in point. But I guess we ran out of luck when we needed it the most.
The semi-final didn’t start very well for us when Saleem Yousuf was injured in the 19th over and I had to keep wickets. Then Steve Waugh’s late cameo, which included 18 runs off the last over, lifted Australia to 267. In our turn, I was back on the crease in the 10th over, this time in batting gears. Imran Khan and I produced the best partnership of the match (112) but we found Craig McDermott too hot to handle and lost by 18 runs.
The loss was nothing less than a national tragedy. The mood in the country was somber and people were clearly heartbroken, an indication of what this sport meant to the passionate people of Pakistan. The semi-final was Imran’s last match for Pakistan, though the then President of the country convinced him to reverse his retirement decision and lead the team on the tour of the West Indies, which took place a few months later.
Our perseverance and determination finally paid off in 1992 when, after a shaky start, we won the last five matches on the trot to lift the trophy in front of 90,000 spectators at the MCG. Imran Khan played a master-stroke when he batted at number-three and who can forget Inzamam-ul-Haq’s cameo and then Wasim Akram’s consecutive deliveries – described as deliveries of the century – that dismissed Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis.
The victory had come after we had lost Waqar Younis before the start of the competition and had suffered defeats in three of the first five matches in a tournament.
It was a fairy-tale event for me. There was a big question mark on my participation due to a stomach infection and troubled back. I arrived just a couple of days before the tournament started and carried throughout the tournament. It was worth playing with pain as I contributed to the team’s cause by scoring five half-centuries, including in the semi-final and final.
The welcome we got upon our return as champions was unprecedented in the history of Pakistan. It was the holy month of Ramadan but the spectators thronged the Karachi airport and our team hotel, just to catch a glimpse of the players. The celebrations continued for days to follow.
The Bengaluru quarter-final in the 1996 tournament was my final international match and though I would have loved to finish on a high, we were fairly and squarely beaten on that day by a better India side.
During my World Cup journey, I got the chance to play with and against some of the very best cricketers. It will be unfair for me to give names but I would take this opportunity to thank everyone who supported, appreciated and backed me during my time at the ICC Cricket World Cup.
For me, it has been a privilege playing with them in the greatest cricket spectacle, memories of which will remain with me forever.