There have been some superb England performances over the last 20 odd years, but this is without a doubt one of my favourites. Melbourne in 2010 was dominating, KP's inning in Mumbai was something to behold and the entire 2005 ASHES series will live long in the memory, but there is something about that victory in Karachi.
The fact is, England's tour of Pakistan in 2000-01 was by and large a bloody snooze fest. Going into the 3rd test, the series was tied 0-0 after draws in Lahore and Faisalabad. I'm not saying we didn't see any performances of note, Thorpe's 118 in Lahore was superb, as was Craig White's 4/54. I also thoroughly enjoyed Michael Atherton's 65* in the 2nd test, but it lacked an element of drama.
Little did we know at that point that England were saving all the drama for the 3rd test.
Going into the game in Karachi, England had played 11 tests in the calendar year. Their record sat at 5 wins, 2 losses and 4 draws and they were looking to see out the year with a win to their name, before jetting off to Sri Lanka in February.
Beating Pakistan wasn't going to be easy, especially for the batsmen. They were coming up against one of the best attacks in the world. Saqlain Mushtaq was spinning his way to the top of the rankings, backed up by Waqar Younis. England knew that they'd be faced with a tremendous amount of spin and reverse seam.
Duncan Fletcher, the England coach at the time invented the forward press. Something that Marcus Trescothick referenced as a turning point in his ability to play spin, which resulted in his first-ever century coming in a test against Muttiah Muralitharan in Galle. The Zimbabwean came up with a strategy of taking a slight step forward just as the bowler was about to deliver the ball, allowing players to comfortably pick up the flight and trajectory to play the ball off the front or back foot.
Duncan's influence in that series was huge, on the playing of spin in particular. He was also a fairly defensive coach, which was perfect for that tour. The side we had were never going to win the series 3-0. We had to sit in and be patient.
England had put a tremendous amount of work into the preparation for this tour, often batting in nets with scuffed up creases and batting without pads against spin to ensure players were using their bats and not relying on their pads.
England: Atherton, Trescothick, Hussein, Thorpe, Stewart, Hick, White, Giles, Salisbury, Caddick, Gough.
Pakistan: Anwar, Nazir, Elahi, Inzamam, Yousuf, Razzaq, Khan, Afridi, Mushtaq, Younis, Kaneria,
On arriving at the national stadium in Karachi, the odds were firmly stacked against England with Pakistan riding a 34 game unbeaten run at the venue. Upon winning the toss Pakistan captain Moin Khan decided to have a bat and when Pakistan posted a score of 405, which included a magnificent knock of 142 by Inzamam-ul-Haq, that decision looked like a good one. However, England would have taken some positives from the inning. Only Inzamam and Mohammad Yousuf (114) had managed to get a rhythm, the next highest score being the 28 by Elahi. Ashley Giles found some rough to work with early on, making his way to 4 for 94, and Darren Gough looked dangerous taking 3 for 82.
When England posted 388 in reply thanks largely to Michael Atherton's 125 and captain Nasser Hussein's 51, it was game on. The great Pakistani spinner Saqlain Mushtaq had been expensive, taking just 2 wickets for 101 runs, the Duncan Fletcher forward press was working.
Michael Atherton's 125
By the time Saeed Anwar and Imran Nazir came out to start Pakistan's 2nd innings, it was obvious the pitch had plenty of life in it for the bowlers. When Ashley Giles located some rough to bowl the great Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan were reeling on 71-3. Giles and Gough with a little help from Craig White cleaned up the Pakistani batsman for 158 all out, leaving England with 176 to win in just 44 overs to play.
Today, that wouldn't look all that difficult, 4 an over would be looked at as being very achievable. However, playing away in Pakistan at the fortress in Karachi with the pitch turning, and Mushtaq and Younis taking the ball...it was anything but.
England made a solid start with Atherton and Trescothick navigating their way to 38 without loss, playing some superb cover drives and pull shots on the way. Atherton was moving at a nice rate, which may have something to do with the fact that Nasser had considered moving him down the order for the chase as he wrote later:
I told Michael Atherton I was going to promote some of the one-day boys like Graeme Hick up the order to have a bash but he told me where to go and was completely right too as he was in magnificent nick; he had a strike-rate of around 78, as he will happily tell you, and got us off to a flying start.
However just as we were looking comfortable, Atherton tried to sweep Mushtaq, only succeeding on picking out the man around the corner. Trescothick and Alec Stewart soon followed and England were teetering at 65-3.
Enter Graham Thorpe and Graeme Hick. Thorpe, in particular, played some truly outstanding shots off the back foot, driving Mushtaq to the boundary when the pressure was on. With England seemingly in control, Pakistan started their time-wasting. Balls were slow to come back in from the boundary, the ball would slowly make it around the fielders to the bowler, the bowler would change his angle from around to over the wicket continuously, they tried everything to slow the game down.
With dusk approaching and the light fading, it looked as though England would run out of time. However, umpires Steve Bucknor and Mohammad Nazir were having none of it. They weren't going to allow the Pakistan team to wind the clock down with their time-wasting tactics.
Play continued, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, then 30 minutes after it normally would have been called off. Fielders, fans and spectators could barely see the ball. Drives were flying through the outfield with the Pakistani fielders rooted to the spot, not being able to pick up the ball let alone make any attempt to catch or cut it off. Then 45 minutes after play should have been called, a thick inside edge raced away, and the England balcony celebrated like it was a world cup final.
The man of the moment Graham Thorpe who finished the game on 64* reflected on the game:
The umpires refused to give in to Pakistan’s blatant time-wasting tactics. There were unusual circumstances – progressing into the last hour it was getting darker and darker. So it was quite a unique situation and probably a unique Test match to play in.
I look back on it as a great achievement by the team. We needed all the compartments to come together at the right time. We had two draws and we had to see games out to be able to draw them. We only had one opportunity to win the series, and that was in Karachi. When you get that chance you’ve got to be able to take it.
England had won the test, they'd won the series and they'd broken the 34 game unbeaten run for Pakistan in Karachi. It was a moment of pure celebration, the look of elation on the faces of the players was priceless. Thorpe had seen England through to the end with the captain at his side. It was a day and a game that we'll never forget.