(Photo: Getty Images)
By Richard Edwards
It was the only ball I’ve ever faced that swung two different ways before it reached me,” laughs Jack Russell. “It was travelling at about 90 miles an hour and sent my stumps flying, in fact one of them is still probably cartwheeling now.”
It’s 26 years since the former England wicketkeeper faced perhaps the greatest pair of fast bowlers to ever stalk the earth, but the memory of coming against Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis is still fresh in his mind.
As it is for most of those unfortunate enough to bat against the Pakistan pair in their pomp.
Russell was far from the only player to struggle against Wasim and Waqar – two of the world’s most deadly exponents of swing – and at that 1992 Test at the Home of Cricket, England’s batsmen (and bowlers for that matter) could only stand back and marvel at two fast bowlers at the very peak of their powers.
“They were incredible,” says Russell. “I faced (Courtney) Walsh and (Curtly) Ambrose, which was never nice, but these two brought something completely different. Not only were they bloody quick, but when the ball got old they were even more deadly than when it was new.
“It was just something you weren’t used to. Swing bowling at high pace and the yorkers….”
Russell drifts off as the thought of facing Waqar’s toe-crushers re-enters his mind.
It wasn’t just England’s batsmen that suffered, for the best part of a decade, opponents of Surrey and Lancashire were also on the receiving end. For four glorious days in June, though, in front of the packed galleries of Lords, Wasim and Waqar – with a little help from Mushtaq Ahmed – were simply spell-binding.
England had actually started the Test well, with Graham Gooch and Alec Stewart putting on 123 for the first wicket. At one stage, the home side found themselves on course for a sizeable opening total but with the score standing at 197-3, Alec Stewart was dismissed by the innocuous Asif Mujtaba.
And then all hell broke lose.
With one end open, Waqar tore into dismiss Ian Botham, Chris Lewis, Allan Lamb and Phil DeFreitas in the blink of an eye. From sitting pretty, England slid in ugly fashion to 255 all out. Waqar walked off with figures of 5-91 off 21 overs. Expensive. But mightily effective.
“Their bowling didn’t look dangerous in the opening part of that innings and Goochy and Alec looked in good nick,” says Russell. “Then something just clicked. The ball started moving, they got their tails up and we didn’t have any answer to it.”
Writing in The Times, John Woodcock said that Waqar’s devastating spell – at one point he had taken 0-49 – brought to mind perhaps England’s fastest ever bowler.
“..he produced such a succession of yorkers that no one’s toes were safe,” he wrote. “I was reminded of Frank Tyson in Australia in 1954-55, when he torpedoed Australia’s batsmen with yorkers. It was no disgrace to be bowled out by Tyson then, nor by Waqar now.”
Pakistan responded with 293, with Devon Malcolm and debutant leg-spinner, Ian Salisbury, taking six wickets between them.
And then Wasim got in on the act. The left-armer had taken 2-49 in the first innings but was instrumental in dismantling England’s hopes of victory in the second dig. With the sole exception of Stewart, who remained unbeaten on 69, England’s batsmen were undone by fast bowling of the very highest order, with their last four wickets falling for just one run.
Chris Lewis was bowled by Waqar before Russell was castled by Akram, who then dismissed DeFreitas quicker than an England fan could say ‘not another collapse’. When Malcolm was cleaned up by the same bowler, England’s innings was in the same disarray as the stumps that had been routinely re-arranged by Pakistan’s devastating duo.
“If it was tough facing them at the top of the order then you can imagine what it was like for the tail-enders,” says Russell. “We didn’t have a bad batting line-up with Daffy coming in at 10, but when they were bowling at their very best there just wasn’t very much you could do.”
The run chase was a thrilling affair, as Salisbury and Lewis reduced Pakistan to 95-8 in pursuit of 138. True to form, though, Wasim and Waqar once again came to the tourists’ aid, putting on a stand of 46 to show that their talents weren’t limited to moving the ball at breakneck speeds.
Their two-wicket victory remains one of the great Lord’s Test matches and earned both men their own special place in the ground’s rich and varied history. Whatever happens in the opening Test of this Test series, it will have to go some to live up to the quality of a match that swung this way and that.