This was the third Test of Bangladesh’s first full tour of Pakistan. The hosts had unsurprisingly sealed the series by winning the first two Tests, but it did not come as easy as expected.
In the first Test at Karachi, Pakistan were set a tricky 217 to win while in the second Test at Peshawar, Bangladesh had taken a 66-run lead in the first innings before imploding in the second.
This third Test was played at the Multan Cricket Stadium from September 3-6, 2003. The ground had hosted only one Test before, which was also between Pakistan and Bangladesh (part of the Asian Test Championship) in 2001. While the 2001 game had resulted in a hiding by an innings and 264 runs for Bangladesh, the one in 2003 was completely in contrast, as it went way down to the wire.
As it happened, the result was a heart-breaking one for Bangladesh, who missed out on what has been, till date, their best chance to upset a full-strength top-eight nation in a Test match.
On a pitch assisting the seamers early on, Bangladesh captain Khaled Mahmud – star of Bangladesh’s win against Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup – decided to bat after winning the toss.
Umar Gul removed Hannan Sarkar early, but Javed Omar and Habibul Bashar applied themselves very well to put on 74 runs for the second wicket. Bashar went on to make a solid 72 before being fourth out at 166. He was caught behind by Pakistan’s wicketkeeper-captain Rashid Latif off 17 year-old debutant fast bowler Yasir Ali, who took his maiden Test wicket.
Rajin Saleh – who made his debut in the first Test of the series – and Khaled Mashud kept up the good work by sharing a 62-run stand for the sixth wicket. Bangladesh ended the first day at a healthy 248/6.
Gul (4/86) removed Mashud early on the second day to get his fourth wicket, before Shabbir Ahmed cleaned up the tail. Bangladesh finished with a total of 281, losing their last five wickets for 40 runs. Captain Mahmud then handed the advantage to his side by nipping out three wickets to leave Pakistan at 50/3.
Yasir Hameed – who enjoyed a sensational Test debut in the series opener at Karachi by making 170 and 105 – and Younis Khan put on 71 for the fourth wicket before Mahmud (4/37) returned to claim his fourth wicket in the form of Younis, who was caught behind.
Fourteen runs later, the reliable left-arm spinner Mohammed Rafique bowled Hameed, which sparked a collapse. From a relatively secure 135/4, the hosts were dismissed for 175. Rafique punctured the middle and lower order and returned figures of 5/36. The top score of the innings was 39 by Hameed.
With a lead of 106 runs, Bangladesh had every reason to feel optimistic of a historic first ever Test win. But just like the Peshawar Test – where they were bowled out for 96 in the second innings – the Bangladeshi batsmen began to lose the plot in the face of some effective fast bowling from Gul and Shabbir.
Within thirteen overs, Bangladesh were reduced to 41/4. They suffered a further blow when Alok Kapali was forced to retire hurt after being hit on the helmet by Shabbir with the score at 71. The second day ended with Bangladesh at 77/4, and in spite of that, they held the edge over Pakistan with a 183-run lead.
Kapali returned to bat on the third day, only to be dismissed through a controversial catch by Latif. With the score at 91/5, Kapali edged one off Yasir Ali to the Pakistan captain, who dived and claimed the catch. The umpires, believing the catch to be clean, gave it out.
However, television replays later showed that the ball had clearly rolled on to the ground before Latif gloved it. It can be said that this incident did have a bit of an effect on the final result, as Kapali was battling well with Saleh for company. Saleh top-scored with 42 before he too was caught by Latif, this time cleanly.
Bangladesh could eventually muster 154 runs in their second innings. Once again, Gul and Shabbir were the pick of the bowlers, with 4/58 and 4/68 respectively. Pakistan were faced with their highest target of the series, that of 261 runs with ample time remaining.
Openers Salman Butt and Mohammed Hafeez began well, putting on 45 runs at more than five runs an over. Left-arm fast bowler Manjural Islam provided the breakthrough by removing Butt, who was caught by Kapali’s substitute Mashrafe Mortaza for 37.
Islam also removed Hafeez while Mahmud accounted for Hameed – both caught by Mortaza as well – as Pakistan were suddenly 78/3. Three runs later, Younis Khan was unnecessarily run out for a duck thanks to a direct hit from Mohammed Ashraful, leaving the Bangladeshis ecstatic. Rafique then scalped debutant Farhan Adil to leave the hosts tottering at 99/5 and staring at defeat.
Their only hope was Inzamam-ul-Haq, who came in to bat at 62/2. Late in the day, Mahmud had Latif leg before to further dent Pakistan. After a highly eventful third day, Pakistan were 148/6, still needing 113 runs to win and with Inzamam unbeaten on 53.
Before the start of the fourth day, Bangladesh would have been aware that just one wicket separated them from achieving the win which they so desperately wanted. Given the rawness of the Pakistani tail, all that the Tigers needed was to see the back of Inzamam. But Inzamam, playing in his hometown, was a man on a mission.
The gentle giant was in the midst of one of his worst phases when he strode out to bat in the second innings. In the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, he had scored just 16 runs in six games, while in the Test matches against Bangladesh, he had scores of 0, 43 and 35* and 10. His place in the team was under scrutiny, and he could not have asked for a better platform to prove a point to his critics, that too in front of his home crowd.
The partnership between Inzamam and Saqlain Mushtaq had grown to 32 before the latter was out caught behind off Mahmud. Next man Shabbir was dropped by Sarkar at second slip when on nought, a miss which would prove to be costly for the Tigers. Even though Shabbir scored only five, he aided Inzamam in a crucial 41-run stand for the eighth wicket.
Rafique castled Shabbir to make it 205/8, at which point Gul joined Inzamam, who was batting on 89. The tension was growing by the minute as Inzamam and Gul steadily whittled down the target. With 49 runs still required, Gul just escaped being run out off a direct hit.
In the same over, Rafique opted not to run Gul out when the latter was backing up too far. These incidents contributed towards a 52-run partnership for the ninth wicket. Inzamam redeemed himself with a hundred when the score was 217/8, but the job for his team was still to be done.
With luck against them, it was all slowly slipping from Bangladesh’s grasp when a poor call from Inzamam led to Gul’s run out, the score now being 257/9. For the eighth and ninth wickets, 93 runs were added, of which 74 were scored by Inzamam. Four runs needed, one wicket in hand.
Out came Yasir Ali – the teenager on debut who had never played a first-class match previously. In the ninety-first over of the innings (bowled by Mahmud), Yasir managed to play out the first three balls he faced before taking a single to give Inzamam the strike for the final ball.
The big man cracked the winning boundary as supporters rushed on to the field to congratulate him. Bangladesh were shattered, as they lost a gripping battle against a man determined to win it for his nation.
Inzamam remained unbeaten on 138 off 232 balls, batting for five hours and 17 minutes and scoring 20 fours and a six. Pakistan secured a series whitewash by the thinnest of margins.
This was to be Latif’s final Test appearance for Pakistan. Due to the catching controversy, match referee Mike Procter banned him for five ODI matches. In 2009, he himself admitted that he was aware that the catch was not cleanly taken, yet appealed for it. Latif’s replacement as captain was Inzamam, who stayed at the helm till March 2007. With one of his best innings, he had resurrected his career.
The series-winning Pakistan team had many debutants and the inexperience perhaps contributed to the closeness of the games. Regarding the three debutants of the Multan Test, Yasir Ali and Farhan Adil never played a Test again, while Salman Butt put paid to his career after the spot-fixing episode in 2010. Gul, Hameed, Hafeez and Shabbir all debuted in the first Test of this series.
As for Bangladesh, they have never come this close to winning a Test against a stronger team, although their three-wicket defeat to Australia at Fatullah in 2005-06 was equally hard to digest. They are still waiting for that elusive Test win against a full-strength top-eight nation.