Pakistan's Cricket World Cup revival has uncanny echoes of 1992 triumph

By Amy LofthouseBBC Sport at Headingley
Pakistan fans let off a flare after they beat Afghanistan
Pakistan fans let off a flare after they beat Afghanistan

"Fight like cornered tigers, because nothing is more dangerous than a cornered tiger."

Imran Khan, now the prime minister of Pakistan but then the captain of their cricket team, used that image to inspire his players to go on and win the 1992 World Cup in Australia, one of sport's greatest underdog success stories.

Now, 27 years later, the same mantra is being applied to another improbable Pakistan charge towards World Cup glory.

Halfway through the group stage of the current competition, Pakistan were ninth and had suffered a heavy defeat by their neighbours India.

Four matches later, they have the momentum, are occupying a semi-final spot in the table at the expense of hosts England and, once again, are on the cusp of something quite remarkable.

Saturday's last-over victory against Afghanistan - a thriller that had no right to be as close as it was - was pure theatre; true backs-against-the-wall cricket, a win that will give Pakistan even more belief than they already had.

Are we set for 1992: the 2019 remix?

Yes, the 1992 tournament had nine teams, and this one has 10. But go with me here.

Pakistan's first eight results in the 1992 tournament went as follows: lost, won, washout, lost, lost, won, won, won. They then qualified for the semis, where they beat New Zealand, and in final they beat England.

In this year's tournament, Pakistan's eight results have been: lost, won, washout, lost, lost, won, won, won.

In 1992, Pakistan's opening match was against West Indies, which they lost. In 2019, their opening match was against West Indies - which, you guessed it, they lost.

19922019
First matchDEFEATDEFEAT
Second matchWINWIN
Third matchMATCH ABANDONEDMATCH ABANDONED
Fourth matchDEFEATDEFEAT
Fifth matchDEFEATDEFEAT
Sixth matchWINWIN
Seventh matchWINWIN
Eighth matchWINWIN

It could just be that Pakistan are slow starters. In the Champions Trophy in England two years ago, they lost their first match to India by a whopping 127 runs.

Fourteen days later, they were crowned champions after beating India in a superb final at The Oval.

This might just be what Pakistan do.

England fans are eternal pessimists. When things get tense - as they are now, with the hosts probably needing to win their next two matches to leapfrog Pakistan - the fans assume the worse.

With Pakistan, it is almost as though their fans expect them to get into a tight situation, and get themselves out of it.

Imran Khan celebrates dismissing England's Richard Illingworth to help Pakistan win the 1992 World Cup
Imran Khan celebrates dismissing England's Richard Illingworth to help Pakistan win the 1992 World Cup

On the walk to Headingley on Saturday morning, there were thousands of fans draped in Pakistan flags. One had a handmade sign: 'Never ever write off Pakistan. I am Pakistan and I will rise again. We have and we will.'

So many fans were wearing 1992 replica shirts, as though some of that magic would find its way into this match. Banners and flags bearing the image of a tiger were being waved by supporters of all ages. The words Imran used to rally his team all those years ago are being heard again.

As Ramiz Raja, a member of that winning side, said: "It's like 1992 in the sense we're finding new heroes too. In that tournament, it was Wasim Akram; now it's the likes of Babar Azam and Shaheen Afridi.

"It's all looking in good shape. They have the combination of that spirit, talent and the fans behind them. They have to just express themselves."

And they have. Shaheen has been a revelation against New Zealand and Afghanistan, while Babar scored a stunning century at Edgbaston when Pakistan could have faltered.

Pakistan have stumbled across their World Cup XI, rather than honed it through years of planning. Mohammad Amir did not feature at all in the one-day series in the build-up to the World Cup; he was not even named in the original 15-man squad. Shoaib Malik was taking up a place in the team despite struggling for runs. Wahab Riaz was not added to the squad until late on.

In Amir, they have one of the leading wicket-takers in this World Cup. Wahab bowls fiery spells that highlights reels love and, against Afghanistan, provided some late impetus that got them over the line. And once they replaced Malik with Haris Sohail, they shored up a middle order that had looked fragile.

They even have a 2019 Inzamam. In 1992, Inzamam-ul-Haq was a young up and comer; now, he is chief selector and his nephew opens the batting.

The players and staff themselves are neither ignoring nor embracing the similarities - bowling coach Azhar Mahmood insists that "every match is a final" for his side - but for the fans, for those who sit in rapt attention watching the game and live every moment, the spirit of 1992 is alive and well.

Imran Khan tweet
Imran congratulated his country after their thrilling win

Top Stories

Explore the BBC

Cricket on the BBC