Home 80s & 90s Cricket England v Pakistan in the 80s & 90s: Erratic selection policy and an unsung hero

England v Pakistan in the 80s & 90s: Erratic selection policy and an unsung hero

by Daniel Wood

Mike Gatting arguing with Shakoor Rana? Reverse swing and allegations of ball-tampering made against Waqar & Wasim? Maybe it’s the 1992 World Cup Final? Or a battle between two of the all-time great all-rounders Imran Khan & Ian Botham (in or out of court) perchance?

No, not for me. When I think of England vs Pakistan in the 1980s or ‘90s I picture Neil Mallender, the former Northants & Somerset seamer and current international umpire.

The English Test side in the ‘80s and ‘90s was awash with continual chopping and changing, no discernible game plan and an apparent unease with long-term planning. Central contracts and the promise of a rest between Tests were as likely as to be brought in as video technology to assist the umpires. Or in modern parlance, as much chance as Stuart Broad being dropped for the First Test of an English summer (oh!).

There would usually be 6 Tests every English summer and somewhere in the middle was the Headingley Test.

The Headingley Test, weather permitting, usually guaranteed a result. This was facilitated by the seamer friendly wickets and conditions served up in Leeds. It was a haven for “horses for courses” county bowlers to make their Test debuts. No fewer than 5 English bowlers made their bow there between ‘91 and ’95. Steve Watkin 1991, Martin Bicknell 1993, Joey Benjamin 1994, Peter Martin 1995 but ended up with only 16 caps between them in total.

The fifth was Neil Alan Mallender in 1992. A consistent bowler in county cricket who had put in years of service with Northants and Somerset must have felt, at 30, that his chances of donning England whites had passed him by – but that wasn’t to be the case.

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By the 4th Test of the series with Pakistan England were 1-0 down and in need of a win. Cometh the hour etc. Through a mixture of injuries and the selectors whims the triumvirate of Botham, Defreitas and Malcolm made way. The fresh, new bowling attack spearheaded by Mallender, ably supported by fellow county stalwart Tim Munton (2 caps in his Test career) were charged with the task of blunting a very good Pakistani batting line up featuring the talents of Aamer Sohail, Javed Miandad, Saleem Malik, who had all already made centuries in the series, and a young Inzamam ul-Haq, who had made his Test debut in the opening match.

There was a tense atmosphere bubbling underneath with no little acrimony between the two sides. The English press were accusing the Pakistani bowlers of cheating because they felt it was impossible to generate the amount of prodigious reverse swing gained by Waqar, Wasim by fair means.

There was a tense atmosphere bubbling underneath with no little acrimony between the two sides. The English press were accusing the Pakistani bowlers of cheating because they felt it was impossible to generate the amount of prodigious reverse swing gained by Waqar, Wasim by fair means. This in turn led to accusations of racism from the tourists. In the 3rd Test Aaqib Javed bowled an aggressive spell at England’s number 11 Devon Malcolm, argued with umpire Roy Palmer and ended up losing half of his match fee for his troubles. With the backdrop of Mike Gatting’s finger jabbing at Shakoor Rana in Faisalabad nearly 5 years before and the World Cup rivalry from earlier in the year brewing in the background things were more than a little “lively”.

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A cool head was required and Mallender provided that. Pakistan won the toss and decided to bat but that soon proved to be a bad decision as “Ghostie” removed Sohail and Mujtaba with the scoreboard showing little over 50. He took the wicket of Waqar late on to finish with 3/72 in the 1st innings of his debut.

With England establishing a significant lead Mallender went on the attack in the 2nd innings. As well as accounting for the wickets of Sohail, Mujtaba and Waqar again, he also dismissed Javed Miandad and Moin Khan to finish with 5/50.

With England establishing a significant lead Mallender went on the attack in the 2nd innings. As well as accounting for the wickets of Sohail, Mujtaba and Waqar again, he also dismissed Javed Miandad and Moin Khan to finish with 5/50. A more than decent start to a burgeoning Test career. England duly won the match and he retained his place for the 5th Test.

At the Oval he took only 2 wickets in a crushing 10 wicket defeat and typical of the English selection policy at the time his short Test career was over.

As Rob Key says, “stats are for prats” but this one is a beauty. Mallender finished with a Test bowling average of 21.50 which is the 10th (just behind Jim Laker, just ahead of Fred Trueman) best English average since the war (10 wkts taken minimum) Do you know who is number 1 in that list? Richard Johnson.

Follow me on Twitter at: @80s90sCricket

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