Cuts, pulls, a shimmy down the wicket and the most belated of late cuts were executed like only Inzi could. —File
So when he walked out onto the field for Pakistan's World Cup opener against Australia at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, Inzamam-ul-Haq looked like the boy-wonder of 1992; the fearless talent which had propelled Pakistan to glory.
But that was that.
Inzamam scored 19 runs from six matches of the 2003 tournament as Pakistan were knocked out in the first round.
What was being touted as the 'deadliest' XI, put in a dismal performance which saw the end of several celebrated careers. A major shuffle in the side beckoned.
There was no clear leader after the departure of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis and it was under Rashid Latif that Pakistan started a 'new era' much like Azhar Ali's ODI squad in the coming days.
Latif's side saw the induction of many 'new stars' as it lifted the Sharjah Cup right after the World Cup. Though Pakistan managed to win the title, the tournament which included Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Kenya, did not test the new side much.
Latif's real test awaited in England where Pakistan were to play a three one-day internationals' NatWest Challenge. Pakistan lost the series 2-1 and soon enough Latif was under fire from all quarters. Those dropped from the squad after the 2003 World Cup flop, had a few words of advice as well.
This was the same season, the summer of 2003, when Inzamam, also dropped from the side after managing his show at the 2003 World Cup, decided to play league cricket in England in an attempt to salvage his international career.
“Since there is no domestic cricket being played in Pakistan, the only way I can satisfy the selectors about my fitness is to play some league cricket,” Inzamam said of his new venture.
“I am not disheartened at being dropped after the World Cup. It happens to every player. You just have to fight back and make a comeback,” Inzamam added.
As the age-old, over-used cliche goes: “Form is temporary, class is permanent.”
Inzamam finally got a call to play for Pakistan a few months later against a plucky Bangladesh side.
The 'Bengal Tigers' were due in Pakistan to play a series of three Test matches in Karachi, Peshawar and Multan, Inzi's den.
On paper, it may appear Pakistan cruised to victory in the first two Tests but there were moments where Bangladesh demonstrated what they were capable of.
And they nearly pulled it off in the third Test had it not been for the 'King of Multan.'
Inzamam, miserably out of form and struggling to retain his place in the team, walked out on the crease with Pakistan on the verge of a humiliating defeat. The scoreboard read 62/2, with Pakistan chasing a target of 261.
The majestic right-handed batsmen had so far notched up an unimpressive 88 runs from the five innings that preceded and it took Inzamam a jittery six balls to get off the mark.
But once he did, a counter-attack of epic proportions ensued even as Pakistan slipped to 164/7 at one point.
Calculated shot selection and with a great deal of concentration, he shrugged off what was the most terrible time of his career. It wouldn't be wrong to describe the innings as a masterclass in chasing, executed with perfection.
Cuts, pulls, a shimmy down the wicket and the most belated of late cuts were executed like only Inzi could. The clip of the legs towards midwicket, which Steve Smith so efficiently now employs, was brought out too, in that customary languidness.
Inzamam, who batted for five hours 17 minutes, added 93 runs with the eight and ninth wicket of which, his contribution was 74. That should say it all.
Apart from Inzamam, Bangladesh's sloppiness in the field on the fourth morning did not help the cause either.
Hannan Sarkar, right-hand opening batsman, dropped Shabbir Ahmed on nought.
Together, Inzamam and Shabbir added a crucial 41.
This wasn't the crucial moment of the match.
When Pakistan were left to score 49 more runs to win, Umar Gul survived a direct-hit because the Bangladesh veteran Mohammad Rafique had already dislodged the bails in a frenzy.
And when finally Gul was run out courtesy a bad call from Inzamam, the damage had already been done. The Inzamam-Gul partnership had added 52 runs to Pakistan's tally — Gul's contribution was that of five.
Wisden aptly described the nervous final moments of the game: “Four runs were now needed, five balls remained in the over and the No. 11 coming to the striker's end was Yasir Ali — a 17-year-old on first-class debut, with only a handful of junior games and a hurried lunchtime batting lesson from Javed Miandad, the Pakistan coach, behind him.
“But Yasir kept out three balls and then tickled a single into the leg side. Off the last delivery of the over, Inzamam struck the winning boundary. Ramiz Raja, the former Test batsman, called it 'one of the best Test innings of modern times'”.
The close encounter ended in a one-wicket win and Pakistan took away the series 3-0. The Test not only brought out the best from one of the country's great batsman, it also propelled him into the role of a leader.
Following the Multan Test, Pakistan's fortunes fluctuated but Inzi's form did not go.
He was back to his burly-best