What Defines Winning a Day of a Test Match for Pakistan Down Under?
Once again, the day was ending in despondency for Pakistan in Australia. The touring party looked battered as the Fox commentary panel hashed out how Mohammad Rizwan’s transfer of weight to the wrong foot deprived Pakistan of a crucial opportunity to curtail Steve Smith’s stay at the crease. The director had already had his cameraperson pan his camera on Abdullah Shafique, who was now stationed at cover rather than his usual slip position after spilling a regulation catch of Mitch Marsh. Had Shafique caught it, Australia would have had half of their batting line-up rolled for only 40.
Yet another day of Pakistan being miserable because of self-inflicted damage!
Such is Pakistan’s plight that an entire generation of Pakistan cricket fans has yet to see a Test in Australia end in any fashion other than the hosts celebrating. The lengthening shadows on an Australian outfield have become synonymous with grief and hurt, and such has been a trauma that any imagery of an Australian stadium in the backdrop of a sunset can leave them anxious.
Meanwhile, social media was rife with Sydney 2010 analogies. There are heartbreaks. But, Sydney 2010 was a crushing of emotions altogether. It left the fans anguished – unable to process what was unfolding in front of their eyes.
That Pakistan had Australia reeling at 16 for four earlier seemed all set to be a footnote as another day of analysis and reportage around Pakistan’s miserable fielding standards beckoned. ‘It’s not how you start that’s important, but how you finish!’ as the famous saying goes.
Fox, by now, was already running an analysis on Pakistan’s poor catching efficacy off pace bowling in the last two years and had a camera fixed on Marsh’s family as he neared the coveted milestone, a Boxing Day Test century, after crunching Mir Hamza’s wide delivery for four.
With the hopes deflated, it has to be something spectacular to bring Pakistan back into the match.
Save for the Test series in Sri Lanka in the summer of this year, Pakistan have produced moments of brilliance but struggled to keep the opposition under a stranglehold. Perth, to a certain extent, showcased it. The third day of the Boxing Day Test perfectly underscored it.
But, the moment presented itself again. This time, a few balls after that punishing cut from Marsh. It had to be something spectacular to seize it, and Salman Ali Agha produced exactly that.
Agha, stationed at slip, dived on his right to pluck a marvelous catch. It was a perfect length ball by Hamza that made Marsh, who had dominated since that dropped chance, hang his bat. Marsh fell four runs short of what looked a certain century.
If the drops like the ones from Shafique quash a team’s confidence, efforts like Agha’s uplift them.
Riding on the new wave of energy now, Pakistan pacers hit probing lengths. The pitch might have seemed to slow down, but there was menacing seam movement for them as Hamza got the ball to jag back into Alex Carey. The next nine overs allowed only eight runs to the hosts.
With the final session extended for half an hour because of an early morning drizzle, Pakistan took a last chance on their pace spearhead Shaheen Afridi. He would bounce out Smith on what ended up being the last ball of the day.
That scorcher – and wily field placement that had Agha positioned exactly where the ball went – instantly reminded everyone that Australia had taken Lunch with two of their top three back in the pavilion with a mere six runs on the board. All of a sudden, social media feeds flooded with that blistering in-swinger – a definite contender for the ball of the match, despite that Pat Cummins delivery to Babar Azam – from Hamza to Travis Head to reduce Australia to 16 for four.
As debates around a good target began, many were reminded how Pakistan’s lower order narrowed the run deficit to 54 in seam-friendly conditions after being 124 runs short of Australia’s 318 at the start of the day.
Pakistan rarely arrives on the ground in the last days of a Test with hope. Tomorrow, however, they will.
Australia enjoy a lead 241-run lead with only four wickets in hand. With the Pakistan pacers continuing to strike form, they will hope to bowl out Australia in the first hour for as few runs as possible.
However, Australia look certain to extend their win streak as no team has surmounted a target of this magnitude at the ‘G since 1953.
But that Pakistan buried the Sydney 2010 comparisons, produced an opening burst that will flood social media with the images of Afridi and Hamza celebrations and disappointment-laden walkbacks of the mighty Aussie batters, and gave something to their fans to make them set an early morning alarm in these cold winters – this certainly counts as winning the day for them.