Brexit, Trump and Pakistan at the Gabba — all in the same year? In the end, perhaps, it would have been too much for Ripley to handle. But you’d have to scratch your head to recall the last time a losing side had won the hearts and minds on such a grand scale for advertising the elasticity of imagination, indeed human endurance.
Well before Mitchell Starc pitched a snorter in what appeared to be the dying light for his team, and which finally snared the diminutive Asad Shafiq, the world in general, and Pakistanis in particular, were celebrating the spirit of an honourable fight — the result be damned. Such was the heroic rearguard enacted by Shafiq and a tail long made fun of for its length but apparent lack of spine that the losing side had thrown a party in the winning mould to mark the occasion — with Shafiq and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq indulging the pehle aap (you first) niceties to have the cake.
What this will have done for Pakistan’s confidence given the sudden and steep slide they had hit coming into the fourth innings at the Gabba — it is still a fourth consecutive Test loss for the team — is obvious. What is more noteworthy is the massive leap of faith it will have invoked for the game itself in more ways than one. That it has once again reinforced the theorem of Test cricket being the real test of character, in general, and become the USP for day-night pink ball razzle-dazzle, in particular, is a cinch.
What is even more galling and perhaps, a touch definitive, about the fourth innings peak that Pakistan achieved is that it has stretched the imagination of what may be considered possible in the future. Even though the visitors fell just one shy of the highest total in a losing cause (New Zealand scored 451 against England at Christchurch in 2002), the fact that Pakistan fell only 39 runs short compared to New Zealand’s wider margin of 98, and where only one man — Nathan Astle (222) — played a blinder, sets up a new benchmark.
That the astonishing fourth innings fightback was staged against the run of play, under lights with a pink ball, after an embarrassing first innings disaster and a certain defiance of conventional wisdom tells you a lot about what the game has just witnessed in terms of historic significance.
What Asad Shafiq and the tail comprising Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah — the bowlers combined scored 111 and added 229 runs in partnership with the centurion — have done in enabling the third equal highest fourth innings Test score is to make Australia forget about crossing the line in Brisbane and fret over getting their strike bowlers back up on their feet again for Melbourne!
Mitchel Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Jackson Bird bowled 113 overs amongst themselves out of the 145 delivered in the fourth innings in nearly 11 hours from Saturday night to Monday afternoon. Starc and Hazlewood each bowled 56 overs in the match, something neither has done even in a first class game before while Bird’s 45 in the Test was his biggest grind at this level.
Only once in Pakistan’s history have tail-enders from No 7 to No 10 ever scored more than 20 in the same innings. But while it is understandable to hail the record breaking Asad Shafiq — he overtook Sir Gary Sobers’ eight Test centuries at No 6 with his ninth and career’s 10th — at a time when he was fighting to retain his spot; the rock-like Azhar Ali; and back-to-life Younis Khan; there’s the danger we may overlook the man who lit the bonfire in the footnote of a draining battle.
The fightback was actually initiated by Mohammad Amir. Promoted two places up at No 8 after his similar first innings defiance, he set about exemplifying courage in the face of hostility and trademark Aussie sledging, which subsequently rubbed off on Shafiq, and then, his incoming bowling partners Wahab and Yasir.
One has noticed that ever since his return to international cricket early this year, Amir has not been given any confidence to show his lower order mettle even though he scored an unbeaten 39 in The Oval Test this year and remains the second highest No 10 ODI scorer (unbeaten 73 against New Zealand, where, too, he had almost single-handedly won the game for Pakistan from a hopeless situation). Hopefully, the management will stay the course.
Disturbingly, Coach Mickey Arthur, who, had been able to bring a sense of direction and purpose to the team until now, appears to be taking a solo flight with his choices, and utterances in the media. Strangely, both Sohail Khan and Imran Khan were dropped in favour of a three-pronged left-arm pace attack in Brisbane. Arthur pointed to the number of southpaws in the Australian team for picking up Rahat Ali, in addition to Amir and Wahab.
All things considered, it was a poor decision given both Sohail’s and Imran’s recent form, and particularly, the former’s courageous batting in New Zealand when even recognised batsmen had floundered. Arthur’s apparent defence was that he had picked the best possible pacers. Not only was he off the mark with his preference for Rahat over Sohail, in particular, he betrayed a certain lack of sensitivity in openly critiquing Sohail and Imran before the Australian media.
Talking to ABC radio, Arthur said: “I don’t think he (Imran) has got the pace to bowl on a good wicket here,” and added, “I’ve got a doubt about Sohail’s comeback ability.” He then proceeded to break down the latter’s spells into vulnerability zones!
The coach may be entitled to read the riot act to his bowlers behind closed doors, but not shatter their confidence and open them up to ridicule in public. One such ill-adventure got Arthur the marching orders when he was the Australian coach. It would be a wonder if the PCB has even noted this irresponsible act, much less put in a word of caution.
Let’s hope better sense prevails in tomorrow’s Boxing Day Test.