“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is the title of an oft-mentioned and famous Western Hollywood movie but if a film could be made about Pakistan’s performance in the recently-concluded first Test of their tour of Australia, the film-makers would need to make a slight adjustment which would be the closest description of Pakistan’s fortunes in that game.
The title “The Ugly, the Bad and the Good” would be a much better way to illustrate how a team, which was recently at the top of ICC’s Test rankings could have shown three totally different aspects of their cricket in a period of just over four days.
The “ugly” in the Pakistan performance in Brisbane would begin with their bowling effort. Although losing the toss could have played a role in how things panned out in the match, it would not be a stretch to say that Pakistan’s bowling and fielding on the first day laid the foundations for an uphill struggle for the rest of the match.
For a start, the choice of a three-man left-arm fast-bowling attack composed of Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali raised a few eyebrows amongst experts. Was this the best way forward and could a right-handed Sohail Khan have asked different questions of the Australian batsmen?
Whilst Mickey Arthur was at pains to explain this selection with some rather forthright remarks about the fitness and skill abilities of both Sohail and Imran Khan, the fact was that the Pakistan fast-bowlers failed to deliver on the crucial first day of the series. They were unable to exploit the conditions during the daylight hours and when the time came for the much-awaited evening period, where the pink ball was expected to swing around corners, Pakistan bowlers failed to deliver the necessary killer punch.
And the Pakistan bowlers weren’t alone in this poor effort in the first innings. The fielders put in their own two cents with dropped catches; none more important than those of the Australian captain Steve Smith — who went on to score 130 which could easily be considered a major contributor to Pakistan’s eventual loss. The wheels came off spectacularly on the first day of the Test and had it not been for some sensible bowling by Pakistan on Day 2, the Australian score could easily have gone past the 500-mark piling more misery on the visitors.
Whilst the Australian first innings score of 429 was a challenge and it is possible that the soul-destroying last wicket partnership took the wind out of Pakistan sails, it was surely the “bad” in the subsequent Pakistan batting performance which pretty much put the game outside the visitors reach.
Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Jackson Bird tore through the Pakistan batting line-up which seemed clueless in terms of standing-up to a sustained pace attack by Australia’s bowlers. Indeed, the Pakistan innings was in tatters at the end of Day 2, with Pakistan hanging on for their dear lives on 97/8. It was some courageous batting by Sarfraz Ahmed and Amir which saw Pakistan to what could only be considered as a face-saving total of 142. Whilst the Australian bowling was measured in Pakistan’s first innings, some of the shot selection can only be described as horrid.
The game from that point onward was to become a matter of survival and hope for Pakistan. The home-side wasted no time in setting their stall for the remaining part of the game. Scoring at a rate of over five runs an over, the Australians declared on 202/5 thereby setting up a huge target of 490 runs.
The game at this point was considered firmly out of Pakistan’s reach. Yes, there was a hope of weather intervening on the fourth day but given the struggles of their bowlers, fielders and batsmen so far in the game, that delay would have little consequence in the outcome of the game. The result to many was a foregone conclusion and the only debate centered around which day the game would come to an end. Fans and experts as well as the Pakistan head coach were now looking ahead to the next Test as the current game was considered beyond redemption.
But here is where the “good” part of our story comes to life. Faced with almost insurmountable odds, Pakistan began their second innings reply chasing an improbable target but there was a strange air of defiance in this effort. The scorecard for this innings will be the testament to a fightback which many admirers of Pakistan cricket will treasure. Azhar Ali and Younis Khan stood up to an Australian attack which felt that Pakistan batsmen were good target practice for their bouncer barrage and the likes of Amir, Yasir and Wahab, part of a much-maligned Pakistan tail also showed up to put in significant contributions.
But the hero of the game for Pakistan, and one whose contribution was recognized with a well-deserved Man of the Match award, was an understated Asad Shafiq. Under pressure for his recent run of low scores as he was in the Oval a few months, the 30-year-old delivered a tour de force which almost incredibly won the match for Pakistan. His 137 runs in Pakistan’s second innings endeavour of 450, ninth in total at the number six position, not only won plaudits for his courage and skills but also puts him ahead of the great Sir Garfield Sobers who scored eight 100s whilst batting at the same position.
From ridicule to praise in a few days, the Pakistan team has moved up a few notches in the psyche of the Australian viewing public, who had the honour to view an excellent opening Test match this season. Whilst Pakistan failed to do the impossible and were defeated by just 39 runs, the Australian cricketers will now know that they have a contest at hand in the remaining two Test matches. The Pakistan cricketers may have gone empty-handed from Brisbane and would understandably be distraught at losing the game after having come so far, but what they now have is a self-belief which could only mean trouble for Australia in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.
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Updated Date: Dec 19, 2016 16:28:06 IST