Second Test, Day 4: Australia accomplishes Mission Impossible

by Andrew Gigacz

Day 4 dawns cloudy for Australia, literally and metaphorically. A lead of 80 with two wickets remaining has even the most optimistic of us in doubt. But optimistic I remain and prior to the start of player, I go searching for the silver lining in those clouds. And I find it.

Australia’s lead of 80 is meagre, and if they lose the last two wickets without adding to it, I know their mission will be impossible. But I’ve searched deep into the bowels of Test cricket history and discovered that they are only 4 runs shy of an important milestone. A lead of 84 would mean Pakistan are chasing 85 for victory. And that score is the lowest target in Test history that a side has failed to successfully chase down. It’s not much to hang a hat on but it is something. It would mean Australia’s task going from Mission Impossible to maybe Mission Inconceivable.

I’ve decided to break this innings down into Mission statuses based on the 10 lowest fourth innings targets that have not been reached.

Target 84 or less. Mission Impossible

Target 85-98. Mission Inconceivable.

Target 99-106. Mission Insurmountable.

Target 107-110. Mission Imponderable.

Target 111- 116. Mission Implausible.

Target 117-119. Mission Improbable.

Target 120-123. Mission Imaginable.

Target 124 or higher. Mission Interesting.

Hussey and Siddle head out to the middle.

MISSION STATUS: Impossible.

A couple of singles and a two to Hussey in the first couple of overs and that first hurdle is crossed. In my mind, it’s officially “game on”.

MISSION STATUS: Inconceivable.

The next target is for Australia to get to 304. This would make Pakistan’s target 99, the second lowest unattained 4th innings target in history. If they get to this point the tinglings of hope will surface.

In fairly quick time, Mission Insurmountable status is achieved as the lead pushes past 100 and a fifty partnership registered.

MISSION STATUS: Insurmountable.

Siddle, a man not without cricket “smarts”, does all the right things. He defends, he leaves, he stays in, leaving the accumulation of runs to Hussey. And this Hussey does well. Luck has turned Mr. Cricket’s way in this innings. Dropped three times on day three, he is relishing the pressure of this challenge. After a series of nudged ones and twos, he becomes ever so slightly more attacking, and a boundary or two appears. The 107 run lead mark is passed.

MISSION STATUS: Imponderable.

Hussey moves into the nineties. Previous events of the summer mean that his innings is surely about to end. When he gets to 99, I think of all the possible ways he can fail to make the ton. Run out going for the quick single that would give him 100? Run out at the non-striker’s end after an accidental touch by the bowler? Stranded on 99 not out when Siddle is dismissed and Dougie makes a golden?

But the man on a mission is unflustered. He plays a gentle drive past Gul to the mid-off fence and becomes the first Australian this summer to reach 100 by virtue of a good shot. The lead passes 111.

MISSION STATUS: Implausible.

Hussey survives a referral and the score inches to 323. Lead 117. Do I dare to dream?

MISSION STATUS: Improbable.

Siddle tries to avoid a bouncer but it hits him and goes for four byes. Lead 123.

MISSION STATUS: Imaginable

Two balls later he edges to the third-man boundary. Lead 127.

MISSION STATUS: Interesting.

And no matter what happens from now on, it’s bound to get more interesting as the day unfolds. Just after the 350 mark is passed, Siddle gloves a short one down the leg side and is dropped – and once again the offender is keeper Akmal, this time off Sami’s bowling.

The very next over Akmal’s in the action again as an appeal for caught behind is turned down and then referred. Replays show the the ball came off Hussey’s forearm. Even when Akmal catches them they’re not out!

Just before Lunch, Hussey drives Sami majestically to the boundary, taking his score to 124, the highest score by any Australian this summer. Despite calls for his head from some quarters, Mr. Cricket will be in this Test side for some time to come.

As the sandwiches are served, Australia are 8/373, 166 ahead. Pakistan have gone an entire extended session without a wicket. They have a problem, which they have been unable to solve. For them it’s Mission Insoluable.

Shortly after lunch the breakthrough finally comes as Siddle is unable to handle a brute of a ball from Asif. A 133 ninth wicket stand comes to an end. Having had a lean summer with the ball, this might be Siddle’s most important contribution of the season. Bollinger comes and goes, leaving Hussey 132 not out and Pakistan a target of 176 to win. “Game on” is definitely an apt description now.

A 10 minute innings break gives one enough time to ask several questions:

Can either Marcus North or Michael Clarke turn personally forgettable matches around with a contribution in the field, maybe even with a turning ball? (Clarke’s done it before at this ground.) How will Pakistan approach this target – with trepidation or gusto? Will Peter Siddle’s frustrating summer with the ball take a change of direction?

It doesn’t take long for the Pakistani approach question to be answered. Farhat and Butt take 15 from Siddle’s third over and suddenly the visitors are 0/30 after just five overs. This approach can make a tricky total very attainable in a short space of time. But it is a method not without risk and in the next over Farhat drives Bollinger but checks his shot at the last moment, and it lands in Johnson’s arms at mid off.

142 required, 9 wickets in hand. The remainder of this game will be played in the heads of the Pakistani batsmen.

And so it proves. Butt and Faisal Iqbal take it to 1/50. Pakistan can almost reach out and touch this victory. But then Johnson comes on for his first spell and takes two wickets in his first over. Significantly, both are caught by keeper Haddin, one a spectacular one-hander at full stretch. What would Kamran Akmal be thinking?

3/51 and the mind games set in for the remaining batsmen. Tick, tick, tick goes the scoreboard until the last over before tea. Captain Mohammad Yousef takes 12 from Hauritz and Pakistan go to tea with a score of 3/77 and the momentum back with them.

Had the tea-break not come at that moment, Ponting would surely have seriously considered removing Hauritz from the attack. But when players return, a first-up maiden from Johnson is enough to convince Ponting to give Hauritz one more chance. And that decision is possibly THE one of the match. Yousef dances down and smashes Hauritz back at him. But it’s in the air and Hauritz grabs the catch. Two balls later and Misbah-Ul-Haq is Hauritz’s next victim.

5 for 77! I don’t know what’s going on in the minds of Pakistan’s players but in my mind they are gone. But the fifth wicket does bring the Brothers Akmal together. Surely this pair have to stay together ’til the end if Pakistan are to win. The two take it to 103 before Kamran plays a most un-Akmal-like shot, hanging the bat out and edging to Haddin.

Brother Umar fights on but there’s an air of inevitability about this. At 133, Sami feathers a Hauritz delivery. Haddin grasps it cleanly. Therein lies the difference in this match. Haddin has taken everything that’s come his way. In Australia’s second innings, Kamran Akmal handled everything that came his way like a hot potato and dropped the lot.

There are three wickets left but this is now Mission Impossible for Pakistan. Umar tries to win it on his own but miscues Bollinger to cover. Hauritz takes the last two. All out for 139. Pakistan, having led by 206 on first innings, have lost by 36 runs.

Peter Siddle’s match bowling figures are 1/89. But it’s his second innings score that means more than anything: 38. When you’ve won a game by 36 runs, 38 is a very significant figure. He and Michael Hussey have saved this match.

Mission Impossible has been accomplished and Australia have escaped with the match and the series. And it wasn’t the tape that self-destructed in five seconds, it was Pakistan that self-destructed in 10 second innings wickets.

About Andrew Gigacz

Well, here we are. The Bulldogs have won a flag. What do I do now?

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Great stuff Gigs (or is that agent Phelps)

    An amazing day!

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