Mysteries and Demons: Not a Dan Brown sequel, but a Pakistani blockbuster

Pakistan has always been one of the most fascinating cricketing nations; though not always for the right reasons. There’s usually an alleged teenage prodigy of indeterminate age, who often turns out to be 26 years old and a father of three; the continual unexplained revolving door of captains, coaches and virtually everyone else in the dressing room; the murkier dealings of Salim Malik. It is little wonder that they introduced the mysteries of reverse swing to the cricketing world. You always feel things are rarely as they seem. The Sri Lankan team would most likely vigorously agree.

Proceedings certainly weren’t what they seemed at the commencement of this game; at least as they seemed to Ricky Ponting. At the tail-end of a period of cyclonic downpour in New South Wales; on a cloudy day, faced with a greenish wicket, the Australian brains trust had deemed it a good idea to bat. It wouldn’t have seemed a dilemma which demanded Sherlock Holmes to unravel. Sadly, Australia only had Watson, but he couldn’t be blamed for their predicament.

Australia has paid a high price for misreading conditions of late; we need only think of the Oval for a painful reminder. When it occurs, I’m sure I’m not the only one who ponders the role of coach Tim Nielsen in the scheme of things. On available evidence, the coach either struggles to read a wicket, or the captain pays his opinion on such matters scant regard. Or is it that there’s little genuine debate of the skipper’s views in the dressing room?

Mysteries, and the role of coach and captain, continued to intrigue on Day 2, as Australia’s attack resolutely bowled short of the length that had brought Pakistan success. Only the lack of a killer instinct prevented the visitors from a position of greater dominance.

Danish Kaneria began Day 3 primarily concerned with protecting his spinning fingers, even at the expense of his dignity. As a consequence, Australia only had to bowl 5 balls, and the deficit was contained to a still hefty 206.

Watson and Hughes strode to the crease with a heavy responsibility. Hughes, in particular, would have been battling some personal demons as he took block. Proceedings were quiet until 0-30, where Watto hooked fiercely to fine leg. I used to coach under 12’s, and was vividly reminded of those days as Kaneria’s attempted catch burst through his fingers and over the boundary. As the ball screamed toward him, like a junior, you could tell he didn’t fancy it, but was conscious of the shame involved in jumping out of the way. Much of Pakistan’s fielding (Danish especially) has reminded me of those under 12’s.

Watto obviously appreciated the let off, and he prospered, as Hughes played self consciously. Lunch saw Australia 0-86, and feeling a little better about life.

Upon resumption, Hughes was left to ponder the fickleness of the cricketing gods, as Danish reached wide to his left to snaffle a superb one-hander; 37 wouldn’t be enough to silence those demons.

Captain Punter arrived with much to prove, a situation he normally relishes. Not to be on this occasion, as an improving Gul produced a nick to second slip. The Skip departed for 11 and, if confirmation was needed, he’s officially in a batting slump, fit or not.

Whilst all this was going on, the maligned Watto was batting in imperious fashion. It seems not only the cricketing public which is divided over the blonde all rounder; his opponents have rarely missed an opportunity to share their thoughts with him this summer. Even Danish was moved to have a crack; this seeming much like being challenged to a duel by the school chess captain. Unsurprisingly, an unperturbed Watto continued to feast on waist-high longhops, which he dispatched to and over the boundary with authority, as Sami lost his length.

A big feature of the summer has been the contest between Watto and Katich as to who can take the most gas in the 90’s. With Katich absent, it seemed only appropriate that Watto took the opportunity to surge to the lead in 90’s demons. As ever prodding forward, he couldn’t control a Gul lifter and ballooned one to slip on 97. Another century missed, but without his score out of a total of 159, his team would have been in all sorts.

VC Pup dropped anchor with Mr Cricket and they steered the ship to tea at a precarious 3-199.

The return of Mohammad Asif saw a change. He’s been the one bowler in the match to date who’s consistently pitched it up, and his results speak for themselves. This time he did for Pup LBW on 21. The Clarke appeal seemed more in desperation than expectation.

A struggling North came to the crease, and promptly left again as he bat-padded for 2. After a brilliant start to test cricket, North seems to be rapidly losing momentum. At 5-226 (effectively 5-20) Australia was fighting plenty of team demons.

At some stage in proceedings, Akmal K seemed to resolve that Danish needed competition in the worst fielder stakes. Danish’s length often seemed as wobbly as his fielding, but when he landed ‘em he threatened. The wicketkeeper responded by getting three Hussey nicks into the meat of the gloves before spilling them all. Danish decided to celebrate by costing himself 4 overthrows.

Hussey ploughed on, but Haddin couldn’t take the hint- LBW to Danish for 15. Another appeal in desperation found no result. Any threat from Johnson proved illusory, as a googly bamboozled him for 3. 7-252 (effectively 7-46) and those demons were going to need their own postcode. Beware the chess captain on a roll. Gul joined the party by inducing a Hauritz edge for 4; 8-257.

Siddle and Hussey weren’t about to abandon ship, and by stumps they’d added 29, to take the score to 8-286, a lead of 80. Hopes of a miracle would still be flickering, but if any of the Watson or Hussey chances had been taken the match would have been over already. With all the lives, Hussey’s 73no wasn’t a classic, but at least he stood firm while everyone else fell.

Danish capped off a huge personal day by going down in a screaming heap and being helped off. To his 4-117, add his dropped catch and at least 20 runs cost in the field.

Given they’ve missed out on much cricket of late, and they can’t play at home, a win would be a big boost for Pakistan. Going to Hobart 1-1 would hopefully prompt some Australian soul searching. If the Aussies could get 150 in front you just never know, but I know where the smart money will be.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World’s Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. Great stuff, JB. I think there was a clue to Australia’s decision to bowl in Tim Nielsen’s interview with Nine’s Mark Nicholas prior to the start on day one. He made a strong point of his concern about the ball getting too wet on the damp grass. I reckon that concern drove the decision. Having said that, as SK Warne opined, it wasn’t a “127 all out” wicket. A first innings of 227 would have made this match a cracker.

  2. Today’s poser: if Pakistan has Danish Kaneria, is there a player somewhere in Denmark named Pakistani Kaneria destined for their national team?

Leave a Comment

*