Mysteries and Demons revisited: An Australian miracle, a Pakistani collapse.

They call it Test cricket because it has a tendency to test all your resources, both mental and psychical.

I wrote yesterday of demons and mysteries. At that stage, it was Australia battling the demons, and Pakistan which held all the mystery. Well, as they say, a day is a long time in cricket (and other things).

Late yesterday, with Australia 8 down and only 51 ahead, Pakistan again didn’t go for the jugular. It may have been due to Kaneria going down with cramp, but they failed to press home their position. Nevertheless, it was hard to hold much hope for the Australian cause come stumps. But at least Hussey and Siddle had shown they would go down fighting.

Apparently at least one man still held out hope for Australia overnight; that being the Pakistani captain, Mohammad Yousuf. He seemed to have spent the night battling demons and visions of an opportunity lost. Rather than focussing on their dominant position, maybe he’d fretted on all the missed chances yesterday, the fact that the game should already be over.

It certainly appeared that way, as Mike Hussey surveyed the field for the first ball of the day. Apart from a couple of seemingly token slips, he was struggling to find a fielder within 50 metres of the bat. Pakistan was signalling loud and clear that rather than anticipating victory, they were fearing defeat. That they were praying Australia would hand them the game on a platter, not expecting to seize it through their own efforts.

Not surprisingly, the Australians declined to oblige. In fact, they would have felt positively boosted by the attitude of their opponents. Thus, they were allowed to play themselves in with the only pressure on offer coming from the scoreboard.

It wasn’t long into proceedings before the body language of Mohammad Asif (at least) suggested he wasn’t in complete accord with his skipper. Nor should he have been, for nothing irks a bowler more than sending him the message he’s not trying to get a batsman out. Pakistan had seemingly pinned their hopes to the occasional ball at Siddle, as Hussey farmed the strike with minimal trouble.

It was a tribute to Hussey’s professionalism that, upon reaching his ton, he resisted the urge to kiss Kamran Akmal, without whom it wouldn’t have been possible. He may have spared a fond thought for the opposing Skip as well. Apart from dropping chances, the Pakistan keeper seemed like a man who’d dropped his bundle. Thus, it felt inevitable that, when Siddle gloved one down the leg side with the score on 350, the ball hit the turf yet again. You could almost taste the sense of dread amongst the tourists now.

Deprived of attacking impetus, the bowlers struggled to make any impact on a flat forth day deck. It was remarkable how little the batsmen were troubled given the situation. Danish had tempted fate in the press overnight by suggesting Australia go to school on his googly. They may well have taken his advice, as it seemed to cause little concern now. It’s a brave (or foolhardy) man who tempts the cricketing gods.

Apart from a couple of Hussey slashes over the paltry slip cordon, the Siddle chance was the only moment of Australian alarm. Lunch was reached at 8-373, Hussey 127 and Siddle a personal test high 37. The lead of 167 would have looked like a fair sized Himalayan mountain to the visitors. The entire psychology of the match had changed in one session. This is why we love test cricket.

The Pakistan dressing room would presumably have made for interesting viewing during lunch. But little seemed changed upon resumption. Hussey continued to take the bulk of strike against Kaneria, content to trust Siddle against the quicks. It came as a shock when, with the score on 380, Asif surprised Siddle with a short ball which found glove and shoulder before ballooning to slip. Whatever the Pakistani tactics, the partnership of 123 for the 9th wicket was a magnificent achievement under pressure.

As is often the way, when you get a breakthrough another follows. Bollinger would have been mortified, as he shouldered-arms to his first Danish delivery, to see it leap out of the rough onto his gloves, then via foot onto the stumps. Australia all out 381, a lead of 175. Hussey left stranded for a superb 134no. He’s had his struggles of recent times, but today demonstrated he remains a consummate professional.

With the deck looking very flat, 176 should still be very gettable for Pakistan; but could they recover their nerve?

Those backing a slow grind would have done their dough. The Australians attempted to blast through and the batsmen looked anxious to reduce the target. Seven boundaries came in seven overs before Farhat loosely holed out to mid-off; 1-34. Faisal Iqbal immediately miscued and barely cleared Hauritz at mid-on. That Siddle conceded 6 boundaries in 4 overs highlights the main flaw in his bowling this summer.

With the score at 46, Salim Butt was given LBW to the Hauritz arm ball. The appeal revealed an inside edge and Pakistan breathed deeply. Several misfields showed it wasn’t just the batsmen feeling the pressure.

Respite proved short lived. Iqbal’s unconvincing innings ended with yet another outside edge off Johnson; 2-50. Almost immediately, Butt leg-glanced Johnson and Haddin flew wide to his right to snare a blinder; 3-51. Johnson can be terribly inconsistent, but he has rarely lost the knack of taking wickets.

With skipper Yousuf and Umar Akmal at the crease, you fancied Pakistan’s hopes were on the line. The combatants seemed conscious of the fact; a relative lull ensued. Badly needing to redeem himself, Yousuf took to Hauritz just before tea. 3-77 at the break.

Restarting, Yousuf looked to keep the pressure on Hauritz. He hammered a drive straight at the bowler, which smashed a left thumbnail before disappearing into a tangle of chest and hands. Bravely, Hauritz emerged from the dirt with a crucial catch; 4-77. With finger taped and chest bruised, Hauritz then delivered a longhop, which Misbah-ul-Haq contrived to hit straight to Hussey; 5-77.

Kamran Akmal now joined his brother with one last chance to rectify a personal nightmare, and save his team from calamitous defeat. That he proceeded to waft airily outside off to Johnson hardly restored faith. The brothers advanced the score without ever convincing. It came as absolutely no surprise when Kamran feathered Johnson behind; 6-103. Young Umar would have to do it all himself.

He proceeded to make a fair fist of the task, as Sami only contributed 2 of the next 30, with Umar controlling the strike and keeping his head. At 133, Hauritz got one to bounce to Sami and the Australians went up as one. The umpire said not out, but hotspot was called and showed a nick; 7 down.

Umar now had a problem, as the remaining support failed to inspire confidence. Taking on Bollinger, he skied to mid-off. Johnson got under a swirling ball and held on; 8-133 and the result now looked a formality. No blame should attach itself to the 19 year old. With 49 to his name, he handled the situation much better than his elders.

The rest took no time at all. Hauritz threw the ball up, and Kaneria and Gul obligingly holed out; all out 139 and Australia amazingly victorious by 36 runs. Hauritz with 5-53 had stood tall when it counted. Johnson with 3 and Bollinger with 2 played their part. Ponting’s marshalling of forces at crunch time wasn’t too shabby either.

Australia had been clearly outplayed for three days, but eventually claimed a famous victory by simple virtue of refusing to concede. But if ever a team didn’t know how to win, it was Pakistan. At several stages in the match, they had the chance to close the door on Australia, but squandered opportunities. And there’s no hiding the fact that today represented a capitulation of mind and deed. They carry heavy baggage into Hobart.

Hussy was deservedly man of the match, but Siddle and Hauritz should also take a bow.

T20 attracts much excitement nowadays, and it certainly has its place. But give me a test match like this one any day.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Livable 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. I’m with you John. Give me Test cricket every time.

  2. Richard Naco says:

    A mate of mine at work is a cricket tragic, but he’d so despaired of Australia’s performance prior to that last day that he’d switched off completely and was utterly ignorant of the actual result (he’d just assumed Australia had lost).

    When I told him of the home town win, his immediate response was, “I guess the Pakistanis earned some pocket money with that result”.

    Personally, I don’t think the tourist’s collapse justifies Ponting’s decision to bat first on Day 1. We didn’t so much as win that game as have it handed it to us by a very generous bunch of visitors. India would not have been so obliging.

  3. johnharms says:

    Richard

    I also think they lacked ruthlessness in their first innings. They had Australia on toast, and treated their wickets cavalierly.

    But what a classic test match.

  4. Peter Schumacher says:

    And a great report, too.

Leave a Comment

*