Australia v Pakistan Tests
Pakistan's brave chase falls short
Australia secure nail-biting victory as Pakistan go close to pulling off world record run chase
Andrew Ramsey at the Gabba, Brisbane
19 December 2016, 11:59 PM AEST
Australia ultimately pocketed their predicted win but it was Pakistan that emerged with a lion’s share of the plaudits after a history-making run chase that ultimately fell bravely short.
The manner in which the first Test ended – tailender Yasir Shah run out by Steve Smith’s laser-like throw from second slip having wandered inattentively out of his crease after staving off a Mitchell Starc yorker – was in keeping with many a previous failure from this most mercurial of Test teams.
However, throughout most of the 144 overs leading to that defining moment Pakistan had mounted a compellingly composed, clearly-thought pursuit of a target never before achieved and rarely contemplated in Test history.
To have got within 40 runs of what would have been the highest successful run chase in Test history – by a remarkable margin of 72, not just a handful – in any situation would have been a notable achievement.
But to do it in the unfamiliar surrounds of a day-night Test, against an opponent who had destroyed their batting for 142 in their first innings three days earlier, was as extraordinary as it was unexpected.
It was the dismissal of player of the match Asad Shafiq at the start of the 145th over by Mitchell Starc that fatally wounded Pakistan’s chase of history, after he and Shah had defied everything Australia could muster in more than 100 minutes today.
During which they put on 71 for the ninth wicket with only a false step (or two) along the way.
But even then the vocal and euphoric Pakistan fans at the Gabba and watching in droves from afar continued to believe the final pair might find the additional runs despite their historic shortcomings with the bat.
Until Yasir’s misstep ended those hopes.
When Pakistan resumed their second innings, with gates at the Gabba thrown open for free admission and expectations of victory similarly low, speculation centred on precisely how they might get themselves close.
There were whispers that raised the ghost of Edgbaston in 2005, when Australia entered the final morning at eight wickets down and eyeing a distant target of 107 for an unlikely win.
Ultimately falling three runs shy of victory, after last pair Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz put on a nerve-shredding 59 for the 10th wicket.
Parallels were drawn to the highest successful run chase (7-418) that was mounted by the West Indies in a dead-rubber Test in Antigua in 2003.
And the biggest in Australia, posted by South Africa at the WACA Ground (4-414) to set up a series win in 2008 when Pakistan’s current coach Mickey Arthur was at the helm of the Proteas.
Or even, among those with memories that extend beyond the internet era, the equally nerve-wracking Boxing Day Ashes Test of 1982 when Australia’s final batting hopes Allan Border and Jeff Thomson resumed the last day needing 37 runs with no wickets in hand.
But edged to within four runs of a drought-breaking win in front of almost 20,000 fans enticed by the open-gate policy, before Thomson edged one too many to slip.
The common element in all of those epic finishes was that Australia was the team that ended up as the vanquished.
There were key differences, however, in the scenario facing Pakistan.
Unlike the Edgbaston, one of the wickets the batting team had up their sleeve was a specialist batter – Shafiq – who not only boasted an unbeaten hundred to his name but has completed more Test centuries than any number six the game has previously seen.
And in a small but significant variation from that Boxing Day episode, having one auxiliary batsman in the shed rather than none meant Pakistan had room for error.
Albeit a solitary one before Rahat Ali, with a Test batting average of 7.7, would be required to enter the fray.
A confident flick over the slips cordon from a Mitchell Starc bouncer by number 10 Yasir Shah in the day’s second over brought the requirement to an even 100.
A single to deep point from Shafiq early in the following over from Hazlewood reduced it to double figures, and also signalled that there was little consideration given to protecting the tailender from the bowling.
Not that the 30-year-old from Karachi needs tutelage on batting with less credentialled teammates, now that he’s overtaken legendary West Indian all-rounder Sir Garfield Sobers as the holder of most Test tons from a spot in the order that’s closer to the bottom than the top.
His smooth drive to the extra-cover boundary carried Pakistan beyond 400, just the sixth time that’s been achieved in the fourth innings of a Test match played in Australia.
And the first time by Pakistan anywhere in the cricket world.
Forty minutes into the day, Pakistan’s penultimate pair had seen off Australia’s strike bowlers Starc and Hazlewood without offering up a genuine chance and having culled the required runs by 29.
To be within 80 runs of a win, and in territory rarely traversed in almost 140 years of the Test game.
It was Jackson Bird who forced the first error when he found the edge of Yasir’s bat, only to see the chance fly through a vacant second slip.
Smith having reduced the size of the cordon from two to one when the over began four balls earlier.
Bird was involved in the next potentially pivotal moment, albeit inadvertently as Shafiq drove him forcefully down the pitch where the ball clattered into the non-striker’s end stumps with Yasir clearly out of his ground.
By a much greater distance than the ball had evaded Bird’s outstretched fingers.
Australia fleetingly felt they had secured the breakthrough after almost an hour-and-a-half of toil when Yasir was adjudged lbw by England umpire Richard Illingworth, shouldering arms to Hazlewood with Pakistan within 50 runs of victory.
However, Yasir suspended his disbelief at the decision long enough to review the call with the ball tracking technology revealing the ball was bouncing well above the stumps and a brewing controversy was quickly quelled.
In Hazlewood’s next over, Shafiq chipped a ball tantalisingly close to Matthew Renshaw’s despairing dive at mid-wicket.
But it was Australia’s most potent menace Starc who finally got the wicket, a devastating throat ball from around the wicket that even a batsman of Shafiq’s acumen could but parry to gully.
The result was then assured, but the legacy of Pakistan’s bold, historic if ultimately unsuccessful pursuit will linger long.
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