1st test, Gabba, Australia v/s Pakistan
You start the test match having lost three tests in a row. You were no. 1 in the world two months ago, and now you’re back to being overseas lambs. You’re about to start a series in a country where you’ve lost 9 tests in a row. Another loss will be a sad world record. No away team has lost 10 consecutive tests in a country. You are about to play at a venue where Australia has never lost a test match. It is a day-and-night test with a pink ball. The home team races away to 400+ in the first innings. Already, you can’t win this match – but then again, you were never thinking of winning it. You score 142 in the first innings, which is only 12 runs more the home captain’s first-innings score. It is well and truly over. You are 287 runs behind. Yet, they don’t enforce the follow-on; they want to grind you to dust again. They treat your bowlers as net practice and race away to 200, setting you a humiliating target of almost 500 runs. Still two days to go. 490, to be precise. The world is sniggering: “The real Pakistan is finally back”. Pakistan have Pakistan-ed themselves again. The whispers are annoying. Because they scored at almost 5 an over, Australia has two full days to bowl you out.
Not for a moment did you – or anyone in the world – think that you have two days to win the game. 490.
6-220. A little rain, but it feels over. Your captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, is gone. Your most experienced batsman, Younis Khan, is gone after a fighting 65 with a silly reverse sweep. Why would he reverse sweep through his innings? Was he actually trying to achieve the target or play for a draw?
On the first session of the fifth day at the Gabba, a Monday morning in 2016, it dawned upon everyone, including Pakistan’s cricket team: They were never playing for a draw. They were going after 490, just like a bruised West Indian team had gone after 418 more than a decade ago. Just like an injured Nathan Astle played probably one of the greatest contemporary rearguard innings and went after England’s 550 at Christchurch, and ended only 100 short after the fastest double-century of all time.
Pakistan were Pakistaning the world. The last day began with Pakistan needing 109 runs to win, not Australia needing 2 wickets to win. Memories flashed back to the great 2005 Ashes, where Australia began the day at Edgbaston needing 108 to win with 2 wickets in hand. They ended 3 short. With the “out-of-form” Asad Shafiq scoring a century, and a belligerent Mohammad Amir getting out for 48, it was still a long shot. 10 overs into the day, it was all going pear-shaped for Australia. Soon, after the first two hours, Pakistan needed 42 more. Still two wickets in hand. Shafiq still at the crease.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, is suddenly interested. Indian cricket fans flip channels from their own India-England match to watch this. They are cheering for you, not only because they hate Australia, but because they love the way you can be so cool and unpredictable. All tensions are forgotten. Every other cricket fan in the world is willing you on to finish this miracle. This could just be the greatest comeback of all time. This could be the greatest test match of all time. And it will be under lights. 42 more runs looks like a cakewalk, given the way you’ve gone about it – from losing, to not losing, to never drawing, to scaring, to winning. You’re in the driver’s seat for the first time in 4 days.
And within 4 balls, it’s all over. Just like that, Shafiq is bounced by Mitchell Starc. And Yasir Shah has a brainfade, getting “stumped” from the slips. It is Pakistan all over again – beautiful, reckless, silly, brutal, heartbreaking and so utterly cool. You lose by 39 runs. You win by losing by 39 runs. Steven Smith, the opposition captain, is elated and so relieved. The Australian team is a mess, but so relieved. You reminded the world why test cricket is the best cricket. You woke up a world that gave you no chance, and reminded them why you are indeed an inimitable team. You almost pulled a rabbit out of a hat. You are an “almost,” which is why you are so much fun to watch. You have no idea of your own talent, and you continue to look like you’re punching above your weight. You believed, and made us, too. Shafiq, your no. 6, should be batting at 3 in any other line-up in the world, but he is letting the older stalwarts hog the limelight. He plays the greatest test innings of the year, just like that.
The third highest fourth-innings score of all time. The second highest score in a losing cause. 450 at the Gabba, under lights, in the fourth innings. Not many – or any – Asian teams can do this. This is your 10th consecutive loss in this country. This is your fourth consecutive test loss to close out a year that saw you reach the peak of the mountain. You’re back to being what you were two years ago. And that is your greatest victory. You can turn it around in two sessions, and yet you will find victory in your greatest defeat. But you lost. And you may lose again, and again. You will lose when everyone is looking, and win when nobody is watching. You are Pakistan.