Pakistan nearly achieved a surprising victory in a thrilling tale, according to Geoff Lemon.
If you have dedicated certain summers to watching Pakistan participate in Test matches in Australia, you may experience a sensation that schoolteachers are familiar with. Those responsible for students can attest to dealing with the most exasperating ones – those who are intelligent and intriguing, but for some reason are unable to get their act together.
They exhibit disruptive behavior and can be difficult to anticipate, but the most exasperating aspect is that this behavior can also lead to them reaching their full potential. They may focus and improve their test scores for a period of time, but then suddenly steal chemicals from the science lab on the last day of school to set fire to the bike shed.
Unfortunately, the Boxing Day Test did not live up to its potential as a thrilling day five match due to an extended day four and Pakistan’s inability to secure a win. In sports, we often hope to witness unexpected and original moments. However, Pakistan has not been able to win a Test match in Australia since 1995 and has never won a series. Despite having the opportunity to change this record in Melbourne, they ultimately fell short in the last hour of the match.
Although they were not the favored team to win, they had moments of hope while chasing 317 runs. When they were at 110 for 2, with their new captain Shan Masood performing well and former captain Babar Azam regaining his form. Also, at 162 for 4, when Saud Shakeel, who has been consistently performing, was in the game. And at 219 for 5, when Mohammed Rizwan and Agha Salman brought the required runs down to double digits.
The Australians were likely concerned as Rizwan, the energetic wicketkeeper, played aggressively by hitting shots through cover and attempting pulls. Salman, usually a lower-order bowler, was batting at number seven and showed great aptitude with the bat. The possibility of these two players needing to score 70 or 80 runs on the final day of the match would have surely kept Pat Cummins up at night.
The Australian captain returned to the game with an aggressive round of short deliveries, resulting in a close caught decision against Rizwan and dismissing the resilient Aamer Jamal. With seven wickets down, the umpires granted an additional half hour for Cummins and Mitchell Starc to finish off the remaining players. The final four entries on Pakistan’s scorecard were all 0s.
On the final day, Pakistan had an opportunity, but it wasn’t their only chance. Despite being at 187 for 3 after the first day, it seemed like they were able to keep Australia in check. However, during the first session of day two, they lost seven wickets which ended their progress. Despite their successes, there were also shortcomings such as allowing 52 extras, incorrect bowling lengths on the first morning, a missed opportunity to dismiss David Warner early on, and conceding too many runs in a short amount of time on the second morning.
During their second round of bowling, the crucial moment was when they missed catching Mitchell Marsh again – if they had succeeded, Australia would have been in a much weaker position at 46 for 5, with Alex Carey facing immense pressure as he came in to bat. However, Marsh went on to score 96, allowing Carey to play his usual skilled innings and make an impressive 53 with the lower-order batsmen. If any of these events had occurred differently, the outcome of the game could have been altered.
After setting the target, a victory on home ground was highly probable, considering the formidable trio of fast bowlers that could arguably be considered Australia’s best of all time. Hazlewood has returned to his consistent form, Starc’s performance as a Test bowler has improved with age, and Cummins has consistently stepped in when needed. With ten wickets in this match, he has surpassed 250 in his career. If he has two more successful years, he could potentially surpass Glenn McGrath as the second highest wicket-taker for Australian fast bowlers, following in the footsteps of Dennis Lillee.
It is noteworthy that the Pakistan team, with less experience and achievements, put up a strong fight against Australia. They persevered for all four days, and a close call against Rizwan could have made a difference. This exposed their lower order to tough conditions with unpredictable bounce in the fading light, resulting in their downfall due to lack of skill rather than effort.
One could argue that fixing mistakes is what will propel Pakistan to become a successful team. However, despite coming close, they ultimately fell short. This is the source of frustration.