The First Test Between Australia and Pakistan was a Great Advertisement for Test Cricket
When Tim Paine blocked his 163rd dot ball to a fuller ball from Yasir Shah, the Australian captain secured a remarkable draw, something that seemed next to impossible after the first three days of the Test. Australia seemed down and almost out, after conceding a first innings lead of 280 runs. The prospect of facing arguably the best leg spinner in the world and a debutant spinner who bamboozled the Australian batting into submission in the first innings on a fourth and fifth day pitch, seemed well beyond an Australian batting line up which was without its two best batsmen, and prone to all-too-frequent collapses on Asian soil.
But how wrong were we? The Australians rose like a phoenix. Just like the first innings, the newly-formed opening combination, of a number three batsman promoted to open for only the fourth time in his career and a limited-over veteran making his debut, showed remarkable courage and determination. And just like the first innings, the Pakistani bowlers remained patient, and kept pegging away hoping for the first breakthrough that would lead to quick blows afterwards.
The pattern seemed to repeat as the departure of the first batsman in the form of Finch to the persevering Mohammad Abbas, led to two more quick wickets in the form of the Marsh brothers – both to Abbas.
It seemed that another collapse was truly on. The next two batsmen Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne were rookies in Test cricket, and had looked extremely nervous in the first innings. Maybe the Pakistani bowlers became over-confident, or too relaxed, or maybe the old Australian spirit of never-say-die suddenly found its way into the body and brain of the next batsman in the firing line – Travis Head.
But what is probably more probable is that Head got inspired and motivated by the once-in-a-lifetime masterclass of batsman-ship being exhibited by Usman Khawaja at the other end of the pitch. For a player whose track record in Asia before this Test against spinners of all kinds, was abysmally poor, the kind of confidence and technique he was exhibiting in this Test especially against spinners, was a testimony to what one could achieve through hard work and determination.
Usman Khawaja, in the company of Head put up a century partnership and more importantly, stayed put for about 50 overs. Just when the Pakistani bowling seemed to be running out of steam, their hope was ignited by Head falling leg before the wicket to the guile of ‘Professor’ Mohammad Hafeez. Labuschagne followed not long after. When Captain Paine joined Khawaja in the rescue act, he was under immense pressure not just because of the condition in which he found his team in, but also because of the relentless criticism that has been subjected on him by many players from his country including the great Shane Warne.
A failure here and the chorus for axing him not just from captaincy, but from the squad altogether, would go shrill. And he produced a truly remarkable Captain’s innings.
First he played an able supporting role to Usman Khwaja. But when Khwaja departed to that wily fox, Yasir Shah, there were still about 15 overs to negotiate. Yasir Shah quickly followed the wicket of Khawaja with those of Starc and Siddle in his very next over. With a world class spinner in demolition mode, and about an hour still there with just two tail-enders for company, all the heroics of Khawaja and Paine seemed to be going in vain.
But then Yasir Shah did not get any wicket after that, nor did the debutant hero from the first innings – Bilal Asif or Mohammed Abbas. Sure, there were some close shaves, but Paine, in the company of Nathan Lyon soaked up all the pressure exerted by the bowlers and fielders in the field, the sparse but vocal Pakistani supporters in the crowd, the match situation, and the critics, and held Pakistan to a remarkable come-from-behind back-to-the-wall draw.
After the match, Paine may have answered in the negative when he was asked whether this draw felt more like a win, but the game of cricket certainly was the winner here, and the countless people all over the world who love Test cricket know that this sure was a great advertisement for the five-day Test cricket. It is matches like this that point out the absurdity of a market-driven demand to reduce the duration of a Test match to four days.