We’d be Lyon if we said we weren’t fearing this going into day five. It was a Starc reminder of Pakistan’s brittle batting.
Now, with that out of the way, we can focus on what happened in Melbourne. It’s clear what happened. Australia happened. And Pakistan happened. Combined, there was always going to be one result; Starc reeling away in delight, timber disrupted.
It seemed like only one team felt a result was possible going into the final day. Mitchell Starc and Steven Smith had a plan in their heads when they came out to bat. Pakistan worryingly either had no plan to counter Australia’s or, even more worryingly, had no plan at all.
By the time they knew what had hit them; Smith was running back to the pavilion, having declared with a lead of 181.
And then they fell.
Some fell meekly. Some fell like fools. Some fell because their luck ran out. Some fell because the opponent was just too good. But sure as hell; they all fell, like the proverbial deck of cards.
Nathan Lyon ran through the big fish in the middle order — Younus Khan, Misbahul Haq and Asad Shafiq.
Even then, on the surface of it, it seems so simple — one session, one measly session, and five wickets remaining. But it isn’t simple. Not in Melbourne. Not in Australia. Not in the Boxing Day Test. And certainly not when your fate, and that red ball, rests in Starc’s hands.
Smith turned to his prizefighter right after tea. It raised many eyebrows; Lyon had done the bulk of the damage before the session break. Surely he deserved to be bowling right now with Josh Hazlewood, not Starc. But Smith knew, in hindsight, perhaps he always knew. The first Starc spell was dealt with.
From the other end, Hazelwood claimed THAT wicket. Azhar Ali, caught in front of the stumps. The decision, and the match, rested on the index finger of Ian Gould. It went up. Hazlewood screamed into the Melbourne afternoon — the death knell had rung.
Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Amir gave Pakistan some hope, bringing them closer to parity. Get there, and in all likelihood Australia wouldn’t have enough time to chase down a target. But then Amir edged a Jackson Bird delivery onto his stumps to leave Australia three balls away from victory.
Smith once again turned to Starc. Smith knew, he always knew. Pakistan might as well have shaken hands and congratulated Australia on their win at that moment.
Three balls shaped away from Sarfraz Ahmed, then three came back in. If you can do that at more than 150k’s, then you have the right to expect a wicket. Sarfraz had no answer, few batsmen would have had. The deafening sound of leather hitting wood echoed all the way from Melbourne to Pakistan.
If Sarfraz didn’t stand a chance then how could Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah have had? It was over like it was always going to be over; Starc reeling away in delight, timber disrupted.
Spare a thought for Azhar Ali. Not many batsmen score an unbeaten double century and still lose by an innings. Nor would his innings go down into the annals like Shafiq’s in the first match. That was glorious failure, a moral victory, a defying last stand. This was being bullied; embarrassing and demeaning. Sooner forgotten, the better.
And then there was the out-of-form captain. Misbah is 42, sometimes it is easy to forget that. But he has never looked older than when he trudged forward to talk to the press after the match. No, he didn’t look old, he looked broken. It wasn’t a press conference, it was a eulogy. He wasn’t speaking to the press, he was speaking at the funeral of his own career.
This tour Down Under will always be a blemish on his career — the Test version of him never scoring an ODI century.
Never mind that other captains with better teams and better reputations fared much worse here before. Never mind that he has done so much for this Test side. Never mind the incredible achievements he has overseen. Those who hate Misbah will not remember any of that, and boy do they love to hate Misbah.
But even those who love Misbah must realise that all good things come to an end. And, with a tear in our eyes, it is time to say goodbye to the man who slowly but surely made a very special place in the wary hearts of a tired nation. Here must end one of Pakistan’s most romantic love stories.
It has been one hell of a journey, it has been one hell of a career and it has been one hell of a rise from the brink. And even those who hate Misbah can never take that away from him — now he goes, but he goes as Pakistan’s greatest ever Test captain, whether you like it or not.