One must make a prediction about Pakistan cricket at their own peril. A team down in the dumps — fielding one of the most inexperienced bowling attacks of all time and thrashed 3-0 in ODIs — somehow bounces back to defeat Australia, last season’s most potent Test team.
Before the start of the Dubai Test, Misbahul Haq’s team was written off, and rightly so. The ODIs were lost under his leadership, one limp performance after the other. Before him Shahid Afridi had led the T20 team to an extremely poor outing in the lone match of the shortest format, along with the one-run loss in the final ODI.
Saeed Ajmal was suspended, Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz were nursing injuries, and Muhammad Irfan could not be risked in a Test match with the World Cup so close. The selectors and the team management decided to leave out Abdul Rehman and Muhammad Talha from the squad and the playing 11 respectively, handing out debuts to Yasir Shah and Imran Khan. Shorn off confidence, consistency and its entire bowling attack, Pakistan looked down and out, instead they registered a dominant 221 run victory.
The start of the match was as inauspicious as it gets for Pakistan; Muhammad Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad were back in the pavilion before the score had reached double figures. It stood at 7-2 and it seemed to be more of the same from the ODIs.
Pakistan, however, had not read the script. A magnificent Younus Khan century and contributions from Azhar Ali, Misbah and Asad Shafiq helped Pakistan grind towards an equal footing at the end of day one. A counter-attacking century by Sarfraz Ahmed on the second day then handed the hosts the advantage. A remarkable bailout was complete as they posted 454. Now, the onus was on the rookie bowling attack.
Pakistan’s domestic circuit is often criticised for being below par, some have even gone as far as to call it ‘rotten’. The quartet of Rahat Ali, Imran, Yasir and Zulfiqar Babar — four bowlers with next to no experience of Test cricket who honed their skills in the same domestic circuit — set about to prove those criticisms wrong.
The Aussies did their poor reputation against spin bowling no good as they bowed out for 303 in their first innings, despite David Warner’s attacking ton. The pitch had looked nigh on dead when Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe were bowling. For Zulfiqar and Yasir, it seemed closer to a minefield.
A 151-run lead in the first innings gave Pakistan a massive edge as the match entered the final two days. In the second innings, the Australians, known for their resilience and never-say-die attitude, looked rugged and flustered.
Shehzad in company of Younus spotted the Aussie predicament and cashed in. A 168-run partnership for the second innings, crushed the already fledgling spirits of Michael Clarke and company.
Younus capped off a stunning return to the team after his emotional outburst in Karachi last month; posting his second century of the match.
Shehzad played the shots, Younus gradually built momentum, and between them, any hopes of an Australian win were squashed.
The fourth innings against the confident duo of Zulfiqar and Yasir with a lot of rough was always going to be an uphill task.
All of a sudden, the rookies looked like master craftsmen as they slowly unleashed their bag of tricks against their clueless opponents. Four batsmen had already fallen before the umpires whipped off the bails to call it stumps on day four.
The damage had already been done in a sensational display of spin bowling that accounted for Warner, Alex Doolan and Clarke; the trio along with night-watchman Nathan Lyon falling to Zulfiqar and Yasir.
On day five, Steve Smith and Mitchell Johnson did offer some resistance through two defiant knocks. But their efforts only prolonged the inevitable, as the spinning duo rolled over the tourists an hour before the end of play.
Fielding is often Pakistan’s weakest link but credit must also be given to the duo of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, who fielded like vultures in the close positions; pouncing on every chance that came their way.
And so Pakistan cricket is breathing again, out of nowhere a mighty opponent has been slain and a historic series win is up for grabs. The momentum must be sustained in Abu Dhabi, a backlash from Australia is expected but in favourable conditions and two spinners in full flow, Pakistan against all odds will enter the field as favourites.
However, just like before the first Test, make predictions about Pakistan’s performance in Abu Dhabi at your own peril.