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Pakistan v Australia 2nd Test Review - Babar’s Blossoming

Babar Azam and Pat Cummins
Babar Azam and Pat Cummins

By the time hands were shaken at the end of the second Test at National Stadium, Karachi (NSK) between Pakistan and Australia, it was fair to say no team deserved to lose the game.

The hard-fought battle had culminated after both sides had given their very best. In scorebook it was a drawn game but not without some nerve-wrecking moments of the the final day, following an innings of highest merit by Babar Azam, the Pakistan captain, who steered his side to a safety with a career-best 196 - the highest score by a captain in the fourth innings in the history of Test cricket, going past Michael Atherton’s epic 185 not out against South Africa at Johannesburg in 1995-96.

In these moment of crisis and the game running away from pakistan, Babar not only led from the front but also inspired both Abdullah Shafique (96) and Mohammad Rizwan (104 not out) to play out of their skins, in surviving 171.4 overs – the most overs played by a side to save a game since the famous ‘Timeless Test’ between South Africa and England in 1938-39. In terms of sheer stubbornness and resilience, it would compare quite favourably with the best back-to-the wall batting display in the modern days, so overwhelmingly dominated by white-ball cricket. Previously only Younis Khan with 107 not out against India at Kolkata in 2007-08, featured as the only Pakistan captain to reach three figures in the last innings of a Test.

Twenty-seven old Babar had not reached three figures in red ball cricket for the last two years and has often found it frustrating for not turning cameos with eye-catching strokes into more substantial contribution to Pakistan’s cause. After Pakistan were bundled out on the third day for 148 in their first innings, in which he was ninth man out for 36, on day 4 he took guard on 21-2 and his side facing a certain defeat. It seemed the reverse-swing and the uneven bounce would push the home side to their only third Test defeat at NSK. In fact a heavy defeat looked the most likely result on the cards. NSK in the period of 1955-2000 had proven to be fortress of Pakistan cricket before England and South Africa breaching it in the 21st century, led by Nasser Hussain and Graeme Smith, respectively.

Babar on his way to his sixth red-ball hundred found an equally determined ally in Abdullah Shafique, playing in only his fourth game. In adding 228 runs for the third wicket the pair had taken out 85.4 overs out of the game. The opening batsman fell for 96 when a touch of nerves overtook his composure and he departed with great ovation from the crowd and his team-mates. In Shafique, who hails from a cricketing family based in Sialkot, the selectors have unearthed a special batting talent and he certainly is set to enjoy long and successful career in the game. Both his technique and temperament suggest he was born to excel in cricket and his innings, fifteen minutes short of 8 hours, against a world-class bowling, is an impressive addition to his CV.

By the time Babar and wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan had advanced the score to 392, after a 5th wicket stand 115 in a reasonably good time, Pakistan had an outside chance to become the first side in history to chase down 500 in a Test match. The target had come down to 131 off the last 20 overs but the two batsmen didn’t feel the need to throw away their hard work and instead opted to bat steadily.

It would have been an extraordinary feat to even entertain that thought and off-spinner Nathan Lyon by having Babar caught at forward short-leg, put an end to any ideas. Dismissed four short of a maiden Test double hundred, Babar had batted for little over 10 hours and still could see his great effort go to waste. The same bowler by dismissing Faheem Ashraf and Sajid Khan, had given Australia a new lease of life. Pat Cummins claimed the third new ball with the score standing at 392-6 and Australia had 12 overs to pick up those four wickets and claim their first ever Test victory at NSK. It wasn’t to be.

On the first three days, watching Usman Khawaja bat with so much ease in compiling 160 & 44 not out in the match, it was hard to imagine someone overshadowing his efforts but he was by Pakistan captain, who was rightly named Player of the Match. Cummins having taken just 53 overs to bowl out Pakistan and earn a massive 408-run first innings lead, opted to bat on. It was quite daft since his bowlers were relatively fresh and should have carried on but the Australian mind-set it seems is still haunted by the events of 2001 Kolkata Test when India turned around the tables with that remarkable stand between Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. The events of two decades ago surely should not have influenced the dressing room in 2022.

The final Test at Lahore, starting on 21st March, provides a chance to win the series for either side. In order to do so both Babar and Cummins will need to up the tempo and take the surface out of the equation. The wickets prepared in Rawalpindi and Karachi have not been anywhere near the state-of-the-art curatorship. Pakistan dressing room that now features Saqlain Mushtaq (Head Coach) and Mohammad Yousuf (Batting Coach) need to back the Test squad for it to come up with triumphs.

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