Asad Shafiq didn’t need to look far for inspiration. Down one end, adjacent to the player pavilion, was a small but rowdy group of ex-pats chanting “Pakistan Zindabad” long live Pakistan.
Just about everyone had written off Pakistan’s chances of winning the series-opening day-night test against Australia.
No team had ever scored more than 418 to win a test match. And Pakistan, needing 490, had been skittled for 142 in the first innings. The two most senior batsmen were out on day four, when Pakistan slipped to 173-5.
That’s when Shafiq took charge, batting at No. 6. He shared partnerships of 47 with Sarfraz Ahmed (24), 92 with Mohammad Amir (48) and 66 with Wahab Riaz (30) to defy the Australian bowling attack, helping Pakistan reach 382-8 on Sunday night.
Fewer than 1,000 people were in the crowd Monday when play started, with Shafiq on 100 and Pakistan needing 108 runs to achieve a world-record win.
He’d reached his 10th test century in the penultimate over of an extended night session on Sunday, and had two tailenders to work with.
Shafiq and No. 10 Yasir Shah prolonged it for 22 overs, making Australian skipper Steve Smith nervous when they got within 60.
The crowd built to more than 2,500 a mere smattering of people in the cavernous, 42,000-seat Gabba stadium but they were committed.
The TV audience kept growing as the improbable started appearing genuinely possible.
“Once I got in, once I was hitting well, two or three partnerships gave us belief we could do it,” Shafiq said. “I had feelings we could chase it down.”
The lower order “showed a lot of courage. We almost chased 490, because of our tail,” he said. “There was energy, thinking we had to go for the match” he added.
The Australian pacemen, who took 7-24 in a night session on Friday, became frustrated and strayed off their line and length. Smith struggled to set a field to contain batsmen chasing anything wide in search of boundaries.
Smith, realizing Pakistan was really in the contest, finally set an attacking field and asked his strike paceman Mitch Starc to bowl short at Shafiq. And that’s when it was all but over.
Shafiq equaled his highest test score of 137 before he fended at a short-pitched ball and gave David Warner a simple, lobbed catch at gully, ending the 71-run ninth-wicket stand.
The Australians celebrated wildly. Shafiq looked to the sky, and strode from the field. Four balls later, Shah was bizarrely run out caught out of his ground when Smith threw the stumps down at the striker’s end from second slip.
The Australians won by 39 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series, but Pakistan took all the confidence out of the Gabba, a test that will be remembered more for Shafiq’s unflappable stand than anything else.
“I’d be happier if we’d won the match we almost chased it down,” said Shafiq. “It takes a very good team to do that.”
Misbah-ul-Haq, the 42-year-old captain, said he’d rarely seen a better innings than Shafiq’s.
“That was a superb knock ….one of the classiest innings I have seen,” he said. “In the context of the game, the way he handled the pressure playing with tail, he made a match out of nothing.”
Misbah said there were more positives than negatives for Pakistan out of the loss, and his squad would head into the second and third tests in Melbourne and Sydney with more confidence despite a 10th consecutive test loss in Australia.
“I’m happy and proud the way we played in the fourth innings,” he said. “I always believe in this team. Even when Shafiq got out there was hope. After what we showed in the last couple of days, everyone believes. “