Pakistan on Monday came close to recording the highest successful run-chase in Test cricket courtesy their lower batting order. It would have been an apt honour for a team that defies cricketing nous.
At the start of the 144th over in Pakistan’s second innings, Yasir Shah had ambled through for a single to give the well-set Asad Shafiq the strike.
Pakistan were at 449/8 at the time in their chase of 490. The Pakistanis were expected to play out this over comfortably like they had the rest of the morning.
The two batsmen had shared a 70-run partnership for the ninth wicket and everything was going in their favour. They had not left too much to chance except for a slash or two.
They looked like they were batting in the first innings and building a lead.
Pakistan had failed to do anything of the sort in actuality in their first essay, when they had succumbed to 142 all out.
At one point in that innings, they had been at 67/8 in reply to Australia’s 429. Now, they were 449/8 and coolly pursuing their 490 target. However, within the next five balls, they lost the match.
Unpredictability thy name is Pakistani cricket
The adage of cricket being an unpredictable game becomes easier to mouth when one is talking about the Pakistani cricket team’s fortunes.
It is much easier to imagine Pakistan doing remarkable things in the bowling department than in batting. And this was, after all, against an Australian side that had been knocked out for 85 runs by South Africa only last month.
Yet, everything taking place today revolted against recent cricketing fortune and old cricketing history.
The highest ever run chase in a losing cause was New Zealand’s 451 against England in 2002. That had been achieved primarily via Nathan Astle’s blitzkrieg of 222 runs.
The New Zealand tail on that occasion had been there to just give the strike to Astle to do his thing, which was to pulverise the English bowlers everywhere.
They still fell short by 98 runs. It seemed like an effort done out of vengeful jest than controlled fury.
What Pakistan were up to in Brisbane was a studied demarcation of the run chase in front of them and they had 200 potential overs to achieve it.
So many chases are lost in the mind of the team that has to bat in the fourth innings because of the fear of not batting out a day or two.
Pakistan refreshingly looked at the number of overs available as an opportunity to do their thing, which was to win when no one gave them a fighting chance to do it.
The idea of winning a moral victory was easier to achieve than an outright one. Their resolve grew stronger when they were at 220/6.
Shafiq batted quite well in tandem with Mohammed Amir, Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah to almost achieve the miraculous.
What India can learn
India might well have a proficient lower order in the form of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jayant Yadav, who have rescued the team quite a few times this year.
But until they score more than double the runs of their top-order brethren, twice, away from home, in a day/night match, they have nothing much to brag about in comparison.
The need of this Indian team to do well abroad becomes more prominent in light of fairly sedate home series victories. None of the major cricketing nations do badly at home. The recent loss of Australia to South Africa only serves as an exception.
Another remarkable performance abroad this year was Pakistan’s 2-2 result against England.
They did not bow down after they had lost two matches in a row having won the first. India capitulated the last time they were in such a situation in England.
It might be easy to dismiss James Anderson’s recent mutterings against Virat Kohli’s batting as hypocritical, but the fact remains that Kohli and the rest of the India batsmen were clueless for most of that 2014 tour.
It is worth contemplating how they might play when they go to Australia and England in 2018.
The majority of the Indian batting order is likely to remain the same two years from now, but questions of experience and ability will linger.
The Indian spinning assets will be negated considerably then and India will need to find a functional pace line-up if they have any hope of doing well in these two countries.
As of now, injuries mark out the Indian pacers more than constant contributions. It is a bit dazzling to think of Ishant Sharma as a spearhead figure a la Zaheer Khan. But he has turned in a couple of good performances in England and Sri Lanka.
He and the rest of the fast bowlers will need to bowl consistently well in those swinging conditions, while the batsmen will have to weather the storm when it is their turn.
Pakistan, on the other hand, have a constant supply of fast bowlers who can do well with seam and swing available.
They might have struggled badly in the first Test against the Australian batsmen, but they certainly did the damage in England earlier this year. Who would bet against them doing the same in the remaining two Tests?
This article originally appeared on Scroll.in and has been reproduced with permission.