It is not often that the team on the losing side of a Test match walks away with plaudits. But, this is exactly what happened in the Australia-Pakistan encounter at Gabba in Brisbane. Although Pakistan lost the Test match, they were the talk of the town, and a majority of praise on the day was reserved for them. This despite the fact that Australia had dominated the Test for four days. But, so brilliant were Pakistan on the final day of the Test, they gave the Aussies a big scare, and almost pulled off the most incredible of chases. To score 450 in the fourth innings of a Test is nothing short of spectacular.
No praise can be too high for the manner in which Asad Shafiq challenged the Aussies, and nearly pulled off a miracle. When the day began, the result seemed a formality in spite of the fight displayed by the visitors the previous evening. But, Shafiq batted on and on, and as the target approached under 50, the Aussies were clearly nervous. It needed a brute of a delivery from Mitchell Starc to end Shafiq's stubborn resistance. Although, the middle order bat could not take the team past the finish line, he was still adjudged the man of the match. The fact that Pakistan managed to run Australia so close at Gabba will surely give them confidence for the remaining Tests.
While Shafiq was the standout performer in Pakistan's second innings, it was the never-say-die attitude of the visiting side in the final innings that made the biggest impact. First, Azhar Ali and Younis Khan brought their experience into play and kept Australia at bay for a first part of the innings. Both had struggled in recent times, so they displayed good discipline under pressure. Shafiq then took over the reins. Above all though, it was Pakistan's lower order batting that was both sparkling and surprising. The manner in which Mohammad Amir, Yasir Shah and Wahab Riaz performed clearly caught Australia off guard.
Pakistan would be definitely buoyed by the near successful chase at Brisbane. What they need now is consistency in their efforts. The 142 all out in the first innings made it near impossible for them to win. The fact that they got so close was credit to their self-confidence. But, clearly the batting must step up as a team in the remaining games. The likes of Sami Aslam, Babar Azam and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq himself will have a point to prove. In the bowling department again, the inconsistency factor has hurt them. Amir and Riaz have been good in phases, but haven't been able to make much impact when the opposition batsmen have got on top.
In spite of the close victory, Australia would be left with a bizarre feeling. This was a Test they dominated for four days. Yet, in the end, they only just scraped through. Clearly, the killer punch was missing from the bowlers. The likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Nathan Lyon will have to lift themselves up, after the tough examination they have been put through in the last couple of days. There is no such problem with their batting though. Newcomers Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb have made impressive starts to their careers while Steven Smith has carried on his great form. It was thanks to their excellent batting, that Australia could give their bowlers the extra cushion of runs, which made a big difference in the end.
--By A Cricket Analyst