Australia is famous for an event, among other wonders, which the experts say ‘stops the nation’ in the form of the Melbourne Cup horse race in October. And although it is said that the captaincy of the Australian Cricket Team is second only to the title of the Prime Minister, the quintessential English game was always a distance away from being a sport that could bring the country to a standstill.
But last Monday, cricket almost stopped a nation when Pakistan were inching their way in Brisbane to record what would have been the most gripping win in the 140-year history of Test cricket while chasing down a monumental 490 target.
According to media pundits, had Pakistan posted the win it would have marked the deepest cut which would have scarred the Australian Cricket Team for life, for never in the history of Test cricket did a country chase a score beyond 418 to win. Victory for Pakistan could have also meant experts put out of business, no longer able to convince common followers of the game that cricket has its human impossibilities.
It was sheer relief for Australia that its team had made what was visibly the greatest escape by a set of players who were hit off their number one status as a Test playing nation by Sri Lanka in September this year.
Many Australians kept checking the score by the minute while bookies too were caught on the fence after Pakistan resumed the final day needing 108 more runs to win and two wickets in hand with Azad Shafiq unbeaten on a hundred.
There were many Australians, sensing a defeat who moved away from their television sets unable to stomach a never-before-seen scenario in an age when Test cricket was truly in need of a wonder and Pakistan looked as if they could do an out-of-this-world magical trick.
History appeared to be taking a different course when Pakistan closed the gap to just 40 runs with Shafiq and the man who must be the coolest cricketer on the planet Yasir Shah, making the Australians kick their heels or scratch their heads, awaiting for the unseen to happen as the country prepared for a grand Christmas.
But then came what was like a bolt from the blues, a mxiracle ball from a tired-looking paceman Mitchell Starc who slammed in the pink cherry that looked worn-out and soft to pitch and rise taking the left glove of Shafiq to lob into the hands of David Warner at gully.
With the exception of a Boxing Day (December 26), Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground that could draw close to 100,000 fans, a day’s play in the traditional format of the game may sometimes go unnoticed or unspoken. But December 19, 2016 marked the day in the annals of international sport where Test cricket was pulled out of an abyss and given a new lease by one team which thought the match was theirs from the first day and the other crawling back from the flames to ignite a new spark.
Most commentators and analysts expected Australia to wrap up the contest by the fourth day as Pakistan resumed from 70 for 2 after being bowled out for 142 in the first innings. But not the die-hard passionate Pakistani supporters who believed the impossible could happen until Australian captain Steven Smith saved his reputation from being scarred for life by flinging a ball from the slips to smash down the stumps of Shah who played the ball and wandered out of his crease.
Smith was later able to rub off the stick and brickbats that came his way for what some commentators said was his inability to attack Shafiq and Shah from the first ball of the day as he set a field that the experts thought was defensive.
But Smith was unmoved.
“It can be difficult. To be honest, I was getting a little bit anxious towards the end. Things got a lot closer than I would have thought. But you always have to keep the faith and try and keep the guys in good positive spirits and know that when you have got eight down you are really one wicket away from closing the game out. We will always keep the faith”, said Smith.