During the rain delay that ensured day four would stretch well into the Brisbane night, highlights of the 1999 Hobart Test were aired. Play resumed before Adam Gilchrist and Justin Langer were shown completing their fabled chase, but by stumps a magnificent Asad Shafiq innings was allowing Pakistan to dream of an even greater feat.
To achieve 490 to win would comfortably be the biggest chase of all time, more remarkable still for the fact that Pakistan were shot out for 142 in the first innings. Yet Shafiq, Mohammad Amir and then Wahab Riaz played with such confidence on a friendly Gabba pitch that Australia’s captain Steven Smith will sleep fitfully tonight.
It was Smith who dropped Shafiq late in the evening, before the umpires allowed Australia to take the extra half hour to try to claim the result on the fourth night. But tired bowlers and a wearing ball ensured the eight overs were largely fruitful for Pakistan, until Jackson Bird found an edge from Wahab in the final over of the day. While Smith clung on this time, his gambit had cost 51 runs.
The hosts were visibly frustrated by Pakistan’s rearguard, which began with Azhar Ali and Younis Khan and then was sustained after dinner by the polished Shafiq, Amir, who played with rare skill for the second time in the match, and the jittery but ultimately powerful Wahab. Yasir Shah, who played out the final over, was no slouch either.
Mitchell Starc had words with Amir at various points, and there were plenty of grimaces to be seen in the field as Australia were made to bowl throughout the day and night, lengthened by more than an hour by a rain delay either side of the tea break. Starc, Bird and Nathan Lyon all bowled strong spells at various times, while Josh Hazlewood was particularly stingy until Amir and Shafiq capitalised on some looser stuff in the final session.
Azhar and Younis, the overnight Pakistan batsmen, had shown good sense and plenty of determination to take their partnership to 91 without giving a chance before tea. Starc and Hazlewood could not initially find the right length to trouble the batsmen as they had done earlier in the match, while Bird and Lyon were also unable to break through.
The vital wicket arrived in the second session, when Starc fired a bouncer towards Azhar’s armpit, forcing the batsman into a reflexive glance that took enough of the shoulder of the bat for Matthew Wade to complete the catch. Misbah-ul-Haq was seldom comfortable during his stay, and his feet were in a muddle when he touched a ball from Bird to the keeper.
Younis had previously made a hundred at the Gabba, for South Australia in a Sheffield Shield match in 2008. His duel with Lyon was a fascinating one, with the batsman trying to assert himself but having to deal with more pace and bounce than had been the case when Lyon struggled against Pakistan in the UAE in 2014.
After numerous deliveries had taken the inside half of Younis’ bat, he elected to try a reverse sweep, but was only able to flip it up and into Smith’s hands at slip via bat and body.
Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed showed attacking intent in the lead-up to the dinner interval, and on resumption Sarfraz was reprieved when Smith spilled an edge from a Hazlewood away swinger. Smith’s annoyance at the miss was clear, but he only had to wait another five runs from Sarfraz before Starc burst through the wicketkeeper’s forward stroke with a hint of inswing.
Australia celebrated that wicket as though it was the harbinger of a fourth-night finish, but instead Amir and Shafiq combined for a stand of 92 that not only made Smith’s men wait but also whittled down the target at a dramatic rate. Amir’s fluency was such that it seemed strange he did not possess a Test half-century, and it was the search for the final two runs to get one that appeared to affect his concentration – an edge behind off Bird soon followed.
Wahab looked far less comfortable to begin with, but he was able to endure as Shafiq forged on, and together they tore into the Australian bowlers when Smith took the extra half hour. In doing so, Shafiq demonstrated a soundness of technique and positivity of mindset that Pakistan can take plenty from moving into the Boxing Day Test, even if his effort turned out to be in a losing cause.