Defeating our demons

Published: October 27, 2014
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Pakistani players celebrate after Australia's Mitchell Johnson was stumped during the fifth day of the first test cricket match between Pakistan and Australia at Dubai International Stadium in Dubai on October 26, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

On January 6, 2010, I sat with my head in my hands as I tried to make sense of what had just happened. Some brilliant (read: not) captaincy and some strange fielding – attributed largely to Mazher Majeed’s influence on the team – meant that Pakistan squandered a 206-run lead and, with it, the chance to beat Australia on home-ground.

For Pakistani fans, this was a hard pill to digest and that can largely be put down to Australia’s complete dominance of Pakistan over a number of years – basically our entire cricket-following age.

At Hobart in 1999, Australia chased down 369 against a Wasim Akram-led Pakistani side. That match is remembered with a fair degree of invective for the umpires but still, Pakistan did not win and that is the bottom line. At Sharjah in 2002 – on a highway of a pitch – a young batting line-up wilted in front of the might of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, getting bowled out for 59 and 53 respectively in the second Test. Then came Perth in 2004, where McGrath took eight for 24 as the team got bundled out for an embarrassing total of 72. The 2010 tour was even worse; not only did we give away the Sydney Test on a platter, the team was also unable to register even a single win on that tour. Bans and fines followed, as usual, but the Australians were still tormenting the team and, might I add, the fans.

The win at Headingley, Leeds, in 2010, delivered largely by the sheer brilliance of Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, was a big thing. It was a nervous victory still, as we struggled to chase down a small target. Again, as a fan, I could sense that the team was not subjugating the Aussies the way we had seen the Aussies pummel us around on the field.

So really, my euphoria at the moment is not unfounded. It stems from all those moments of agony that the Aussies have inflicted upon us. From the 1999 World Cup final to the 2010 World T20 semi-final, from the 1999 Test series to the annihilation down under in 2009/10 series – we were always the underdogs and it never felt good. And this is precisely why a 221-run victory over the Aussies feels nothing short of a dream come true.

Australian batsman Peter Siddle (L) plays a shot during the fifth day of the first test cricket match between Pakistan and Australia at Dubai International Stadium in Dubai on October 26, 2014. Photo: AFP

There was a bigger cause here than just showing a win on the score sheet. For those who have seen Fire in Babylon – well that is how this win feels because roughly 11 years ago, Steve Waugh praised the Bangladeshi batting and termed it better than that of Pakistan. It wasn’t quite the “I intend to make them grovel” statement that Tony Creig used for the West Indian team back in 1976 but you get the drift of it: the bottom line being that I don’t like the fact that we have been given a smacking by the Aussies every now and then.

Things look promising but we have had many false starts, so Misbahul Haq and Waqar Younis need to keep the team’s focus on the next Test.

There is hope beyond Ajmal and this is perhaps the biggest revelation that this win has brought about. Between them, the four frontline bowlers had played eight Test matches before this match, with Yasir Shah and Imran Khan making their debuts. Five days later, Shane Warne is calling Yasir Shah the “best young leg spinner” and his favourite Pakistani cricketer after Wasim Akram. Zulfiqar Babar, on the other hand, has managed to use his experience of five decades to skilfully win a Test for Pakistan with the ball. This has happened at a time when Saeed Ajmal is suspended, and the relatively more experienced pace battery of Junaid Khan, Wahab Riaz, and Umar Gul is sitting out with injuries.

Zulfiqar Babar stepped up to the plate in the absence of Saeed Ajmal, claiming his maiden five-for in the fourth innings to help Pakistan dismiss the Australians on the final day of the first Test. Photo: AFP

This is also a satisfying moment because of the sheer dominance of Pakistan’s batsmen. The way we nullified the spin threat on this track was a site to watch, especially because of our generosity with spinners over the years – Ashley Giles, Monty Panesar, Paul Harris, Nathan Haurtitz, Rangana Herath, and Imran Tahir have had some good moments bowling to our batsmen. It was heartening to see Ahmad Shehzad and Asad Shafiq using their feet against the spinners, coming out every now and then to unsettle Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe.

The seemingly unstoppable Younus Khan has become the first man in 40 years to score twin hundreds against the Australians. Only about two weeks ago, Younus was fuming over his exclusion from the ODI squad and he has come back to answer his critics in the best possible way. If anything, this is a true reflection of his signature fighting qualities. More important for me, though, is the way he has guided the young guns in the team.

Younus Khan plays a shot during the fourth day of the first test cricket match between Pakistan and Australia at Dubai International Stadium in Dubai on October 25, 2014. (AFP)

Ahmad Shehzad, Azhar Ali, and Asad Shafiq get a triple PhD in batting every single time they play with Younus on the crease. Younus is underrated and perhaps this is a discussion for another time, but his feats need recognition and appreciation. Sarfaraz Ahmed’s comeback has been phenomenal too and his innings in this match proved to be a decisive momentum-shifting knock. He reminds you of the gutsy Moin Khan as he nudges the ball around for those important ones and twos.

Pakistan controlled the Test match throughout and this win ranks right at the top only because of our history with Australia. Our last win against the Australians came at Headingley in 2010, with Waqar in charge. It did not quite turn out to be a turning point for our team with the spot-fixing saga that followed soon.

The team’s last Test series win came against England in January 2012. It’s time to get another win on the board; let’s hold off our UAE Fortress in Abu Dhabi!

Imran Ahmad Khan

Imran Ahmad Khan

The author is a student of journalism at Columbia University. Before this, he worked for the Pakistan Cricket Board and the Pakistan Super League. He tweets @imranahmadkh

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.