Pakistan needing seven wickets on the fifth day of a UAE Test to win the match, with runs superfluous, is as nailed on a position to win as any in all of cricket this decade. And when the side on the other end is Australia, given the dominance they’ve enjoyed over Pakistan over the past couple of decades, the opportunity becomes that much greater.
On Thursday, however, Pakistan missed out on the opportunity, with Australia there for the taking. For four days Pakistan had Australia on the ropes, and after their skipper Tim Paine successfully negotiated five deliveries of the final Yasir Shah over, it was the Aussies who would’ve felt like the victors. Of course, Paine conceded in the post-match interview that they were outplayed throughout the match, the confidence Australia would take in the second and final Abu Dhabi Test would be huge.
There are many reasons why Pakistan could only take the five wickets in the entire day’s play. Yes, the wicket hadn’t quite deteriorated as one would’ve expected a Dubai deck to after four days of Test cricket, but there were quite a few tricks that Pakistan missed. And the onus of that would fall on the captain, Sarfraz Ahmed.
It is inexplicable why Sarfraz didn’t start the day with Muhammad Abbas, who has been Pakistan’s best Test bowler in all conditions. He proved to be precisely that again on the fifth day, even if without the success that he enjoyed in the span of seven deliveries on the fourth day where Australia had lost their three wickets for no runs.
Bilal Asif wasn’t quite as effective in the second innings, as he had been in the first when he set the match up in Pakistan’s favour with his 6-for. And the fact that Yasir Shah got his first wicket of the entire match half way through the fifth day was indeed the greatest surprise. Eventually he was the one who looked like being the final day match-winner again for Pakistan, with a late 4-for.
Of course, the way Usman Khawaja batted was instrumental in getting the draw for his side. With a collective score of 226 in the match, Khawaja has finally delivered in Asian conditions, and would be critical for Australia’s chances in the second Test.
Khawaja was ably supported on the final day by Travis Head (72) and captain Tim Paine (61*). Pain, especially, held the fort to the very end, twice turning things around when Australia looked down and out – first when he came into the crease after Marnus Labuschagne got out leaving Australia five down with over 40 more overs to negotiate, second after Australia lost three wickets for 2 runs in 10 deliveries, leaving the last two wickets with 12 overs to go.
Paine survived a super charged Yasir Shah and an on song Muhammad Abbas with able support from Nathan Lyon who faced almost have of the remaining deliveries.
Pakistan look in good shape with the bad, with Mohammed Hafeez, Harris Sohail and Asad Shafiq among the runs, with Imam-ul-Haq missing out from Abu Dhabi with injury. They’d need Bilal Asif, Yasir Shah and Muhammad Abbas to fire from the get go to get the series win in the second Test.