Defeats to most opposition leave bruises, but Australia leaves the tattoo, and Pakistan is now covered in it
Daniel is a messenger
Malcolm: “Cummins made something happen out of nothing.”
Alex Malcolm and Daniel Rasool recall an eventful second day at the MCG
There are a few things traveling from Lahore to Melbourne to do at this time of year. Warm weather, maybe. Maybe more of a Christmas vibe. It’s very likely that your AQI reading isn’t giving you a panic attack.
And then you sit at the MCG on a lazy, festive evening. Tea has only recently been introduced. Maybe you helped yourself to a cup of coffee, and a slice of pizza or cake to go with it. Or maybe both; Maybe you are on vacation and want to have fun.
You settle happily into your seat. Pakistan is fine. In fact, you dare to think the following: Pakistan is winning today. On the second day of the Boxing Day Test, they beat Australia’s last seven sides relatively cheaply within a single session, even if, perhaps in the generous holiday spirit, they made 52 extras. Now, captain Shan Masood and opener Abdullah Shafiq are neutralizing Australia’s pace attack in relative comfort. The partnership is 90, the score 124 to 1. Nearly 45,000 people enjoy Test cricket. You can’t get that in Pakistan.
Then you see something that you’re sure looks familiar, something that you realize, with horror, you didn’t need to leave Lahore at all to see. Pat Cummins bowls one up, it moves, and Abdullah Shafiq pushes it uncertainly into the vicinity of the bowler. Cummins ducks down in one graceful motion, and when he comes out of a dive, he has the ball in his hands.
“It’s just one of those things that…is very difficult to pick up, and it either sticks or it doesn’t,” Cummins later said. “Fortunately, this one on the other hand stuck to what I thought he was getting into.”
But for Pakistan, these catches seem to be finding their way into the safe hands of Cummins. Twenty-one months earlier, Shafiq – in the second series of his career – had struck up a 150-run partnership with Azhar Ali – at the other end of his career – in Lahore. He had fallen for 44 runs earlier, but his stand with Azhar helped Pakistan to a relatively safe position after Pakistan caused Australia to collapse to keep them below 400 runs. He was 214 for 2 when Azhar played an almost identical shot: nothing to pay.
Cummins threw himself down to bat, and Pakistan watched Australia lay waste to the rest of their team, falling their last eight wickets for 54 runs. Pakistan never fully recovered, and Australia cruised to a series win two days later.
Back here at the MCG, you shift uncomfortably in your seat. You were there in Lahore that day, and you remember what happened immediately. It’s hard not to, because defeats to most opposition cause bruises, but Australia is leaving the tattoo, and now Pakistan is covered in it.
Australia had toiled all day with little to offer until then. But like a cheetah waiting for its moment, they know the right time to strike. Cummins needs just three more deliveries to deliver the Test match so far, one landing outside off and moving off the touchline too sharply, and Babar Azam’s defensive backs ending up all around him. Australia set off just in time to drop its prey to the ground, and now it was time to eat.
Mesut dances down the crease to attack Nathan Lyon – what he saw unfold at the other end shouldn’t affect his approach. But there are only many times when a bowler with 500 wickets at just over 30 allows a batsman with 1600 runs at just under 30 to punish him in this way. Masoud doesn’t recognize the slightly altered flight path, as the length pulls a shadow back, and passes through the shot anyway, losing its shape and gate.
This is a dance that the universe is all too familiar with, and every participant, unwittingly or otherwise, knows the next steps now. Josh Hazlewood and Cummins batted the next two as Pakistan lost five wickets for 46 runs in just over an hour. It is somewhat unbelievable, but equally inevitable, that Pakistan would dominate the better part of two-thirds of the day against Australia, and somehow end up in a much worse position than they started.
She no longer remembers the wicket taken by Aamir Jamal this morning, or the childish excitement of Hasan Ali as he celebrated every dismissal. I had forgotten how hard Pakistan made Australia score on a morning when they were pressing for an advantage, or even the goal of Mohammad Rizwan diving to his right to cause the collapse in the first place. You can’t remember Shafiq’s technical solidity as he led Pakistan to another bright start, or Masood’s commitment to the style of play that saw him record his highest Test score in nearly four years.
Instead, she remembers the extras Pakistan gladly made, the cheap runs instead of wickets, and the fine margins that saw Australia survive two DRS appeals. You remember Lyon’s dismissal of Imam-ul-Haq after the opener had survived another 15 overs, and you know exactly how many runs Pakistan are trailing behind Australia with four lower-order wickets to spare, every one of those 124 weighing on your mind.
It’s a pleasant December evening in Melbourne, with the sun still setting long after the call of the stumps. But as you make your way out of this stadium-like cathedral and onto the Yarra River, all you can see are the clouds stealthily making their way over the city. Instead of the sun warming you, the suddenly fresh southerly wind chills you. You realize you didn’t bring a jacket, and how long does it take a Pakistani to feel unprepared in Australia. It feels uncomfortable like a metaphor.
I’ve traveled across hemispheres to the other side of the world, but this is an experience that Lahore delivered with the same authenticity as Melbourne. After all, it has never been Australia’s style to give Pakistan a hiding place.
At least you can see those Christmas lights in Union Square. And the air quality is pure enough to let you take that familiar sigh of resignation.
Daniel Rasool is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent in Pakistan. @danny61000