If the last three sessions of the Gabba Test instilled a ray of hope amongst the Pakistan cricket fans, the third day of the second Test at the iconic Boxing Day Test was a grim reminder of what is it like to root for a team with umpteen loopholes. A decisive 198-run stand between David Warner and Usman Khawaja as a consequence of some middling bowling saw Australia conquer Melbourne, which seemed to be impossible at the time of Misbah-ul-Haq’s declaration. From accumulating a handsome first innings total to perishing inside 53 overs, Pakistan pulled off the Gabba Test — but in reverse.
The abysmal show, which may take aback the general cricket audience, was just a regular display for the Pakistan fans. However, after pulling off a ‘Pakistan’ for the second time in two Tests, the touring party now eye the Sydney Test to put a halt on their 21 years of hurt. Considering their lack of consistency, a win to cap off the Test tour of Down Under — that has seen Pakistan lose four out of four matches — goes down as an improbable proposition. But the recent individual performances during the ongoing Test series where the touring players backed themselves sent out a strong message. They serve as a blueprint for the success at the picturesque Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). After all, it is Sydney where Pakistan first believed!
Forty years ago, a lanky Imran Khan hurled in bouncers at the Australian batsmen on day three of the third and final Test of the 1977 tour, leading to an acrimonious exchange with the wicketkeeper-batsman Rod Marsh. Despite umpires’ interventions, an unmoved Imran continued to treat the opposition with the nasty chin music. He dared and glared into the eyes of one of the most feared sides: something unthinkable back then. The all-rounder took wickets during the Test at an average of 13 to reduce the hosts to 211 and 180, helping his side to secure a comfortable eight-wicket win amongst gutsy 120 and 64 by Asif Iqbal and Javed Miandad — which saw Pakistan post 360 in the second innings of the match.
Mushtaq Muhammad, Wasim Bari, and Imran khan rejoicing wicket of Rodney Marsh
This was the first time the Pakistan unit showed the signs of aggressive cricket and self-belief. From a being seen as a side that went down easily, this touring squad under the tutelage of Mushtaq Mohammad, turned into stalwarts. It was also the first of Pakistan’s two wins at the ground.
Eight years later, under the charismatic Wasim Akram Pakistan turned a dead-rubber into an absorbing encounter when Mushtaq Ahmed and Ijaz Ahmed stood out with the ball and the bat respectively. After Ijaz scored 137 amidst a chaotic collapse to help his side post a respectable 299 in the first innings, Mushtaq made the most of the spinning Sydney track by taking five for 95 to reduce Australia to 257. With 247 to defend, the leggie spun webs around the host’s batting lineup. He created the opening by removing Michael Slater for Akram to remove the middle-order. Though Australia lost David Boon, Mark Waugh, and Ian Healy in quick succession, the hosts were still in it until opener Mark Taylor danced down the wicket against Mushtaq to be stumped for a well-fought 59. The leg-spinner returned the match figures of nine for 186 to bag the man-of-the-match award.
Wicketkeeper Rashid Latif and Ijaz Ahmed look up at Mark Taylor's skier, Australia v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Sydney, 4th, December 3, 1995 ©Getty Images
Fast-forward to 2017 and Pakistan see themselves at the edge of the fourth consecutive 3-0 whitewash in Australia. The recent pictures of the below par show during the last three days of the second Test will haunt an ardent Pakistan follower. They overshadowed the excellent individual performances witnessed over the course of the past two weeks. But at the SCG, no team changes or the change in the training regime would yield results until Pakistan trust their instincts and enter the field with the intention of pouncing on the opposition.
The Sydney wicket is deemed to be a turning one with low bounce, which suggests one of the left-arm orthodox bowlers — from Mohammad Nawaz and Mohammad Asghar — may find himself in the playing eleven.
The low-bounce nature of the wicket will also come in handy for the veteran batsmen Younis Khan and Misbah to leave a mark during Pakistan’s first Test of 2017. Younis, who registered a score of three figures seven matches ago, averages a mediocre 27 on the tour. Pakistan’s skipper, who recorded a duck in the last innings at Melbourne, has scored at a paltry five runs over the tour. Pakistan rely heavily on the experience and prowess of the two as what seems to be a dead-rubber to the cricket fraternity at large is the last hope for them to have a victory on the Australian soil in more than two decades.
What will unfold at the SCG, where Pakistan enjoys the best win/loss ratio amongst all the cricket grounds in Australia, is difficult to foretell, but the former English Test captain Nasir Hussain once remarked that one is never sure which Pakistan will turn up on a given day.
Not many would have thought of watching the Australian captain itch during his defence of a daunting 490 at the Gabba. But Smith trembled! Not many would have imagined to see Azhar toy with the Australian bowlers. But the pace-triplet of Starc, Hazelwood, and Bird were not only made to toil for the vice captain’s wicket, they failed to dismiss him in the first innings at Melbourne.
Positive cricket is Pakistan's way out of this ignominious streak at the ground where they first believed.
The lessons of the past suggest that positive cricket is the way forward for the Misbah-led Pakistan to break the ignominious streak and what other ground would be a befitting venue to achieve the historic victory other than the SCG. After all, it is Sydney where Pakistan first believed!
The writer is a sport journalist from Lahore, Pakistan. He tweets at @ahsannagi