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Steven Smith’s brigade won a famous encounter versus Pakistan on Day 5 of 1st Test at The Gabba © Getty Images

The players walked out in the middle. One team was 2 wickets shy from winning the first Test; the other, on the brink of history. After a meek surrender in the first innings, Pakistan had stuck around in a daunting chase of 490 against Australia to stretch the game till Day Five at The Gabba. Waqar Younis and Shane Warne, present in the commentary box, had echoed identical opinions: for a team that folded for 142 and were reduced to 220 for 6, Pakistan had come a long way to keep the match alive at stumps on the penultimate day.

Taking guard on a fresh day, Pakistan were 108 runs away from being the first side to chase down anything in excess of 450 in Tests.  “Pakistan have the majority here”, Waqar referred to the crowd; Warne stated, “Pakistan, believe: the deficit is almost less than 100 now.” With every run, Pakistani fans came to their feet and backed their team to pull off a heist. Chants of Pakistan Zindabad (long live Pakistan) were echoed across the ground they call Australia’s fortress. This is where the beauty of Test cricket lies.

But enough of clichés. Let us re-live the moments.

Australia had opted to bat on Day One, and were off to a rollicking start. Matt Renshaw and David Warner played with ease, but it was Steven Smith and Peter Handscomb’s hundreds which propelled their side to 429. Pakistan were, till then, playing second fiddle, with Australia leading charge. In reply, Misbah-ul-Haq’s troops collapsed for a mere 142 to give a mammoth 287-run lead to the hosts.

Full cricket scorecard: Australia vs Pakistan, 1st day-night Test at Brisbane

The ball was in Smith’s court whether to enforce follow-on or bat again. He opted for the latter. In recent times captains are hesitant to enforce follow-on and are content with batting again. Maybe bowlers of current generation run out of steam quickly; or maybe it is the benchmark set by CricketCountry’s Chief Mentor VVS Laxman, whose 281 had turned the Eden Gardens Test of 2000-01 on its heads, creating history. Nonetheless, Australia piled up 202 for 5 to set an imposing target for the visitors.

Not much was expected of Pakistan’s lacklustre batting line-up but they had an outside chance with 7 sessions to play. Playing to their unpredictable stature, Pakistan played with calm and composure. Azhar Ali and Sami Aslam started off well before the latter departed. Babar Azam added another 23 with Azhar before perishing for 14. At stumps on Day Three, Pakistan were 70 for 2.

Australia were overwhelm favourites with only 8 wickets to fetch. Pakistan, on the other hand, had to take each session carefully to draw the game before they could think of going hard at the target. Connoisseurs of the sport term Test cricket as the purest format. Ever dwelled upon the reason?

Test cricket is highly regarded by the players as it is very absorbing. Each session brings new challenges to the table. It is not a cakewalk to keep up with a format where teams strive hard to remain on top and dominate every session unflinchingly. Pakistan were awarded the ICC Test mace earlier this year when they reached the pinnacle of ICC Test rankings. They had dropped to the No. 4 spot before this series and had to redeem themselves. This was their best chance.

Younis Khan and Azhar started the repair work on Day Four amidst rain interruptions. Azhar made a fine 71 0ff 179 balls whereas Younis departed for a reckless shot on 65. Misbah had a rare failure with two single-digit scores in the Test. Sarfraz Ahmed entertained with some blazing strokes to the fence (especially the sweep off Jackson Bird) but perished for 24.

Nonetheless, the fightback was still on. Asad Shafiq was witnessing his side’s downfall from one end but held the innings with the tail. Shafiq ensured the likes of Mohammad Aamer, Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah played calculative knocks. They neither went overboard with fancy shots nor got bogged down to keep the scoreboard ticking.

Shafiq single-handedly injected life into a game that looked long lost from the grasp of visitors. He backed the tail, timed his shots brilliantly, and kept a steady head. His innings was filled with drives, cuts, elegant leg-glances; his footwork was immaculate; and he did not give so much as even a half-chance against a line-up comprising of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon and Jackson. The pink ball moved and bounced but rarely spun, and surrendered to Shafiq’s determination. The ball became softer as the game progressed. Pakistan reached 450 in no time,  the highest fourth-innings score by any team at The Gabba.

Nonetheless, it required a snorter of a delivery from Starc to get rid of Shafiq. He made a resounding 137. With Yasir’s bat being short of the crease, Australia managed to put the last nail in the coffin. Australia won by 39 runs to go 1-0 up in the three-Test series. They, however, escaped the jaws of a miraculous defeat.

Had Pakistan chased down the target, they would have rewritten history. Till date, the record is held by West Indies after they chased 418 against Australia in 2003. Nonetheless, there were reactions pouring in from all corners as a result of Pakistan’s impeccable resurgence. Here are some interesting tweets:

 

 

I cannot resist but use the cliché “cricket was the ultimate winner” after the Brisbane Test. It has undoubtedly been one of the best (if not the best) Test of 2016 and again restores our faith back in the longer format. Test cricket is the parent of the game and its charm should never be questioned.

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Pakistan fans came in large numbers on Day 5 to back their side in a stiff chase © Getty Images

“We have defied the odds. Nobody thought we would come so close but have we done it. Sydney and Melbourne Tests are ours. It’s more about belief. Our team has the belief, Mickey Arthur has the belief and results are there to be seen”, stated a jubilant Pakistani supporter. One can only hope for more such gruelling finishes in future.

(Aditya Sahay is a journalist with CricketCountry who is completely into sports and loves writing about cricket in general. He can be followed on Twitter @ adisahay7)