Edgbaston, the MCG, Hamilton. Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi. A litany of final-day meltdowns just grew a little longer
by Osman Samiuddin in Abu Dhabi · 5 days ago
At 10.46 am New Zealand declare, 81 runs scored in 46 minutes. Six hours and 34 minutes in the day left, not a cloud in the sky. Pakistan can see them gathering, though, lazy in the field, doubles gifted in place of singles, men loitering on the boundaries. Helpless with the ball, waiting not for the declaration but for them clouds.At 10.57 am Imam-ul-Haq faces his first ball from Tim Southee. He lets it go past. Still not a cloud in the sky but this great one is hovering. Before this innings and since January 2016, on the final day of Tests Pakistan have lost a wicket every six overs on average.
Mohammad Hafeez jokes are in full swing, gallows humour at its best. Kane Williamson drops him first ball. He's dropped the series. Hafeez to finish on 128*, Pakistan to win, a grateful nation to beg for him to return.
At 11.23 am Hafeez is bowled by Southee. Pakistan calm, but stirring. Blue skies above. Hafeez walks off, holds his bat up. To whom? There's nobody here. For what? He got a guard of honour from Pakistan in the morning, but it felt like the one reserved for tinpot dictators. If you don't give it you die - or in this case, Hafeez takes his retirement back.
At 11.45 am Azhar Ali is gone. Azhar Ali has gotten his hundred in the first innings. Nothing matters about the dismissal as much as who gets it. Colin de Grandhomme. None of de Grandhomme's deliveries were hitting the stumps, CricViz says. He's gotten more edges till then than either Southee or Trent Boult.
Because, Colin de Grandhomme against Pakistan >>> Colin de Grandhomme against anyone else.
Mickey Arthur-cam is on. Not looking happy. No cloud. In the sky, that is. Gathering. Around Pakistan, that is.
At 12 pm, Boult finishes the innings' 15th over. Pakistan are 34 for 1. Four runs from the last six overs. The electronic scoreboard is trolling: Pakistan need 246 to win. The TV shows Bilal Asif and Yasir Shah smiling and joking; a sure sign that the pivotal moment is upon us, that run-out, that slog, that brainfart that seals the deal.
At 12.07 pm Ajaz Patel comes on. Ah, how could we forget? This is that sign. Because William Somerville will be on soon and two spinners, the very picture of the earnest bowlers you have never heard of and who you might never hear of again, against Pakistan?
(Note: The list includes bowlers you've never heard of as well as bowlers you have heard of but never thought could actually bowl. In the interests of time and space it has been restricted to eight)
Marcus NorthMark CraigAjaz Patel Shane Watson (See 1)Ian SalisburyGreg Chappell (Yes, really)Neil MallenderKosala Kuruppuarachchi (me neither)
At 12.11 pm Somerville comes on.
At 12.12 pm the list grows. Haris Sohail is gone, doesn't matter how but he's Somerville's fifth victim of the Test.
At 12.15 pm Somerville is slap-bang in the middle of his 15 minutes. Asad Shafiq is gone. First ball. After his first-innings century Shafiq was asked how he felt about not being spoken of in the same elite company of men like Root and Kohli. He said he didn't care. To me, he said, it only matters that I score runs when my team needs them.
Well, today was his fourth duck in 10 unsuccessful chases since 2016 (Weak disclaimer: he does average 38.30 in them, with two hundreds, but that's the point, that Pakistan haven't won any of them).
Arthur rolls his eyes and shakes his head. Somebody should be GIFing Arthur's expressions in Pakistan chases. It's reality TV gold. The skies are still blue but the black clouds are pressing down. On ESPNcricinfo's BBB, Wajid Jawaid even asks: "Any grey cloud over the sky? No? Even a tiny one?"
There isn't but there is.
At 12.23 pm Pakistan's 50 is up. Nearly a fifth of the way there… is one of the worst uses of math.
At 12.30 pm, two balls to lunch, Imam-ul-Haq inside-edges to short leg. Halfway there to the sixth time since 2016 Pakistan have lost ten wickets on the last day of a Test: Edgbaston, the MCG, Hamilton, Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi again, and, now, Abu Dhabi again.
And before you pine for MisYou understand that three of those six were with either one or both in the side (Misbah missed Hamilton but not Younis).
Azhar, Shafiq and Sarfraz, the emerging core under Misbah, and now the stale core of this one, have played in all six. Arthur has been head coach in every single one of them. Grant Flower has been batting coach in every single one of them; in fact he's been batting coach since 2014.
It's a simple equation. Either the players are not listening, or learning. Or the coaches aren't working.
At 2.12 pm Sarfraz is bowled by Somerville, ending a partnership of 43 with Babar Azam. It's the annoying one where with every well-run single and occasional boundary you start kidding yourself. Can it? Could it? You cling to stats such as the one that tells you only three wickets fell between lunch and tea in the first four days of this Test. Is that a blue sky overhead? It is right? It isn't.
Sarfraz has now captained his side to four losses in seven Tests in the UAE. He's overseen two home-series losses in two years after none in the previous seven. And he's got the hurricane of three Tests in South Africa to negotiate, where Pakistan were whitewashed last time and have only ever won two Tests.
At 3.08 pm, Bilal Asif is out. Hands up if you even remember how? About half an hour before he's dismissed, the PCB announce the Test squad for South Africa. Bilal's not in it. He took a five-fer in his debut Test and has taken a five-fer in likely his last Test. You may not remember him a year from now.
At 3.15 pm Yasir Shah slogs out. It takes him nearly two minutes to walk off the field. He's probably not ruing the shot as much as the fact that he's done a Brian Lara. Twenty-nine wickets in the series and still on the losing side, the most in a series loss; it's not a record to cherish, unlike the other one..
The entire world now talks about lower orders. Nobody is a tailender anymore. But for Pakistan numbers 8-10 is still a tail. On average over the last 10 years they have contributed 12.35 runs per wicket. Only Afghanistan, who have played all of one Test so far, have done worse.
At 3.31 pm Babar Azam slogs out. He's not the tail. He's had four lives in his fifty. He's had a quietly redemptive Test year, averaging nearly 60, but the ugly truth is this fifty would have been far more pivotal in the first innings, when he was out for a duck in the first over after tea. This habit lingers.
At 3.37 pm it is over. In four hours and 49 minutes and less than 57 overs, Pakistan have lost ten wickets. They're still losing a wicket every six overs or so on final days since 2016. Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls batted unbroken for just over 80 overs.
There are blue skies everywhere.