Malik, Akmal and the mad clown joy ride
Imagine you are on a tour bus. It is hijacked by a clown. One who's fond of running into as much trouble as possible. Flooring it with a speed bump five yards away. Swinging the wheel this way and that on a simple, straight stretch of road. Attempting to drift because he had seen Fast and Furious the night before and it seemed super cool.
The whole damn thing is about to keel over. You are on edge. You don't know what is going to happen. You can't even figure out how it has come to such dire straits. To think you could have just sat at home and watched Pakistan play UAE in the Asia Cup.
Don't worry. The experience wouldn't have been much different.
Twists, turns, mishaps and jailbreaks. They seem so ingrained in a Pakistan game, as if their innings gets hijacked by a mad clown. Just ask Waqar Younis, their coach. He'd had a word with the openers Sharjeel Khan and Mohammad Hafeez before they had gone out to chase 130. "Yes I did tell [our plans] to the openers, but they came back very quickly."
See. Things have this habit of going haywire. Take the fact that in a Twenty20 game - where you have only 120 balls to bowl - they stopped 72 of them yielding any runs. The remaining 48 provided UAE with 129.
Still that's not the worst total to be chasing. It's a required run rate of 6.5. Speed bump. Sharjeel given lbw, although it did seem a dicey call on height. Speed bump. Khurram Manzoor, a rather left-field selection in this squad and later on for the World T20 as well, was caught behind. Speed bump. Hafeez gives catching practice to cover. Amjad Javed, the bowler on all three occasions, wore a smile that should put him on the cast list of a toothpaste commercial. Clearly the clown was making someone happy, at least.
So Pakistan's bus was out of control at 17 for 3 and at this point they needed Keanu Reeves, as you do when buses go out of control or when machines try to take over the world.
Like Reeves' character in Speed deduced the bad guy had a live feed of the bus and used that vital bit of knowledge to save lives, Malik and Akmal figured out something equally hard to spot in order to save their team. They actually had time to settle in, maybe as much as they would have had in a Test match.
"We decided to forget about the run-rate," Malik revealed at the presentation ceremony. He was 0 off 7, having been beaten on the outside and inside edge off back-to-back deliveries. He was given a half-volley in the sixth over which was converted into his first boundary of the night. The next one came as he capitalised on a short ball and the third was a pick off the legs.
Bad balls still needed to be put away, but for all that efficiency Malik was still 19 off 23. He drifted to 23 off 30 and even after hitting his first six of the innings, he was travelling well under run-a-ball. He could afford to. Pakistan needed him to.
If Malik had been chilled out, Akmal was absolutely frozen: 13 off 23. He had smashed eventual PSL finalists Quetta Gladiators for 54 runs for the same amount of balls three weeks ago. Pakistan had spoken about misreading conditions in Mirpur after their 83 all out against India. The Asia Cup featured the finest from the subcontinent and the pitches were a little spicy. It was not a domestic T20 tournament played on featherbeds. Shahid Afridi had spoken about the need for senior batsmen to show the way.
Akmal, although only 25, was playing his 200th game for Pakistan. Normally such a resume would demand the most exalted tags. Yet Akmal is still seen as a player whose temperament often betrays his talent. He has a tendency to shove good sense aside and go for glory, often at the worst possible time. Tonight was different. Tonight, his first hit to the boundary was off his 26th ball and he lugged 24 of his 50 runs in ones and twos.
"The maturity [both batsmen] showed was very clear," Waqar said. "They took their time. When you lose wickets like this in a cluster in the first few overs, it always creates pressure. I think they absorbed the pressure very well. The run-rate which was at six and a half had gone up to nine and a half, but we always knew they were capable of getting the target when the time comes. It was a little scary in the beginning, but as I said, they played really well."
By the time Malik reached a strike rate of 100, in the 16th over on 41, he should have been out on the very next ball. Instead, a catch was dropped at deep square leg. The mad clown was thwarted.
Malik struck his next two balls for four and six to cruise to his fifty. He and Akmal set the world record for the fourth-wicket partnership in T20Is - an unbeaten 114 in 93 balls and Pakistan had won on the occasion of their 100th T20I.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo