Back to the party in style
It was inevitable that Andrew Symonds would finally come good - given that it was Pakistan, and given that there were murmurs about his form again. Almost two years ago, he had magnificently resurrected his own career and his team's innings in the World Cup opener, against Pakistan, with an awesome 143. And, up until about a month ago, he had remained just that - awesome. But his form with the bat slipped in the last month, and had remained in freefall until today when, against the same opponents, he took his opportunity.
At 3 for 53 in 14 overs, Australia were on the back foot as they often are, yet - within just three overs - Symonds had effected a shift in momentum. Twenty-five runs were nurdled, glided and bludgeoned in that time, mostly off the middle of his bat. Advantage gone. Thereafter, with Damien Martyn in tow, he barely broke sweat, exposing an astute cricket brain in running his singles, marvellous fitness in pushing twos, and fantastic strength and timing in finding the boundary.
Martyn's contribution was in keeping with his low-key, unsung nature. He didn't hit a single boundary and, although he stayed till the 41st over, it almost felt as if he hadn't been there. Like Symonds, he had won something at Australia's glittering awards dinner the other night - Best Test Player. And, if those medals made them heroes among heroes, their partnership confirmed that status. But that their stand didn't seal victory as emphatically as Symonds's century at Johannesburg is both a testament to Pakistan's resilience and the morsel of hope that they must cling on to for the second final on Sunday.
It is not ironic, just fitting, that Pakistan have looked more cohesive and scrapped harder without Shoaib Akhtar than at any stage with him on this tour. It has been one of the central failings of Pakistan cricket over the years that the concept of the individual, the matchwinner, has taken precedence over that of the team.
It has been a singularly fortunate misfortune that they have possessed some of the most exquisitely talented individuals; men whose gifts and achievements have almost demanded lopsided attention. But their improved performance in the VB Series has been the upshot of a number of players - and not just one - performing at various times with bat, ball and in the field.
Certainly, their top order is still worrisome, and today Brett Lee bullied and battered it redundant. But the form and firmness of the middle and lower order has been such that the top order's early dismissals have almost been a blessing. Only for a team like Pakistan could this ever be the case. Inzamam, with his fifth half-century of the series, was once more as untroubled as he was threatening. He has been like this all series, and now has five fifties.
In partnership with Shoaib Malik - who has been strangely subdued - he briefly sparked a fightback. The allround lower order, with the rekindled Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq, have also played key, cataclysmic roles and, for the first half of today, it seemed they had done so again.
Special mention, though, for the embodiment of this resolve, the real heart and soul of this team's revival - Rana Naveed-ul-Hasan. He is the antithesis of the starry Shoaib, and Pakistan has had few players with his courage, the commitment and spirit. He was the butt of much ridicule from local journalists when Pakistan played Sri Lanka in a Test last November when, on debut and on a flat pitch, he toiled without reward over after over, often being smacked around by Kumar Sangakkara.
The press box, perhaps unused to a bowler who wasn't lightning-quick on the field and a personality off it, suggested he would be slaughtered in Australia, laughing him off as a balding, ageing, ineffective toiler. He took the crucial wicket of Sangakkara, though, opening up that match and he ended with three for the innings. They should have known better; in March, he received a fearful mauling at the hands of Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly in Karachi - yet came back to take both their wickets.
And he isn't just indefatigable. Today he revealed yet again, with both new and old ball, a brain almost as sizable as his heart. And what's more, he has reverse-swung the ball with more success than either Shoaib or Mohammad Sami have in the last year. That he played after the death of his father as little as two days ago adds not only to the poignancy of his performance but to the stature of the man. His batting today took Pakistan to within 18 runs of the target; if Pakistan can continue to feed off his spirit, they may get much closer on Sunday.
Osman Samiuddin is a freelance journalist based in Karachi.