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January 26, 2014

The art of the chase

Samir Chopra
Misbah-ul-Haq was both calm and adventurous during the final tricky stages of the Sharjah Test  © AFP
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Over the years I had become a little tired of the "unpredictable genius" tag being applied to Pakistan, for they had become predictable in some ways. Their batting seemed predictably weak, for instance. Well, with their astonishing chase against Sri Lanka last weekend, they confirmed that all the adjectives used to describe their cricket-playing - "mercurial" being the mildest among them - were justified.

Some 35 years ago, as an 11-year-old, I watched with admiration as a Pakistani team pulled off two brilliant chases against India. I was young, I was impressionable; in Zaheer Abbas, Majid Khan, Asif Iqbal and Javed Miandad, I was watching some of the greats of the modern game. That kind of cricket was bound to stamp its mark on me. And so, those two wins in Lahore and Karachi set up in my mind a classic template for exciting Test match wins: a chase completed in the dying overs of the fifth day.

In those days, the 20 mandatory overs were the signal that the final rites of a Test were at hand; Pakistan's chases meant I would always associate them with a last-minute, heart-stopping scramble for runs. The fielding captain could waste all the time he wanted; the bowlers could bowl wide of the stumps; the fields could be packed in the most bizarre fashion possible; but somehow a conjuring trick would be pulled off. Limited-overs chases do not come close to this sort of drama.

Because I wanted the Indian team to aspire to such heights too, it was unsurprising that nothing quite got under my skin as much as their failure to pull off similarly dramatic wins on the fifth day. Whether it was my bemoaning the panicky draw at The Oval in 1979, the bizarre, somnambulist stroll in Melbourne in 1985, or the pusillanimous offer of a no-contest in Dominica in 2011, a failure to drive on towards a win with a perfectly balanced combination of aggression, flair and cricketing nous always managed to induce apoplectic fits in me.

And there were, of course, all too many times when the Indian team did not even try to take a stab at glory when set bigger, more difficult targets that ostensibly required them to bat out the final day. Indeed, on occasion, hell-bent on merely batting out time, and not even indicating to the bowling team that they might chase, and thus force them instead on the defensive, they lost Test matches; Bangalore in 2005 and perhaps even Sydney 2008 might be regarded as falling into this category. Insult, injury, and all that. (India's wins in Chennai in 2008 and in Mohali in 2013 did mollify me somewhat.)

Pakistan's chase puts South Africa's failure to pursue victory in Johannesburg in even worse light. The worst that could have happened to South Africa was that they would have gone down 0-1 in the series; that is all. They would still have had a chance to come back 1-1, and there would have been no disgrace in the defeat had it happened while they were going for the win (as opposed to defending and blocking in the final overs); they would have lost bravely. Anyone who would have accused them of being chokers would have risked having his sanity questioned. The best? They could have pulled off one of the greatest wins in the history of Test cricket, they could have squashed the chokers tag, the team members would have written their names into the annals of Test cricket in no uncertain fashion. And did I say they would have won a Test? Yes, that too.

Pakistan were down 0-1 against Sri Lanka. A draw would have not changed that scoreline; a loss would have made it 0-2. So they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. There are some who might imagine that these sorts of considerations will explain everything there is to know about Pakistan's win, and that therefore the sort of comparisons I am making with South Africa and India are eminently unfair. But a team could be confronted with the series situation that Pakistan faced and still not react appropriately or execute the chase properly. That still requires some cricketing oomph.

So, once again, Pakistan, thanks for chasing on Monday.

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Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by immi2711 on (January 29, 2014, 16:17 GMT)

Well Mr. Chopra... I am not so sure if I would agree so much with you about Pak assessment....Being from Pakistan, yesssss.... the match was extremely satisfying, in more ways than I can describe.

BUTTT...there is no consistency, there is no planning, in the middle they play like amatures. That is probably what I admire the most about the Indian the Australian, the English teams, they come on the ground with their country Flag on their chest, and play for Pride and play for win. I dont see those kind of sentiments from Pak team. Yes they won this time, but it is still a roller coaster.

Posted by Salman_Shakeel84 on (January 28, 2014, 8:19 GMT)

Thank you Pakistan for providing the unforgettable moments not only for Pakistan cricket supporters but also for the supporters of cricket in General.

Thank you Pakistan for making pakistanis proud

Pakistan is a resilient nation , No matter how hard it is hit. It revives and comes back strong at you

BRAVO Pakistan.....

Posted by J751 on (January 27, 2014, 19:39 GMT)

The exciting run chases by Pakistan in the 1978-79 series against India are among my most cherished cricket memories.In particular,in the Karachi test,Javed Miandad and Asif Iqbal gave one of the most exciting demonstrations of running between the wickets.The icing on the cake was Imran hitting Bedi for two sixes and a four in one over to seal victory.The Pakistan team of those days had some outstanding talents and was involved in many thrilling encounters.

Posted by   on (January 27, 2014, 14:17 GMT)

now its time to tell the world that the modern cricket belongs to asia..

Posted by B.C.G on (January 27, 2014, 13:14 GMT)

Why does the author here & many others compare the Pak chase with the Joburg one.Besides the obvious nothing to lose(for Pak) point,Pak had specialist batsmen at the crease.Who did SA Have?2 slogging tail enders with nothing much after?The 'defensive' SA chased 414 runs in Australia against Lee,Johnson,Siddle.Pak faced pop gun bowlers.

Posted by JohnSnider on (January 27, 2014, 8:22 GMT)

Interesting observation by Samir Chopra. Pakistan is always a roller coaster ride as far as I know. Ray Gondal talks about Two W's Javes Miandad, Zaheer Abbas, Imran Khan etc. . I think they were awesome bunch at that time. I missed that exciting team also. The cricket get very different when India and Pakistan platy each other. They both should play each other one test one ODI and one T20 and call it " WW III "

Posted by shanks1967 on (January 27, 2014, 7:15 GMT)

I vividly remember the caning that Bedi and Company got from Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad in all the three tests in that 78 series which I think Kapil made his debut...I remember Sunny scoring centuries in both innings at Karachi and with Kapil put the game out of Pakistan's reach in second innings, but alas...Majid and Mohsin out chasing a target of 164 in 35 minutes and 20 mandatory overs. In comes Miandad and in the company of Zaheer win the match pasting Bedi, Pras and Chandra to all corners of the Park. With that the much touted Indian spin trio was given a FAREWELL. But a very humbling farewell. Venkatraghavan led the team into England in 79 and we almost pulled off a victory at Oval again with Sunny scoring 221 chasing some 432..so it is not true that we have been afraid to chase targets. Oh and to remind Mr.Samir the TIED TEST AT CHENNAI WAS A CLASSIC , wasnt it. Chasing 348 and Maninder getting out to Greg Mathews last ball. Let us give our boys their due.

Posted by Desihungama on (January 26, 2014, 21:08 GMT)

I feel for the players that even after such glorious moments in their career such as the recent Test win they still have to head to the comfort's of a hotel somewhere on the globe.

Posted by   on (January 26, 2014, 15:47 GMT)

I agree w Prof Chopra that this win was a reminder of what Pakistan teams used to be like. However Pakistan lost that identity. Lately it was Australia that was more agressive team and had never die atitiude. We all missed old Pakistan team when Ws and before them Javed and Zaheed and Imran played. We knew that they could win with the last ball or last over. Of course when two Ws were playing you never knew no matter what the score was with Wasim and Waqar bowling even 100 run target would become difficult to achieve for other teams on seaming pitches.

Posted by memoriesofthepast on (January 26, 2014, 13:02 GMT)

India did chase 404 vs WI in 1976 and also won by chasing in Adelaide 2003, Bangalore 2010 though never chased a target >200 successfully in tests vs Pak be it the Bangalore test of 1987 or Chepauk test of 1999 or Kolkatta test of 1999 in Asia Test championship. Pak becomes a different team when it plays vs Ind. The greatest chokers in history of test cricket are Australia who lost to WI by a run at Adelaide in 1993, to SA by 5 runs at Sydney in 1994, to England at Headingley in 1981 by 19 runs. Aus have lost 3 test matches after making the opponent follow-on. Aus were unable to defend 414 runs vs SA at Perth or even 417 vs WI. Aus lost in Mumbai 2004 in their chase of 107 runs and in Melbourne 1981 in their chase of 143 runs. Aus have failed to chase target of less than 200 runs in many tests at home and even abroad-the master chokers.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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