Pakistan's consistent inconsistency
Phew! This morning's grandstand finish was never really in doubt, even though Pakistan resumed their chase with just 40 runs required for victory. It wasn't so much their unpredictability that brought the game to the wire but their consistency. No team in world cricket is more likely to stumble on the last few steps as they climb up to the victory podium.
The heartbeat spiked as two quick wickets fell for the addition of just 10 runs. Australia's own media might question their national team's "world's best" status, but no side is more likely to keep battling until the last run is scored and the last wicket has fallen. Shoaib Malik was stunned when Marcus North cut short his stinging cover drive at short extra cover to pilfer the best catch of series, and probably this calendar year. Then Mike Hussey flew like Batman to his left to safely wrap a spectacular catch at gully and leave Kamran Akmal astonished.
A ball earlier, Pakistan had needed just one run to level the series. The rest of the team had been lined up behind the ropes, ready to dash onto the outfield and celebrate. Mohammad Asif, Pakistan's No. 11, was there, standing hands in pockets, not even padded. At the moment that his vice-captain returned shaking his head, Asif's jaw dropped and he ran back desperately to the dressing room to get ready to bat. So much for the tension.
Salman Butt, captaining Pakistan for the first time, did not hide the nerves. "It was a bit nerve-wrecking as a few wickets fell," he confessed - adding, with a shy smile, "Thank God we won.". Pakistan have had a history of nervous chases and in the last year itself they contrived three times to lose a match from a winning position. Butt was involved in those heart-breaking chases and was frank to admit that at one point today morning he feared even this Test was going to slip away. Asked if he felt Pakistan would blow this match, Butt replied: "Seeing the history, yes."
It was not a defeatist mindset, Butt pointed out. He explained his only message to his team before the chase began was to stay relaxed. "All I asked from the boys was to play their natural game. If there was a ball to be hit just go hit it because the only way to put pressure back on the opposition is to grab the opportunities. I think at the end, maybe, the guys were a bit nervous, as I was myself. But this is the way the game is and thankfully things worked our way."
Pakistan are in the midst of re-building after the ignominy of the Australian tour earlier this year in which they failed to clinch even a single win. It did not help matters when Shahid Afridi, originally appointed to lead Pakistan for the entire English summer, opted for voluntary retirement minutes after the Lord's defeat last week. So it is only admirable that Butt and his troops stayed tightly knit to work towards a united goal. "It does mean a lot and a new beginning for Pakistan, especially for this young side," Butt said.
Butt felt the players are now willing to contribute, are more open to talk to him and share their ideas and that has bolstered the team's confidence. "It is only the second time in history Australia were bundled out for such a small score," Butt said of the Australian collapse on the first day in Leeds. "It is very big achievement. Mohammad Aamer, Mohammad Asif, Umar Gul, Umar Amin, Danish Kaneria…everybody chipped in. The best thing of this Test match was every member was trying to help me, everybody had an idea and I could feel that from inside.
"It is [just one] win. We should not be so happy as if we have achieved everything," Butt pointed out, although that did not mean he was not confident. "From here we can build on. Pakistan cricket has got a new hope with the new guys who came in performing strongly. The management including myself will back them. I am certain if we give these guys more time we can become a world-beating side in Test matches."
It is only apt for Butt to use words of caution as he understands how easily youngsters can get complacent, something he cannot afford especially with a busy month coming up. In five days' time Pakistan begin the four-Test series against England. From the outset the main concern already is about the fitness of their three fast bowlers - especially the two Mohammads, Aamer and Asif, the twin architects of Australia's downfall. Butt himself is unaware of the future but is keeping his fingers crossed. "I am going to discover that myself. I can't predict anything," he said.
At the same time he had a strong message for his team. "I just hope they continue to learn and hopefully this win doesn't get in to their heads. We need to keep calm and work even harder," he said. Simultaneously he was asking the administrators to show patience with his young side. "We will make mistakes because they are pretty young, raw and we have to own them [stand by the youngsters] when they make mistakes. To build a side we have to own them when they are not doing well. It is important."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo