A welcome win, no doubt
It really didn't matter that Pakistan chased down their target tonight with all the assurance of a one-legged man roller-skating in quicksand with his hands tied behind his back. It only mattered that they chased them down at all, even if at one stage it seemed Misbah-ul-Haq was bent upon wresting his countryman's hold on the longest international innings of all time.
Pakistan are not used to playing against Australia and they are certainly not used to winning against them; this was only a second win in their last 12 ODIs (over nearly seven years) against them. Though not many in this team are scarred by that kind of record, they batted as if that history was firmly on their mind. If this was a weakened, transitional Australia, it was Australia nonetheless and Pakistan can happily point to an absent middle-order bearded wonder and an equally absent lanky fast bowling genius.
But with the added layers of what has happened to Pakistan cricket over the last two months, the broader fate that has befallen them over the last two years, and to a nation seeking cheer as desperately as Susan, it is as welcome as might be a water cooler in the Thar desert. The details don't matter as much as the bigger picture but they are worth noting, if only to sketch an outline over the rest of the series.
Intikhab Alam, Pakistan's coach, had said before the series that spin would be key, but could he have imagined this? The modern Australia have often been limited against spin, struggling against it to score at pace. Johan Botha and several South African spinners played key roles in the two ODI series wins over them this year so Intikhab wasn't talking cheap. Indeed some might even smirk that if South African spinners are troubling you then you really have troubles.
But to crash so haplessly so as to lose eight for 27 at one stage and more significantly, look so utterly bewildered? Shahid Afridi has been one of Pakistan's better ODI bowlers in a unit that has struggled to show bite, conceding 300-plus five times since last June. He forms Pakistan's holding pattern generally: bring down the run-rate during the middle overs, maybe pick up one or two momentum-stifling wickets. He is rarely expected to wreck an entire line-up.
It's difficult to see what he did so differently today to what he has been doing. He did get marked drift and appreciable turn, as he does. He was accurate, as he is. He was generous mixing in his wrong 'uns and the other tidbits, as he always is. The only surprise was that Australia were so poor at playing fare that, among others, Sri Lanka and India have handled with relative comfort.
His collaborator Saeed Ajmal, meanwhile, has quietly gone about doing what is expected of many modern offies. He doesn't give runs up cheaply and it compensates for a lack of guile. His doosra has always spun and he doesn't mind using it, but Australia read him as well as you might expect them to read an Urdu newspaper. If you didn't know about their previous with spin, this could be put down as a freakish glitch. It may yet prove as much, at least in this series.
For now, though, the need isn't for such analysis. For tonight and tomorrow, Pakistan can bask a little in the glow of this win. How significant it might prove cannot yet be told, but much caution must be advised for days ahead. All Australian sides, even this one, have fight in their DNA - they will not let this series slip by just as they didn't this match.
And Pakistan are well-rehearsed in letting slip some good cheer from their grasp. The euphoric win against Sri Lanka in the 2006 Champions Trophy after Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif had been sent back, heralded only a shambolic exit soon after. More recently, they slipped against Sri Lanka at home, having trumped Murali and Mendis first up. Nobody will forget either that they were bowled out for 75 in the last game of that series; in fact their last ODI before this one.
Maybe the struggle to chase tonight is a good thing after all. It will - or it should - keep real the difficulty of the task ahead.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo