Hobart, Nov 22: Cricket is the most perverse of games predicted at peril. Australia's triumph in the second Test was as preposterous as it was unlikely. Pakistan somehow contrived to defy the odds that were stacked in their favour and let a match slip away that should have been sewnup hours before their humiliating defeat had been inflicted.
It was utterly inexplicable that a side regarded to possess the most potent bowling attack should emerge from nearly three and a half hour's work without having made a strong enough impression on the opposition. It was a tense and demanding day and Pakistan found themselves so close and yet so far away from taking the spoils.
All they required was one wicket that stood between them and the clear opportunity of knocking over the tailenders. In fairness it has to be said, however, that the two men who denied Pakistan the chance of forcing a victory, had put up a batting display as meritorious as one is likely to encounter anywhere.
Pakistan's captain, Wasim Akram kept bringing the changes, switching ends for his bowlers and using all the usual options available. The bowling had not at any stage become as wayward as on the second day of this Test when Australia were comfortably cruising along to 191 for 1 with Michael Slater and Justin Langer in a fine partnership.
Today it was nonetheless, unfortunate that when Pakistan did on the rare occasion get through the defences of Adam Gilchrist and Justin Langer, they were denied the wickets. Shortly after Pakistan had taken the new ball, Justin Langer, on 76, appeared clearly to have snicked one to wicket-keeper Moin Khan off Wasim Akram but 'home' umpire Parker ruled that not out. Australia's total then was 5 for 237, chasing 369. A decision such as that and in such circumstances of a vitally important. Test match can break the spirit of a team.
Pakistan battled on and the two batsmen kept showing their equality to whatever the bowlers could put their way. They were also quick to pounce on anything loose in the slightest. While Langer picked up runs more steadily during his 127 which spanned over seven hours, half of which he spent at the crease today, Gilchrist was more adventurous in his choice of shots. That is not to say he took risks, he was no less focused to Australia's cause than his more experienced partner.
It took him only 110 balls to reach his maiden Test century, the second fifty of which came rapidly from only 38 balls. It was interesting to note that it was the second fastest maiden Test century by an Australian, behind Ray Lindwall's, from 88 balls, in 1947 in Melbourne.
However, he too survived when it looked he should have been making his way to the pavilion. That was another blow that Pakistan had to endure. On his score of 107 and the total 290 for 5, an appeal for leg before wicket from a ball from Saqlain Mushtaq was turned down by umpire Parker. The ball had hit Gilchrist on the front foot, under the roll of the pad and he was covering middle and leg stump. Australia at this point were 79 behind and at the time of the earlier incident with Langer they were as many as 132 behind.
It has to be noted that in the first innings. Langer was given out for a catch at silly point, off Saqlain, by umpire Parker, a decision that appeared to be doubtful at the time. The next day umpire Parker took the unusual step of apologising to Langer for giving him out. He approached Langer and admitted that he had made an error. Yesterday by his vital decision of ruling Langer 'not out' he had made amends in no uncertain terms. This is the same umpire who is remembered for once allowing an eleven-ball over to be bowled in a one-day match in Australia.
Credit, however, must be given to Australia's two heroes, Langer and Gilchrist, for their magnificent fight back and showing once again Australia's never-say-die attitude. They put great pressure on Pakistan's bowlers as the scoreboard kept ticking over.
The bowling and fielding got ragged at times and the concentration was wavering. With each run Pakistan's chances of victory in the Test and of at least, saving the series kept fading. While the tension was rising among the Pakistan players, the two batsmen were getting more relaxed as they approached their target.
Pakistan team manager Yawar Saeed was, however, magnanimous in defeat and made no excuses. Although obviously disappointed, he did not harp on the vital umpiring errors. Speaking to Dawn exclusively, he praised the Australian batting: "That was a great partnership. They put up the third highest total in the world to reach a winning target and the highest within Australia". He has kept the morale and spirit of the Pakistan team high as they re-group for the third Test in Perth on Friday