In the early evening at Lord's yesterday, Pakistan set out to make 440 runs to win the first Test against Australia. They needed to display forbearance, fortitude, discipline and immense skill. They needed a miracle.
By the close of the third day nothing much had changed and all rational thought processes, not something which can regularly be applied to the nominal home side's cricket, continue to insist on an Australian victory. To prevent this outcome, Pakistan, on 114 for 1, must score the highest total ever to win a Test match anywhere and almost 100 more than has been managed here at Lord's.
There have been only three higher fourth-innings scores, two of which were in a losing cause, the third achieving a draw. Pakistan's team selection has hardly helped their predicament and no matter how close they get the horrible fact that they have already lost 12 successive Test matches to Australia and that no matter what they do Australia could still somehow win, will haunt them. Yet on the third day only seven wickets fell for 348 runs.
There were times, as there had been on the first two days, as there have been in many of those dozen reversals, when Pakistan had once more nosed back into the match. But Australia refused to succumb.
The glimmer of hope, which had faded on a damp morning, was revived immediately after lunch. Australia, resuming at 100 for 4 and vulnerable, had lost only nightwatchman Mitchell Johnson to a swinging, low full toss. But they were not quite out of sight when Umar Gul removed Simon Katich and Mohammad Asif accounted for Marcus North.
For the second time in the match, Katich was resolutely stubborn, moving across his stumps in that exaggerated way he has as though he were guarding the entrance to heaven itself. He probably made it seem easier than it was, his class and his long experience of English conditions both telling.
Katich is a walking advertisement, a walking across his stumps advertisement, for the reinvented Test cricketer. Between 2001 and 2005 he batted at all positions in the middle order from three to seven in 23 Tests while making 1,260 runs and was eventually dropped with an average of 36. Recalled almost three years later when a vacancy suddenly occurred as an opener he has now made 2,697 runs at 56.19. There are usually no second lives in Australian cricket.
Katich deserved a hundred after his 80 in the first innings but on 83 he pushed indeterminately at one seaming away and was snaffled behind. In the next over North, for whom there really will be no second life if he does not soon resurrect the first, lunged at a ball outside off and edged to the keeper.
If Pakistan had wrapped things up smartly then with Australia's lead still under 300, who knows what they might have conjured? But for the eighth, ninth and 10th wickets Australia put on 20, 74 and 52 – 146 runs which did for their opponents. The bowling was not bad, the batting was astonishingly good, the sky cleared and the pitch contained no demons.
Four Australians made career best scores. True, that was so of Tim Paine and Steve Smith because they were in their maiden Tests and did better than in the first innings. It was much more legitimate a statistic for Ben Hilfenhaus, who in making his inaugural Test 50 also scored 36 more than he had achieved in an innings before, and Doug Bollinger.
This might have knocked all the stuffing out of Pakistan. Far from it. Imran Farhat was the solitary wicket to fall when he donated Smith his first Test wicket by clubbing a short ball which did not turn (a perfect delivery in every respect apart from that) to short mid-wicket.
But Salman Butt and Azhar Ali resisted in some comfort in the sunshine and accrued just enough runs to persuade another decent crowd that there remains some cricket left in the match. It is impossible to think that Pakistan will bat into the fifth day an on to their mountainous target. But Australia will have a twitch or two should it go on much longer, the sun shines and the Lord's pitch, with typical steadfastness, refuses to wear. The two highest totals to win, 418 and 414, have both been made this century against Australia.Reuse content