Dubai: Pakistan scripted a great escape from a tight spot in the second Test at their fortress, the National Stadium. It was led from the front by their captain Babar Azam and well-supported by Abdullah Shafique and Mohammed Rizwan, who together batted out 172 overs, to secure a draw and keep the series level 0-0 at the end of a gripping contest.
Australia, after scoring a huge first innings score of 556, had bundled out Pakistan for just 148 and secured a massive lead of 408 runs. Since the Australian bowlers had bowled just 53 overs, it was expected that skipper Pat Cummins would enforce a follow-on on Pakistan and ask the hosts to bat again. The whole idea of Australia batting in the first hour on the third day morning must have been to ensure that the visitors bat Pakistan out of the match so that they could put pressure on them with a huge score.
Along with it, the Australian bowlers, led by Mitchell Starc’s reverse swing, got the desired results and bowled Pakistan out cheaply. But one could not believe their own eyes on seeing what happened next. Instead of seeing Pakistan batters come in to bat again, we saw the Australian openers striding out to bat for 17 overs and followed it up with further five overs for a total of 22 overs. A team lose two overs for the change of innings, which means Australia, in all, lost 24 overs, almost one session of play.
Cummins’ idea for not enforcing the follow-on must have been to give his bowlers some rest and also allow more time for the pitch to deteriorate further so that they don’t have to chase a total in the last innings. This logic is plausible if the lead was around 200, but Australia had a lead of 408 runs, which was far too many and Pakistan team were already under a lot of pressure after the first innings collapse.
Why should one be scared of enforcing a follow-on when there is a cushion of more than 400 runs? Yes, Pakistan batted 172 overs in the second innings, but they knew they had to survive less than two days. When the opposition is on the mat, you need to capitalise on it and seize the moment by going in for the kill by being positive and not worry about the fourth innings chase.
Without taking any credit away from Azam and his teammates for saving the match, I believe Cummins decision to not enforce the follow-on has probably cost Australia the game, which in the end turned out to be so near, yet so far for Australia. It seems the ghost of the historical follow-on Australia enforced on India by Steve Waugh in 2001 at the Eden Gardens still haunts them. After being asked to bat again, VVS Laxman, along with Rahul Dravid, put on 376 runs and then bowled Australia out to win an amazing Test.