Australia vs Pakistan, 2nd Test
A decade or so ago, a Pakistan batsman was fielding on the boundary at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. There are plenty of big stadiums around the world but Eden Gardens, at capacity, is a big stadium. It was his first time there and for most of it, he remembered, he could barely hear himself think. But he does recall one piece of advice he got from a spectator right at the front.
At that time, Pakistan still hosted matches at home but crowds had begun to dwindle for Tests and only the really big ODIs would draw full houses. And no stadium in Pakistan could come close to matching Eden Gardens for capacity. It was, the player felt at the time, as intimidating an atmosphere he had come across in his career until then.
But that Eden Gardens moment was a long time ago and as at least eight of the Pakistan XI will turn up at the MCG in an atmosphere unlike any they would have come across before they too will know that they have just stepped up into the big time. Sixty thousand are expected on the first day and only Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan and Mohammad Amir know what it is like to perform in front of a Boxing Day crowd.
Pakistan did play to full houses on days of their England tour earlier this year, but this will be on a far larger scale. Only the non-breathing will not be affected by it. The significance of the occasion, and the place it holds in the Australian calendar is not lost on Pakistan’s players.
“We know the importance of the game,” said Asad Shafiq. “It’s a big Test match, the Boxing Day one. We all grew up watching this match in Pakistan. We know the value of this Test.
“We will feel it [pressure] a little because we probably haven’t played in front of such a big crowd. And this ground has a really prestigious history and playing here is a big honour for me, for everyone but especially for those playing here for the first time there is also a lot of excitement. But the way we played that first Test, we’re very united and are hopeful that we can get a good result in the next two Tests.”
Brisbane was as good as a foregone conclusion before the series began (Pakistan had lost three and drawn one there before the last Test), though the nature of the defeat was a bonus. Pakistan’s chances in this series were always dependent on the less lively surfaces of Melbourne and Sydney; their four wins in Australia are equally divided at the two venues.
The surface is not expected to turn unduly, not towards later in the Test in any case and conditions should ease up for batting as each day progresses.
“Yes, I have heard about this [record] and seen it too that this wicket suits Pakistan a bit more,” Shafiq said. “This is in everyone’s mind, that if we do get to bat first and put up a good total, we are capable of winning the match. But every day is a new day, every match is a new match. You have to work hard and play hard for every win.”
All week, word from the Pakistan camp – backed up to a degree from the evidence of their training sessions – is that the spirits are high, and so too their confidence, or at least that it is more than what a number of previous Pakistan teams ahead of playing a Test in Australia had.
Not least Shafiq himself, whose hundred came on the back of a wildly fluctuating run of form – in his last 13 Tests, he has three hundreds, six fifties and five ducks (including two pairs). “We are hopeful, we are positive, especially after the first Test,” he said. “We are playing positive and good cricket. Nobody was expecting we would come back like that.
“But we all showed the character, we all showed courage. And these kind of matches always give you confidence as a team, as a player. Especially if it’s the first Test of the series – it always helps in the next Tests.”—Agencies