Pakistan’s long, long wait for a Test victory over Australia finally came to an end amid scenes of excruciating tension on the fourth morning at Headingley, as a simple equation of 40 runs for victory with seven wickets still standing was made to look as complex as Fermat’s Last Theorem. They eventually crept home with three men still standing, but their collective nerves in tatters, as Umar Gul launched the winning shot through the covers with the scores already level.
The margin of victory looked more comfortable than it felt, and that’s putting it mildly. The eventual difference between the sides was the wicketkeeper, Kamran Akmal, whose 13 from 26 balls was as close as Pakistan came to a composed fourth-day performance. That said, had Akmal been given out caught in the gully with five runs still required, who knows what miracles might have transpired. Mike Hussey’s low scoop was turned down by the TV umpire, but after Mohammad Aamer had edged another four to balance the books, Akmal slammed another chance which Hussey this time plucked to his left.
The morning had begun amid scenes of raucous optimism from the noisy knots of Pakistan fans in the Western Stand – lured by five-pound tickets and the prospect of a chance to witness history – and there was an early moment of poignancy as well, as Rudi Koertzen was given a guard of honour to commemorate the final day of his 108-Test umpiring career.
But as soon as the focus returned to the centre of the field, Australia resumed their attack with the same vigour that had hauled them back into contention in the final moments of the third evening’s play. Doug Bollinger, who had jolted Pakistan with two wickets in seven balls, made it three in 17 as the overnight anchor, Azhar Ali, feathered a length delivery through to Tim Paine, only moments after spanking a full toss through the covers to bring up his maiden Test half-century.
At 146 for 4, with a tantalising 34 still needed for victory and Australia’s fielders cranking up the chatter, the stage could hardly have been less ideal for the impetuous Umar Akmal, a man who likes nothing better than to blaze away with impunity. He edged Ben Hilfenhaus for a streaky four through third slip, a shot accompanied by a roar of relief from the stands, but one over later, he was gone as well, via a flat-footed poke to a regulation outswinger.
With Bollinger bounding in with the unstoppable intent of a latter-day Merv Hughes, appeals and alarms were two-a-penny. Kamran Akmal survived consecutive appeals for caught behind and lbw – both rightly turned down by Koertzen – before Shoaib Malik was dropped one over later by a diving Michael Clarke at second slip. He couldn’t make his luck count, however, as Marcus North at extra cover clung onto a full-blooded drive off Hilfenhaus, to leave Pakistan on the ropes at 161 for 6, with Mohammad Aamer’s appearance at No. 8 scarcely helping to settle the nerves.
Kamran’s response was two priceless fours in five balls – the first a touch streaky as he snicked an outswinger away through third man, the second more emphatic as he got up onto his toes to punch a drive through extra cover. With 13 consecutive Test victories over Pakistan, including their corker at Sydney in January, Australia’s belief did not waver at any stage of the morning, but in the final analysis, they were unable to make amends for their 88-all-out debacle on the first day.