Five minutes of madness

Misbah’s dismissal just before tea was a body blow that Pakistan just didn’t recover from. PHOTO: AFP

Misbah’s dismissal just before tea was a body blow that Pakistan just didn’t recover from. PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: In hindsight, all the signs of the impending chaos were there to begin with.

Mohammad Hafeez’s cut shot that went straight into the happy hands of gully in the first over of Pakistan’s first innings. Someone as experienced and defensive as Azhar Ali calling Sami Aslam for a suicidal single during a partnership that threatened to take the game away from England. Hafeez middling a pull in the second innings that picked out Chris Woakes at fine leg. Younus Khan doing his best ballerina impressions.

Had this happened a decade ago, we would have recognised the signs straight away. Had this happened to any Pakistan team but Misbahul Haq’s, we could have seen it coming. Instead, we sat comfortably in our chairs and waited for them to draw the Test. We, as Pakistan fans, became complacent, and when the demons of old came back to haunt us, they jarred us all the more harshly back to reality.

It was fitting then that it was Misbah’s wicket that started it all. The dismissal of the man who had spent six long years weeding out these problems became the catalyst for them.

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The 42-year-old likes to feel the ball hit the middle of his bat, especially during the start of his innings; he has admitted that much. So him chasing a ball that he could very easily have left was understandable — he does that quite often.

But instead, he edged this one. A simple Steven Finn delivery that was coming in a bit with the angle moved away off the seam. The deviation was enough and Misbah nicked it to Johnny Bairstow.

In doing so, he unleashed the dogs of hell.

Asad Shafiq followed him in the next over — a carbon copy of his dismissal in the first innings. Sarfraz Ahmad came next, again fishing outside the off stump on a ball he could, and perhaps should, have left.

James Anderson then proved too good for Yasir Shah.

23 balls, one run, four wickets. The carnage was complete — all was lost.

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In five minutes of madness, Pakistan lost four wickets, the Test, the chance to become the world’s number one Test side for the first time in their history, and in all probability the series.

It took six years of grit and grind to build this, and five minutes of true honest-to-goodness Pakistani madness undid it all.

England gave Pakistan a dose of their own medicine, suffocating the batsmen for runs and forcing them into errors.

They had specific plans for each and every one of them; determined to ensure the embarrassment of seeing Pakistan celebrate so obnoxiously at Lord’s was not repeated again.

Azhar, Younus and Misbah all grew tired of the ball being bowled just outside their reach, and Pakistan’s three most dependable batsmen were drawn into false strokes.

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Hafeez has been a walking wicket the entire series, but the presence of a deep fine leg was no coincidence. They got him out by playing that shot at Lord’s and they got him out again here.

Shafiq struggled with the ball angled in to his pad. Stuart Broad crashed into his stumps in the first innings, Chris Woakes hit the front pad in the second.

They played on Sarfraz’s impatience.

In ruthless fashion, England zoned in on the batsmen’s weaknesses — when for almost six years none were apparent — and just watched the pandemonium unfold.

The only batsman that impressed in both innings was the only batsman England hadn’t faced before — 20-year-old Sami Aslam. That for a while the match hinged on a rookie who was not even supposed to be playing here showed how dramatic Pakistan’s fall from grace truly was.

But if we have learned one thing from Misbah in these six years then it is that, come what may, there is no need to panic.

He will calmly pick up the pieces and he will take them with him to The Oval, deliberating how to defeat this beast of an England side with the broken rubble he carries.

It would be folly to write him and his team off just yet, but it could have all been so different.

The series could well have been level, Pakistan could still have been the world’s most stable batting line-up, everything could so easily have been fine.

But for those five minutes of madness.

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