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Babar rekindles Hanif Mohammad's greatest memory amidst Karachi faithful

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Last updated on 16 Mar 2022 | 06:21 PM
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Babar rekindles Hanif Mohammad's greatest memory amidst Karachi faithful

Babar Azam's marathon knock to salvage an epic draw for Pakistan was a fond reminder of Hanif Mohammad's record 64 years ago

Let's take a detour to 1958. West Indies v Pakistan, first Test, Barbados. 

On Day 3, the touring team was bundled out for 106 in response to West Indies’ 579. Asked to follow-on, Pakistan ended the day on 162 for 1. The 24-year old opener, Hanif Mohammed returned 61 not out at stumps. In his hotel room that night, he found a note from his skipper, Abdul Hafeez Kardar that said: “You are our only hope.”

The next day, Mohammad returned unbeaten on 161. Pakistan were 339/2. The skipper sent another note that night. It read: “You can do it.” Mohammad saw through Day 5 unbeaten. That night his skipper told him to bat till tea. Like a good team man, Mohammad obliged his captain’s instructions and was out only after tea on Day 6 (yes, it was a 6-day match). The match was saved. 

Hanif Mohammad, having batted two full days and more, scored 337. He batted for 16 hours, still a record for the longest innings in Test history. 

For Babar Azam, the task was not as humongous if you compare the two Test matches. However, the challenges were still towering. The number one Test side as the opposition and a bowling attack that just shook your team in the first innings. The task to bat out over five sessions in the fourth innings to secure a draw. It is still an anomaly in modern-day cricket. In fact, no other side has batted over 1,000 balls in the fourth innings since 1978.

There was the constantly looming threat of reverse swing. Even with the pitch not deteriorating on the expected lines, life was not easy against spin, where the odd ball turned square and kept low. Add the pressure of representing Pakistan. The mercurial behavior of fans is akin to walking in a field full of landmines. 

One wrong step and you are reduced to dust. 

And there is hardly a right step in foresight. The scope reduces considerably when you are bowled out for 148 in the first innings in response to the traveling team putting on a mammoth 556. Azam doesn’t have a captaincy figure to encourage him that “he can do it”. As the captain, he has to show the way himself. 

He walked out to bat in the 23rd over of the innings on Day 4, with the run-rate under a run per over. Australia had picked wickets on either side of the lunch break. They were smelling blood. It was the same time of the innings when they found reverse swing, flicking the Pakistan batting line-up off their feet on the previous day. 

The 27-year old absorbed the pressure. In search of more assistance from the pitch, the Aussies were impatient on many occasions. Azam paired his stoic defense with efficient aggression against anything loose. 

It rubbed off on Abdullah Shafique, probably the first whom Azam spontaneously showed it can be done. Watching the captain pull Pat Cummins must have transferred a natural message to the young opener that it is fine to play strokes as long as it is not compromised for the solidity of the innings. 

Towards the end of Day 3, when Azam notched up his hundred, he followed his roar with a gesture stating he is going to bat on. That was his Hanif Mohammad moment, the captain telling their biggest hope that they can do it and they will do it. Here, both individuals were the same person. Pakistan are not used to turning around matches with the bat but Azam had given them hope from the most hopeless situation.

He lived by his promise on the final day. His start with Shafique hinted the visitors would need energy worth many cannons firing at once to dislodge him. That is what consoles Cummins at the end of the day - the fact that he couldn’t have done more. 

"I walked off the field at the end of the day's play without feeling there was something I hadn't tried, or there wasn't a plan we hadn't given a really good chance at”, said the Australian captain. 

When Australia saw through the 238-run stand with the wicket of Shafique, Azam responded with a frown of disbelief with his hands on the waist. The same replicated when Fawad Alam fell 10 overs later. It has been two years since the expression became a meme when a Pakistan fan expressed his disappointment with his team. Now, watching the national captain replicate that was both hilarious and painful. Azam was so in his zone, he couldn’t believe someone can actually get out. 

When Azam did get out himself, in over number 160, it was against the run of play. The fans in the stadium and those watching on the TV had nearly accepted that he is not getting out today. Probably, the Aussies couldn’t believe it themselves.

12 overs were still left and Pakistan had five wickets in hand. The visitors stood a chance. But for a while, as the skipper walked off, the outcome of the game took a backseat. It was about Babar Azam, walking off after batting for over 10 hours, only the second such occasion in the fourth innings of a Test. There are more instances of a bowler picking all 10 wickets in an innings. 

Australia’s celebrations of a wicket they were after for more than a day were overlaid by applause for the batsman. It constitutes a terrific picture, rendering the emotions of a protagonist soaking in the acclaimation as the curtains draw on a nerve-wracking play. 

Mohammad Rizwan, who scored a terrific ton himself, brought his captain’s effort to fruition ensuring a draw. Azam missed his double century by 4 runs but that is not how the knock will be measured. It will be remembered as the closest thing to Hanif Mohammad’s effort from 64 years ago, where Azam played the role of both Mohammad and his skipper, Kardar. 

And Azam, being a great artist himself had paid the perfect tribute to Mohammad, all in front of his own faithful in Karachi, a knock that the streets will never forget. 

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