With just fifteen minutes left in the session before Lunch, the Pakistani players got in a huddle. Australia’s lead was just 54 runs, but a bad session from hereon could take the game further away from the hands of the Asian side.
Shaheen Afridi remained focused, waiting for the Australian openers - Usman Khawaja and David Warner. Three slips and one gully, all rallying up, Khawaja in total zen, taking guard, but little did he know that a storm was brewing.
Two balls later, the storm arrived. It was a peach. It was Shaheen’s best ball of the series, and it took him only two deliveries. Even the 1200-run maestro of the year, Khawaja, couldn’t do anything. It was Test cricket at its best.
It was right in the corridor of uncertainty, where even a certain Khawaja was caught in two minds, eventually edging one. The Falcon took off, sending a signal like a bell ringing close to someone’s ears. Defeaning.
After swinging it away from the left-handed Khawaja, Shaheen played the other trick, swinging it away from the right-handed Marnus Labuschagne, who almost made contact with the ball. All Labuschagne could do was blow a whistle as Shaheen was left holding his head.
All of this drama in just three deliveries.
Lethal at one end, loose at the other, was the theme of Pakistan’s bowling efforts thus far in the series. But when Mir Hamza paced in like a gazelle, it was pure cricketing chaos from both ends.
If Shaheen was bowling with a spring in his step, Hamza carefully carved a sculpture from the other end. He started his spell with a maiden but intended to swing the ball magically. Only one over was left before Lunch, and Shaheen rallied with the Asian crowd getting behind their Falcon.
The first delivery? A rib-tickler, which could have easily been the end of Labuschagne. Next was an in-swinger, which led to the right-hander pushing at the ball, getting an inside edge. The devil is in the detail.
Off the last ball, he just executed the plan. Yup, it was loose; it was nothing of a shot from the right-hander, but Shaheen did not just see the pattern but examined it well enough to exploit the gaping hole. It culminated in Shaheen taking a huge leap, as Lunch couldn’t have come sooner for the Australians.
The hour should be viewed in two parts, pre-lunch and after-lunch. Pre-lunch was all about Shaheen and his two-wicket magic, post-lunch was truly chaotic. It started with the third umpire getting stuck in a lift as Warner’s gleam spread across his face.
But two overs later, that same gleam was now a sorrow. Hamza was the recipient of the fortuitous dismissal. The left-arm pacer bowled it as wide as possible, only for Warner to chase it. And, chasing it, Warner’s legacy became a thing of the past here at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
Someone with just two wickets across three Tests wasn’t supposed to create chaos. But Hamza’s glorious First-Class record was fast forgotten. Hamza is a veteran in Pakistan, he had shown his jigar and pulled the trigger 418 times at the First-Class level.
The left-arm pacer averages 22.47, striking at 46.4, with 15 four-wicket hauls and 29 five-wicket hauls, showing his worth year after year for Karachi Whites. Not just that, he has even shown his worth through his time at the County where he appeared for Warwickshire. In addition, the left-arm pacer picked up 32 wickets in the 2023-24 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, where he averaged 20.30, being the second-highest wicket-taker.
His first ten-wicket haul came all the way back in 2013, and since then, he has shown his worth to convince the selectors that he was the one they had to take to Australia.
Even in Australia, he had to bide his time behind in the pecking order, and only an injury to Khurram Shahzad opened the door for the left-armed Hamza. But all of this build-up for someone who had a lucky wicket?
One of Australia’s in-form batters, perhaps the most sought-after man in world cricket, Travis Head, arrived at the crease. He potentially could break open the game like a nut-cracker with his swashbuckling batting.
But Hamza said, “Not today”.
If Warner got the outswinger, Hamza set up Head with a peach. Head was anticipating an out-swinger and came with a preconceived idea of leaving first up. What followed was the art from the artist.
It pitched right in a good length area and swung back sharply to hit the timbers.
Two-in-two balls. The last time a left-arm pacer picked up back-to-back wickets was all the way back in 1992 when Wasim Akram rattled the Australian batters, with his average in Australia dropping down to just 15. At 16/4, it was Australia’s worst start at the venue since 1911.
It was only poetic that Wasim was on air when all of this transpired here at the ‘G.
Hamza isn’t Wasim, but the way he swung the ball, the comparisons had well and truly begun.
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