It was a chilly Saturday in Auckland; it felt like a warm Friday in Sharjah. All of a sudden, it descended on the arena: That delightful rumble of zany chaos that Pakistan somehow manage to trigger in the opponents. It’s the sound of jangling nerves, a feeling of being ambushed. AB de Villiers felt it. He called it “energy”. Suddenly, a sense of meandering and sloth morphs into a frenetic energy of an unstoppable force. This is why we watch Pakistan. This is why we sigh through dark nights where they can’t just find that switch but we know it will come one day. And so we wait. It’s got rarer and rarer these days and hence, Saturday felt that much more special. (Full Coverage| Points table| Fixtures)
This ridiculous ability to conjure up such dervish passion is why Pakistan have fans around the world. This is one of those nights where we throw our heads back and laugh. At them, at the opponents, at us, at this sport, and at how they owned the night in a little dramatic phase of play. Osman Samiuddin, a former colleague, had called it the bottling of lightning in a memorable essay about Haal of Pakistan.
Not even de Villiers could do anything about it. Poor man didn’t have a chance. Better teams don’t manage to find an answer and this South African team’s mental fortitude is still in doubt. They didn’t choke but were made to feel claustrophobic and once that set in, they didn’t stand a chance.
De Villiers tried, taking out the batting Powerplay in the 31st over, with 55 runs still needed. It was clear that in his mind it was 55 runs from those five overs where they were just three fielders outside. He tried. Sashays down the track, insanely cool shuffles outside off, the carves over the infield and brought the target down before he went for one more foray down the pitch.
Off he went, this freaky batsman, this man Dale Steyn called Neo from Matrix movie, this man who creates his own lengths and angles, and found a bouncer from Wahab Riaz hurtling at him. He would have expected it but somehow the ball had enough legs to jump that one inch more, one inch between a more meaty edge/stab that could have carried it over the keeper. Instead, it nicked the wood and Sarfraz Ahmed had one more moment to prove wrong everyone in the team management, who had made him sit out for so long, by taking the world-record equalling sixth catch.
It was Sarfraz who started the zaniness earlier when he dived low to his right to pluck a stunner to remove Hashim Amla, who was almost only dealing in fours.
It was 67 for 3 and that feeling descended upon us. A run earlier Rahat Ali had induced Faf du Plessis to edge behind and some might say that was the start of it all, but somehow that unadulterated bottle of Pure Pakistan spilled out, or so it seemed then, at that catch from Sarfraz.
Suddenly, there was this unmistakable buzz. We watch cricket, or any sport for that matter, for clichés like buzz to ring true. 74 for 4: Riaz hurls a bouncer and Rilee Rossouw top-edges a hook to fine-leg. No surprise at that denouement, by then. 77 for 5: Rahat Ali slings a full fast one and David Miller is trapped lbw, falling to his right and even DRS can’t save him. 102 for 6: JP Duminy is ready for a pull but the ball from Mohammad Irfan doesn’t climb as much and he can’t adjust the shot. Edge to fine-leg again.
Dale Steyn slogged around for a while but fell unsurprisingly to another heave, and Kyle Abbott did his utmost best to hang around for a while but Younis Khan, who has been in a few of these mad journeys with Pakistan, was not going to allow age to prevent him from being part of another one. And when Abbott edged an angler from Rahat Ali, Younis, at second slip, lunged forward to pouch a sharp low catch. Soon, de Villiers took that Powerplay but couldn’t thwart Pakistan. Not many, if any, can stop Pakistan on nights like this.