IIn the weeks since his death, just like in the 30 years leading up to it, people loved talking about Shane Warne taking one for 150 on his debut. The story is salutary, a moral of modesty preceding triumph, the numbers seen as the beginning of punishment for a career of statistical marvels. This week the torch was passed as another Australian batsman got off to a rocky start. But if you had offered Mitchell Swepson one for 150 in the second round of the Test in Karachi, he would have gladly accepted. Taking 1 for 150 would have won the match for Australia.
In the end, Swepson returned zero for 156, overtaking Warne’s run tally in his penultimate as Pakistan held on for a draw in one of Test cricket’s most extraordinary escapes. The other number in the equation – the only wicket – he could and should have had. Twice in two balls he found the edge of Babar Azam’s bat, with difficult close catches missed from both sides of the wicket. The next day, he was denied a dead leg before the call by a thin technicality. Then, with three overs remaining, the simplest chance struck – a simple drop to cover.
The first reprieves came as the Pakistani captain had already done 161, but he will beat 29 more before his sacking, and Pakistan another 41 to get to safety. The lbw cry was against Mohammad Rizwan, the other kingpin who finished on 105 not out. Straight in line, staying low and hitting the stumps: so agreed the human eye and the ball tracking data. Not the referee, however, as Rizwan had advanced, and a referee’s appeal exception rests on impact more than three meters from the stumps. Two red lights and one orange saw Rizwan survive. Had he or Babar fallen with so long to go, Australia would surely have forced victory.
The final fall may not have changed the result: Usman Khawaja bombarded Rizwan with 18 balls remaining in the match. But that would have left Australia with three overs to fend off two more of Pakistan’s final three batters, each of whom would have been extremely nervous. That would have given the visiting team a serious chance.
Overall, Swepson didn’t have a good game. A vital run-out in Pakistan’s opening innings caused a slump, which they finished with their first two Test wickets. But the trajectory did not continue during a fourth inning set up for him, the cross-spinner Nathan Lyon: a lead of 506, almost six sessions to play, on a field whose moderate wear n It was obvious only at the end of the match. Swepson cast four spells the day before, playing around the leg stump too often and being worked for runs without much risk. His start on day five was terrible, a deluge of full throws that cost dearly.
But his second outing on the final day showed what he can do, land a good line around mid and stump, snap away from the bat at times, skid at others and create those three opportunities. With such a large lead, Australia could accommodate their bad luck in the exchanges for the good, which would have been enough to reverse the result. It wasn’t at Swepson that the odds failed to materialize.
There will be angst for Australia over recent failures to finish Test matches with the ball from outrageously strong positions: defeats at Headingley 2019 and Brisbane 2021, draws at Sydney in the last two back-to-back Australian summers, and now this epic Karachi. . But for those who follow the game more than a team, these feedbacks have been a thrill. Pakistan’s 443 for 7 was the sixth highest total ever in the fourth set. Three of the biggest scores were lost, only two were saved.
Babar Azam’s contribution was even more impressive. Only six players have achieved double centuries in the fourth round of a test. He nearly became seventh, falling for 196. More significantly, he batted 603 minutes, an effort in the final innings only surpassed by Michael Atherton’s famous innings against South Africa in 1995. Only Atherton and two others faced more deliveries. A truly unsalvageable game has been saved, and a long-awaited streak now becomes a historic throwback, coming down to the third Test game tied 0-0 with everything on that latest result.