Like the Amur Leopard or the Hawksbill Turtle, Pakistan fans who feel confident during a fourth-innings chase are so rare they could be added to the official endangered species list. Especially when the target is low enough to be almost a formality. Whether it be pressure, lack of experience or lapses in concentration, small chases have been a big problem for Pakistan far too frequently to be a coincidence.
So as the clouds gathered over Malahide late on the morning of the final day, with Pakistan needing 160, they may as well have been reflecting on the nerves felt in Abu Dhabi last October, when they expired to the spin of Rangana Herath for 114, chasing 136. Or the sinking spirits that came creeping in when, a few months earlier against West Indies, they imploded for 81 on a deteriorating pitch chasing 187. Edgbaston, the Gabba; different settings, different targets, same anxiety.
In this context the fifth-day chase against Ireland, with a modest 160 the target, took on a particular importance. Sarfraz Ahmed admitted after the match that the prospect of a possibly tricky fourth innings played on his mind while debating whether or not to enforce the follow-on before lunch on the second day.
“It’s very important,” Sarfraz said of Pakistan securing victory, thanks to half-centuries from Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam. “You know previously it’s not happened like this. In the last Test match when we were chasing 136 and we were all out for about 120.
“Yeah we were thinking, when we called for the follow-on, if we were batting in the fourth innings it would be very difficult. But we are very confident. We are a very young side, we had two debutant players, but we were very confident whatever the target will come, we will chase it down.”
Pakistan will take some satisfaction that, after losing three quick wickets, the collapse was stemmed by two of the most inexperienced Test batsmen in the side: debutant Imam and Babar, in his 12th Test, who made the most of a life when he was dropped on 9. The pair put on a century stand and even two late wickets could not divert Pakistan from their goal.
Imam has now scored three half-centuries on this tour and it will have pleased Pakistan even more the way he and Babar lifted the scoring rate after early jitters. More often than not in their collapses the run-scoring slows down to a crawl in a chase. Important runs for Babar will be another bonus, given his lean Test career. They will, however, face sterner tests against the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad at Lord’s next week.
Melinda Farrell is a presenter with ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.