Mir Hamza fulfils his dream, and keeps Pakistan’s alive


Despite a couple of late wickets, Pakistan’s shoulders had dropped by the time stumps were called, but Mir Hamza didn’t let the disappointment of the final session sully memories he will carry for the rest of his career. Coming out just after lunch, he had followed up two strikes from Shaheen Shah Afridi with the wickets of David Warner and Travis Head in successive balls, the latter a near-unplayable inswinging delivery that cleaned Head up for a golden duck.

No wonder, then, that his face broke out into the broadest of grins when looking back upon the moment a few hours later.

“It was a dream for me to play at the MCG against one of the best teams, and to provide us two breakthroughs in one over,” Hamza said at the post-match press conference after the third day’s play. “I was telling myself I have to prove myself if I want to play international cricket for my country. If you look at my last few matches, I bowled well but didn’t take wickets. So I wanted to change that.

“Since the match started, I tried to keep things simple because there’s something in the pitch for fast bowlers. It’s seaming and swinging. I thought if I can swing the ball, I’ll have a great opportunity because the batter isn’t set at the time. I thought that way and believed Travis Head was waiting for my outswinger, but I brought it back in. It was my favourite Test dismissal.”

At the time, Pakistan were riding very high. Australia were reeling at 16 for 4, the lowest total upon which they’ve lost four wickets at home since South Africa had taken the first four for just eight runs in Hobart in 2016. The lead was a precarious 70 at the time, and Pakistan believed they were in with a sniff.

And though a mix of poor catching, poor fortune and a sensational counterattack from Mitchell Marsh meant Australia had comfortably reassumed the ascendancy by stumps, Hamza was instrumental in ensuring Pakistan retained a fighting interest in the contest. He was the man to break the 153-run fifth-wicket stand between Marsh and Steven Smith by drawing another outside edge from Marsh that Salman Ali Agha clung on to, before Afridi followed up with Smith’s wicket, with the hosts leading by 241.

“We are still in the game, and we think we’ll get stronger,” he said. “The new ball will swing in any conditions – as it did for me – but there is something in the pitch. If you see the body language of our boys, it is very positive. We will try to get wickets as soon as possible. We are in the game.”

Hamza needs to make no apologies for beaming after the day, because he knows how rarely these moments come around, and how hard fought they can be. He played six years of first-class cricket before getting his first opportunity in Test cricket in 2018, only to be dropped after one Test. It was to be another four years before the second chance came knocking around; and another two indifferent games later, he was out of the side once more.

Then in the first Test of this Australia tour, Pakistan preferred to give two fast bowlers a debut in Perth rather than give Hamza a run. His three Tests apart, Hamza has played 103 first-class games, and taken 418 wickets across 11 years and nearly 19,500 deliveries.

So while it may be an exaggeration to call the two balls that rattled Warner and Head’s stumps one-in-a-million moments, terming them one in ten thousand is no statistical exaggeration. Part of the reason Hamza has struggled to break in is his lack of pace, with Pakistan always likely to prefer high pace when taking selection into account. Here at the MCG, Hamza’s speeds were a constant point of focus, largely registering in the 120ks. Hamza, though, knows what he is.

“Bowlers know about their quality. Some bowlers are known for seam and swing, and others for pace,” he said. “What matters is that you disrupt the batter – whether you do it with seam and swing, or whether you do it with swing doesn’t matter. Our aim is to win, and we’ve taken 16 wickets. We’ll try and take 20 as soon as possible, and come out with the win. This will be memorable if we win the Test, and what I hope is we win and my performance is crucial to it.”

And while reality may fall somewhat short of that ambition, there’s little doubt that Hamza’s performance has ensured Pakistan can do for one more night what Hamza has done for a decade: keeping a dream alive.

Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000


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