REUTERS - The relief was palpable in all of Australia’s players on Monday after they survived a huge scare to defeat Pakistan by 39 runs in the first test, but none would have felt it more than captain Steve Smith.
A bundle of nervous energy at the best of times, Smith grew increasingly fidgety as man-of-the-match Asad Shafiq and Yasir Shah marched quickly toward an improbable victory target of 490 in the first day-night test at the Gabba.
Well might he have.
Smith dropped two simple catches in the slips late on day four, the second letting Shafiq, Pakistan’s last specialist batsman, off the hook when he was on 72.
Shafiq survived to stumps after raising an impressive 100 and lifted Pakistan’s hopes of closing out a famous victory before being dismissed for 137 by a pearl of a short-pitched delivery by paceman Mitchell Starc.
That Pakistan were able to get so close to completing a record run chase took the gloss off another outstanding batting effort by Smith, who top-scored for Australia with 130 in the first innings and backed it up with 63 in the second.
He also wrapped up the match in some style, throwing down the stumps from the slips to run out Yasir after the stocky legspinner inexplicably wandered out of his crease after a mis-hit behind the wicket.
But those fine efforts may be drowned out in the debate as to how Australia found themselves in such a perilous position on day five in the first place.
Pakistan were skittled for 142 early on day three, 88 runs short of avoiding the follow-on, but Smith chose not to enforce it and instead opted to bat the tourists out of the game.
With victory secured, it would be unfair to say the tactic backfired but Misbah-ul-Haq’s side may take more out of the match, having won back belief in their batting and resilience, and restored confidence lost by a 2-0 thrashing in New Zealand.
The final total of 450 was Pakistan’s highest ever fourth innings tally, the highest ever in Australia and the equal third highest of all time.
Australia, however, seemed plagued by doubt and inertia on the final day at the Gabba and Smith’s initially conservative field settings were roasted by former captains Michael Clarke and Mark Taylor as they called the game on television.
“The Australian captain’s tactics this morning has been nothing short of ridiculous,” tweeted former England skipper Michael Vaughan.
Smith may undertake extra catching practice during training before the Boxing Day (Dec. 26) test but had no regrets about not enforcing the follow-on.
“I think I would go the same plan,” he said. “Our bowlers had bowled a lot. I‘m just happy we got over the line.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by John O'Brien