It was telling that when Shafique batted, the surface looked flatter than it has all Test match. Even when Marnus Labushcagne gutsed out a 155-ball 63, he found his edges beaten regularly but during Shafique’s 62, Australian chances were at a premium. As soon as he was dismissed, the life the strip had ostensibly been concealing during that stand stirred back up to the surface.
“When you get set in the middle you get a good view of the bowlers and what they’re doing,” Shafique said at the post-day press conference. “It becomes easier at that point, but as we got out the things became harder for us. We just wanted to put together a good partnership, because we’ve lacked partnerships with the bat in this series. We just wanted to get set and score runs for the team.”
But what happened afterwards may well undo much of Pakistan’s hard work. Pat Cummins bowled one that he pushed at tentatively, and it looped uppishly back to the bowler, whose athletic reactions brought about Shafique’s dismissal. It set off a disastrous passage of play for Pakistan, who lose 5 wickets for 46 runs in the hour that followed.
“As a batting unit it hurts to lose these wickets back to back,” Shafique said. “But I hope we’ll recover with this ongoing partnership. The conditions here are much different compared to Pakistan. Pat Cummins is a good bowler so as a batter you have to take your chances. He will not give you loose deliveries so you have to create them. He was planning something for me because I was playing well there, but I think he took a good catch as well.”
Catching, or lack thereof, has defined Shafique’s series almost as much as the bat in his hand. In the first Test, Usman Khawaja’s 126-run stand with David Warner was still in its early stages when he skied one up that Shafique gave chase to from first slip. He would get there with plenty of time only to spill it, and for the momentum to shift even further Australia’s way.
If that was tricky, the chance he grassed on the first morning in Melbourne was more costly. Warner was on just 2 in the fourth over when Shaheen drew an outside edge that sailed to him at first slip. His line of sight unimpeded and no distractions to worry him, Shafique watched it hit his wrist before he put it down, with the pair going on to put 90 without loss in conditions that heavily favoured the bowling.
“No fielder wants to drop a catch but it’s a part of the game,” he said. “If I’d caught that we’d of course be in a better position. We are in the game and looking forward to the ongoing partnership between Mohammad Rizwan and Aamer Jamal.”
That budding partnership is the last thing standing between Pakistan and a heavy deficit. The pair have put on 28 counterattacking runs, and with Pakistan still 124 adrift, Shafique is aware of the importance of not falling too far behind in the game.
That is especially true following an encouraging morning session that saw Pakistan take all seven remaining Australian wickets for 131 runs. “As a bowling unit we’ve done a good job as compared to the first Test,” he said. “We bowled well here.”
They will need to show similar heart with the bat on the third morning. Unfortunately for the visitors, Shafique himself can no longer help them out this innings.
Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000