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'Technology curse': Pakistan director slams 'inconsistent' umpiring after contentious DRS call cruels hopes of famous win

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29th December, 2023
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Pakistan team director Mohammad Hafeez has bemoaned a ‘technology curse’ after a contentious decision cruelled the tourists’ hopes of a famous victory over Australia at the MCG.

Twenty-four years ago, Pakistan’s hopes of a remarkable Test win in Australia were dealt a hammer blow via umpiring controversy – and history may have been repeated at the MCG near the close of a gripping Day 4, as the hosts closed out a tense victory by 79 runs.

In this instance, replace Wasim Akram with Australian captain Pat Cummins and Justin Langer with Pakistan wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan – only where Langer had failed to be given out off a blatant edge in Hobart all those years ago, this time, an equally contentious decision would see the visitors again stung.

Given not out on-field by Michael Gough, third umpire Richard Illingworth ruled, after a lengthy deliberation, that a vicious Cummins bouncer had flicked Rizwan’s glove wristband en route to Alex Carey.

An apparent spike on Hot Spot, plus original replays of the ball, seemed to confirm the decision – but a furious Rizwan’s reaction to being given out, gesturing at a red welt on his forearm higher up than his wristband, would suggest otherwise.

“All the replays I saw, I didn’t feel with certainty that it had [hit the wristband],” former great Adam Gilchrist – at the other end when Langer was reprieved – said on Fox Cricket.

“I think if it’s taken that many looks and that long a time [to make a decision], there’s probably got to be a cut-off point.”

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However, fellow commentator Michael Vaughan was adamant the correct decision had been made.

“I think there’s enough [evidence] there. I think it comes straight off the wristband,” Vaughan said.

Speaking after the match, Hafeez bemoaned the decision, as well as the increasing influence of technology on the game.

“We made some mistakes as a team – we will take that, we will address those things,” Hafeez said in his post-match press conference.

“But [at] the same time, I believe inconsistent umpiring, technology curse, really gave us the result which should have been different. I feel like these are the areas [which] need to be addressed.

“We play this beautiful game of cricket with a natural instinct, and we all know the basics of the game. But sometimes it seems like it’s a technology show. It’s not the cricket we are playing inside.

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“I think there are a lot of areas that need to be addressed for the betterment of cricket in general where technology is taking away from the instinct of the game.

“We play this game for the fans – but the fans will never understand why this technology is inconsistent, and the result of the game comes up differently.

“This technology is basically putting a curse on this beautiful game of cricket, and we need to address it.”

Rizwan’s departure, ending a 57-run stand with Salman Ali Agha that had taken Pakistan to within 98 runs of the target, would prove the match-turning moment.

A short ball onslaught from Cummins and Mitchell Starc wrapped up the tail within 26 balls to end an extended final session, Pakistan slumping from 5/219 to 237 all out as their resistance crumbled at last.

Cummins claimed a caught-and-bowled after bouncing Aamer Jamal, before having Shaheen Shah Afridi caught at short leg for a second five-wicket haul in an outstanding match.

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Starc then returned to end Salman’s resistance on 50 via a superb diving catch from Mitchell Marsh at third man, before another bouncer had last man in Mir Hamza fending to a lunging Smith at slip and complete a victory that looked destined to be much, much closer.

In the end, the visitors were left to rue the horror drops at slip from Abdullah Shafique on Days 1 and 3, which handed David Warner and Marsh crucial lives; had even one of those chances been taken, a famous victory could well have been pulled off.

Still, having reached 5/219 before Rizwan’s dismissal, Pakistan gave themselves every chance to secure a first Test win in Australia in 28 years, and can head to the SCG for the New Year’s Test with heads held high.

Having made good on their pre-match promise to take the fight to Australia’s attack with a punchy counterattack, scoring at 3.51 runs per over in the chase and inflicting particular damage on Nathan Lyon (0/84 off 19 overs), the tourists put up the strongest fight the hosts have faced on home soil since India’s famous series victory three years ago.

“We can easily be like ‘what if we did this, what if we did that?’ but that’s all part and process of the game,” captain Shan Masood said after play.

“I thought there were a lot of positives, but if you give a quality side like Australia a sniff, which we did – maybe sometimes with the ball, maybe sometimes with the bat, yesterday maybe in the field if you drop someone in form like Mitchell Marsh, we might not have been chasing [317] today. But mistakes happen.

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“In terms of the bigger pictures, this is the way we want to play Test cricket. Playing Test cricket in these conditions, fighting to the end where a result was possible for us, I think that’s something we have to take forward as a team.

“From the bowling, we’ve taken 20 wickets, which we haven’t done in Australia for a while. That’s a box ticked. In terms of runs, everyone got good starts, there were some nice 50s, but in Test cricket against quality sides you want to get the 100s and you want to get the match-winning 100s.

Mohammad Rizwan speaks with umpire Joel Wilson after being controversially given out caught behind off his glove.

Mohammad Rizwan speaks with umpire Joel Wilson after being controversially given out caught behind off his glove. (Photo by Morgan Hancock – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

“A lot to work on, but like I said, this is the blueprint with which we want to play our Test cricket, and hopefully we keep doing that.”

With Australia resuming on 6/187 with a lead of 241, Carey’s critics-defying 53, ensuring Pakistan were unable to fire out the Aussie tail as they’d have hoped in the first session, came at a crucial time for the wicketkeeper, having endured a torrid time with the bat in all formats since his infamous stumping of Jonny Bairstow during the Ashes.

He’d add 22 with Starc, 28 with Cummins, 12 with Lyon and 13 more with Hazlewood before falling as the last man out, trapped plumb in front looking to work Mir Hamza to leg for the left-armer’s fourth wicket.

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Controversy had threatened to reign earlier when Cummins was adjudged caught behind off Aamer Jamal, with a review confirming the on-field call due to an Ultra-edge spike despite a lack of Hot-Spot evidence and an apparent gap between bat and ball – the first of two DRS dramas for the day.

“I’m not sure how you can give that out,” said Isa Guha on Fox Cricket as a bemused Cummins was given his marching orders.

“It was given out on field, there is a little spike as it goes past, but you can clearly see there was daylight between bat and ball. The glimmer is a noise – that could be anything.”

Thanks to Carey, a total of 262 still presented Pakistan with needing 317 for victory, the second-highest run chase ever in an MCG Test and biggest in 94 years – a task that looked beyond them when Shafique’s nightmare Test ended edging Starc to Usman Khawaja at slip in the nine overs before lunch.

But just as he had in the first innings, Masood, who had implored his team to bat with more intent going into the match, led by example with a swashbuckling innings, turning the tables on Australia’s formidable bowling attack.

Spared early when he successfully reviewed a Lyon LBW that ball-tracker found to be going over the stumps, the captain used his feet to the spinner and carved anything wide offered by the quicks.

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Masood added 61 with Babar Azam after Imam-ul-Haq was trapped LBW by Cummins, his 71-ball 60 giving the visitors hope of a memorable comeback win.

While he’d die by the sword, flashing Cummins to slip for the captain’s seventh wicket of the match, Babar, having endured a frustrating start to the series, showcased his exceptional talent to pick up the gauntlet and continue the fight.

At 3/129, having scored at nearly four an over, the match was very much afoot: but when Josh Hazlewood produced a contender for ball of the match, finding movement off the seam to pierce the gap between Babar’s bat and pad en route to off stump, an Australian win seemed inevitable.

Shakeel’s wicket, edging an attempted cut behind off Starc, left Pakistan still needing 155; Rizwan and Salman, though, were not about to die wondering.

Together, the pair ensured, for the first time in years, Australia’s pace quartet were put on the back foot – their partnership first taking Pakistan past 200, then to a half-century stand, and then – as brows began to furrow in the MCG stands – the runs required into double figures.

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When a nerveless Shakeel spectacularly uppercut Cummins over the slips cordon for four, the impossible began to look distinctly plausible – but the captain, with a little help from the DRS, would have the final say.

Named player of the match and claiming the Johnny Mullagh Medal, the captain admitted to feeling ‘a little bit twitchy’ near the end, but expressed pride in his team’s successful finish to 2023.

“They were batting pretty nicely, so happy with the Rizwan wicket,” he said.

“Anything with a 3 in front of it was the aim [target to set]. It felt like we had enough to bowl at, but [it was a] little bit tight.

“Crazy year – lots of cricket, lots of success on the field. I think we’re going to look back and remember 2023 as one of the special ones.”

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Australia will be gunning for a 17th consecutive Test win over Pakistan at home in next week’s New Year’s Test at the SCG; the Benaud-Qadir trophy might be secured, but vital World Test Championship points are still up for grabs.

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