Until this week, Salman Butt was a journeyman Test cricketer. As a well-ordered, under-achieving left-handed batsman, he was sometimes in the Pakistan team, sometimes not. In and out, like his batting. Yesterday, he became a miracle-worker.
In 33.1 overs of mayhem on the first day of the Second Test, Pakistan's new captain supervised the destruction of Australia. Barely had the luncheon tables been cleared than Australia were all out for 88, their lowest Test match score for more than a quarter of a century.
The downfall was engineered by a combination of vivid swing bowling, in which Pakistan's trio of accomplished practitioners all played a part, and leaden footed batting which did not know what had hit it on a sporting, though far from demonic pitch.
There is no chance of the match going into the fifth day unless it rains and it will struggle to make the fourth as Pakistan, in reply, moved to 148 for 3 by the close. They will be only too aware that in Sydney last winter they led Australia by 206 on first innings and still lost the match.
But it is once more their match to lose, a position that could not have been foreseen, even allowing for the mercurial nature of Pakistan's cricket.
This was the side, lest it be forgotten, who were beaten at Lord's by the fourth day for the 12th time in succession by these opponents, at which point their captain of one match, Shahid Afridi, promptly resigned. In came Butt as the fourth captain in a year of constant turbulence.
There was, of course, no hope for him against an Australian side bristling with intent having drawn first blood, and less than none when Ricky Ponting, their captain, won the toss and batted first. Perhaps, there was the hint of a suspicion that Ponting was taking a risk.
Almost 70mm of rain had fallen on the ground overnight and although the Yorkshire ground staff had reacted marvellously in ensuring the match started on time (laying the ghosts of the embarrassingly abandoned one-day international on the ground last year) there seemed certain to be a little spice in the conditions. So there was and Pakistan's valiant bowlers made wonderful use of it.
They took a little time to settle into their grooves, to recognise that it was the full length delivery that would permit the ball to be at its most devious. Had there been anything present which merited the description of a crowd to witness the chaos afflicting Australia's batting it would have been in raptures.
But the local Asian communities, who had been bombarded with information about this neutral Test match, largely stayed away, saying much about their views on Test cricket. So, it was noticeable, did all other communities. There were fewer than 4,000 in the ground as Pakistan did their glorious work.
Pakistan deserve help from all quarters given the instability at home which makes it impossible to play international sport at present. But if there are no spectators to see them perform then the will to give them a stage may be diminished. If the deeds yesterday are not persuasive then the longer game is in deeper imminent trouble than was feared.
Pakistan's bowlers were sublime. The initial breakthrough was made by the 18-year-old Mohammad Amir who pinned the troublesome Simon Katich on off stump as the batsman did his customary waltz across (might he be whistling Blue Danube to himself as he executes the movement?).
In the next over, Mohammad Asif removed Shane Watson, beating the drive with some sharp late movement and Umar Gul then had a fretful Michael Clarke playing round a full-length ball. Ponting was also leg before as the ball shot back at him, as was Mike Hussey, dumbfounded by Gul.
To demonstrate that Butt could do no wrong he introduced the gentle seam of Umar Amin for his first bowl in Test cricket and was rewarded with a wicket from his 11th ball. Marcus North pushed forward and edged behind. The cream of Australia's batting had been removed for 40 runs in 15 overs.
There was to be no reprieve. With the first ball after lunch, Amir bowled Steve Smith with an inswinger which the batsman was intending to hit to the leg side. With the second he bowled Mitchell Johnson who could do nothing about the withering swing.
A run out going for a third run, of all things, as if in a desperate chase in a crucial one-dayer, did for Ben Hilfenhaus and Asif formally ended the innings by having Tim Paine soundly held by Karan Akmal, wafting behind.
Pakistan lost Butt, who played crisply for his 45, hitting a series of well-timed strokes off his legs, and two more wickets to the improbable figure of Watson. They lead, it was their day but they will need plenty more yet before they can relax.
- THE INDEPENDENT