Blessed are those who watched it!

Mission accomplished. Nathan Hauritz (right) and Brett Lee (middle) shake hands with the Pakistan players after the match.-AP Mission accomplished. Nathan Hauritz (right) and Brett Lee (middle) shake hands with the Pakistan players after the match.

The league match between Australia and Pakistan was more than just a Champions Trophy game, more than a one-day international, more than a qualifying game leading to a place in the semifinals of a global competition, writes Ted Corbett.

When the perfect moment comes along, when cricket is great even for a few minutes, it is the time to remember why you loved the game all those years.

We had just such a passage of play, no more than 90 minutes, at the end of the Australia-Pakistan ICC Champions Trophy match at the Wanderers.

Australia won but for one of the few times in my life — and, I guess, the lives of many who watched either on the ground or on television worldwide — when what the consequences might be were not uppermost in our minds.

For this was more than just a Champions Trophy game, more than a one-day international, more than a qualifying game leading to a place in the semifinals of a global competition.

This was the cricket match that we have all played in, the game which without warning changes from a hum-drum, predictable, only-one-team-in-it, featureless match between two sides who have settled the result in their own minds long before the final over begins, to a scrap by two starving dogs over a half-eaten bone. It was fought with the passion you will find in two little lads, already told there will be no supper unless they go home now, as they hustle for the winning run in the half dark at the end of a long evening.

It had the same tension I remember in York Evening league when the darkness closed around games that meant promotion or — on one notable occasion against our nearest rivals — relegation to the bottom section of the league.

John Nyren in the 18th century, Alfred Mynn and W. G. Grace in the 19th century, Ian Botham at Headingley and Edgbaston in 1981, all forgot the details of what the matches meant and played with a drive and, strange to relate, an enjoyment that meant all the talk of averages, of stats, of controversy was forgotten.

You could see that easily in the faces of the two captains. Ricky Ponting sat alone. No one dare approach as he chewed on his nails and strained every sinew in the hope his team got through. Yet at the same time his face betrayed his true feelings. He was immersed in the contest’s subtle moves, challenged by every nuance, and as uncaring as any genuine captain could be about the outcome.

Of course he wanted Australia to win but he was so taken up with the drama in front of him that he did not want the action to cease. He wanted to be part of the scene for the rest of his sporting life, for this is the sort of match we are born for, the game we all want to witness, or compete in, or see through to the end.

On the field, the Pakistan captain Younus Khan urged his men on as a general should, but even when the theatre was at its most melodramatic he could not resist a smile. Like Ponting he was thrilled to be involved but unlike Ponting he had the release that comes from making the big gesture, from changing his field, from shouting at his men to inspire greater efforts.

The two main bowlers in that last hour, the medium pace seamer Naved-ul-Hasan Rana and the off-spinner Saeed Ajmal — and here it is worth noting that they are from the classic line of bowlers, trained to be accurate, honed to produce maiden overs, and gaining their wickets by stealth and minor changes of key — gave everything but Ajmal in particular was thrilled to be taking part. He smiled too, he chatted, he gestured; Rana was stoic of face, grimly determined, refusing to give away his emotions. It was the magnificent yorker from Rana that bowled the Man of the Match Mike Hussey which set Australia thinking — twitching indeed — that all was not won.

Thus the match edged from the moment when Australia were cruising to victory until the final over when only four were needed and the last ball when Australia scrambled a single to win the match by two wickets.

It seemed that whenever Australia threatened to pull away with a massive shot to the boundary, another wicket fell, another maiden halted their progress and in the end it was Brett Lee — remember how he failed and was consoled by Andrew Flintoff in the great England victory at Edgbaston? — and the steady-as-she-goes Nathan Hauritz who guided the ship to a safe harbour. The margin was tiny yet you could not have told the Aussies that they ought to win at a canter. They knew how difficult life could be if they failed.

Appropriately in the last over the sun that had hidden behind cloud all day came out so that by the time Australia won amid scenes lit by smiles and hugs and the feeling that the game had blessed those who watched the final overs there was an air of proper pleasure across the ground. Pakistan, guaranteed a semifinal place, were hardly downcast but uplifted by the sheer intensity of their experience. Here was a match worth playing, a result both sides wanted.

There were not many spectators to see the last rites; more’s the pity but what does one expect of a match that holds nothing for the locals and seemed to be heading for an ending so predictable as to be unwatchable?

Out of this unpromising background two teams with nothing to gain produced a result off the last ball that we hope will cause someone else to think “Heavens this cricket is a great game” and watch, or play, or supervise or otherwise adorn.

For those of us lucky enough to have half a century of cricket enjoyment behind us it was a reaffirmation that this is the greatest game and I can tell you we were mighty glad to find there was still something to love about the old clash of leather on willow even if, in the midst of all that modern clamour, all the dispute about who rules on the field and off, the old charm still held sway.