One feels it is the quality of spin bowlers that is set to determine the outcome of the first Test match played at Dubai International Cricket Stadium. The slow wicket, with no demons as far, did not allow batsmen to score freely as only 257 runs came on the second day.
A maiden over from Bilal Asif, his first in Test cricket, brought an end to the proceedings on Day 2. Bilal, with a three-match ODI stint with Pakistan team in Harare and UAE in 2015, has been recalled ahead of other spinning options in the domestic cricket. Now 33 and strangely with only 23 first-class appearances and pretty modest record to his name, Bilal will have an added pressure to justify his surprise selection. The two left-arm spinners, Kashif Bhatti and Mohammad Asghar, has had the backing of former Pakistan captain, Younis Khan. We shall see.
A 10am start in Dubai, with temperature already in the 30s, another testing day lay ahead for players, more so perhaps for the touring Australians. Their bowlers, after claiming the wicket of nightwatchman Mohammad Abbas, kept things tight with a disciplined bowling but failed to dislodge overnight batsman Haris Sohail or the incoming batsman Asad Shafiq, with a proud world record of 9 Test hundreds, having surpassed the great Garry Sobers, at number six batting position. It puzzled many to see Australian captain expecting to run through the Pakistan middle order with the old ball, after seeing his bowlers toiling so hard in this heat.
The total 300 arrived when Asad was down the track to hit Lyon over the sight screen in the 113th over and by lunch the score had progressed to 329-4 with Haris and Asad, both nearing their individual fifties and with spinners Nathan Lyon and Jon Holland in mind, there was still no sign of a new ball after 119 overs. Softer ball might slow down the scoring rate but it seemed a defensive tactic against an opposition, at home in the scorching heat, with two batsmen entrenched and determined to only bat once in the Test. Left-handed Haris, in his 6th Test, had played patiently for his 46 no off 132balls by the lunch time.
New ball was finally taken straight away in the 2nd session by Tim Paine with Pakistan aiming to up a gear to improve its run-rate to be around 3.5 runs an over and perhaps reach 500. There was no marked improvement in the run rate as Pakistan batsmen steadily progressed with somewhat old-fashioned pace of the 20th century. Lyon had a spell of 17 over and conceded just 45 runs but failed to break through. The fifth-wicket pair did accelerate in the middle session and looked imposing but just before tea Labuschagne claimed Asad’s wicket with a leg-break that turned and bounced. Asad out for 80 had shared a 150-run stand for the 5th wicket, putting Pakistan firmly in the driving seat and as someone remarked. ‘grinding the Aussies in the Dubai dust’. At tea Pakistan were 417 for 5 .
In the first over after tea, Babar Azam, yet to find his feet in Test arena, was foolishly run out, when slow to set off on the Haris call. Soon afterwards, Haris reached his maiden Test hundred, in fact first for Pakistan in any format. The 29-year old Sialkoti, in his sixth Test match, appearance, is tipped to occupy the middle order for years to come and fill one of the vacancies left by Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, the two men having retired in 2017. He hit a straight six of Jon Holland to get to 98 and three balls later a well-run two to fine-leg to reach the ton, having faced 223 balls with 7 fours and 2 sixes. Australians were most pleased to take the last six wickets for 72 runs, including that of Haris, 7th out for 110, and bowl out Pakistan for 483. Peter Siddle, pick of the bowlers, showing great heart to run in with his trademark’ never-say-die’ mind-set and finish with 3 for 58 off 29 overs in Dubai’s oppressing heat.
Aaron Finch, a hard-hitting white-ball specialist, has been asked to open on his Test debut at 31 with Usman Khawaja, also trying to prove his batting credentials, outside Australia. Khawaja is another players of Pakistani decent in recent years, alongside Imran Tahir (South Africa), Sikandar Raza (Zimbabwe), Adil Rashid & Moeen Ali (England), to have found success at international cricket in pastures afar. An intriguing day’s play in prospect on Day 3.
Pakistan -Imam ul-Haq ,Mohammad Hafeez, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed(c)(wk), Bilal Asif, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Abbas, Wahab Riaz
Australia - Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Travis Head, Marnus, Labuschagne, Tim Paine(c)(wk), Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, Jon Holland, Nathan Lyon
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