Debutantes Finch and Bilal star on the 3rd Day - 1st Test Pakistan v Australia
Despite picking up three wickets in quick succession, before close of play, Australia, have a mountain to climb in the opening Test in Dubai.
Pakistan v Australia 1st Test - Dubai
Pakistan 482 (Mohammad Hafeez 126, Imam ul-Haq 76) and 45-3
Australia 202 (Aaron Finch 62, Usman Khawaja 85)
At the Close - Pakistan lead Australia by 325 runs with 7 wickets remaining
Pakistan with a lead of 325, still have seven wickets in hand, are potentially in much stronger position than its opponents, on a wicket that is assisting slow bowlers. Australia, after an excellent opening stand of 142, found itself in all sort of bother in the middle session. So much so that, it lost all 10 batsmen with addition of just 60 runs with off-spinner Bilal Asif, emerging as wrecker-in-chief, on his Test debut. The wreckage, one of the worst in its history, is set to haunt the Australian camp, desperate to stay in the game whilst confronting Pakistan spinners on the last two days.
The opening pair of Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch, did not miss any opportunity to punish Pakistan bowlers, when they erred in line and length. Till lunch both pace and spin had been negotiated with decisive footwork and positive running between the wicket. Neither Wahab Riaz nor Yasir Shah, had looked penetrative enough to dislodge the opening stand. The hundred mark was reached in 33.1 overs with Finch sweeping Bilal to mid-wicket fence, the very stroke that brought the batsman his fifty, having faced 95 balls for the milestone in his maiden Test innings.
Yasir Shah, still looking for his rhythm was a touch frustrated during his 16-over spell, which reflects Pakistan’s over-reliance on their ace spinner, in these conditions. Australian run-rate was not much superior than Pakistanis but no one could doubt the first session belonged to them. Lunch was taken with Khawaja (68) and Finch (59) having posted 137 run on the board with an aim to match the double hundred opening stand posted by their rivals –Hafeez/Imam – on the opening day. Bilal Asif with figures 0-19 off 9 overs showed better control than his team mates.
The dismissal of Finch (62), in the sixth over of the 2nd session perked up the Pakistanis, for it came about through a brilliant catch by Asad Shafiq at short mid-on off Mohammad Abbas. Asad was again in the act when he picked up Shaun Marsh, at first slip to give Bilal, his maiden Test wicket. The off spinner now with his tail up tore through the middle order as the close-in fielders responded brilliantly. In no time he accounted for Khawaja (85) and two debutantes, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne, without scoring. It was complete mayhem in Dubai, as the off-spinner’s 6 over spell had earned him 4 wickets for just 8 runs.
Sarfraz Ahmed, deserves full credit, for setting an attacking field placing and change of bowlers. Abbas, keeping a good line all day was rewarded with four wickets as he proved a perfect foil to Bilal’s match-changing spell. His figures of 4-29 off 19 overs was a just reward for an excellent control but his effort was overshadowed by Bilal Asif, who with final figures of 6-36 off 21.3 overs – his career best - has got his name in the record books. Only two Pakistan bowlers: paceman Mohammad Zahid (7-66) in 1996-97 and off-spinner Mohammad Nazir Jr (7-99) in 1969-70 – both against New Zealand – have achieved better figures with the ball, on their Test debut, than Sialkot-born Bilal Asif. All the more strange and remarkable for Yasir Shah, a much more reputable bowler, returned figures of 0-80 off his 28 overs.
After a cautious start to its second innings, Mohammad Hafeez, nightwatchman Bilal Asif and Azhar Ali, were back in the pavilion as Pakistan lost three wickets with 8 runs. Advantage is still very much with them as Imam-ul-Haq, unbeaten on 23 will resume his innings on the fourth morning, having already contributed brilliantly with three catches in Australia’s first innings.
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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