Shaken, but then Australia stirred in tough start against Pakistan
Dubai: Tim Paine had his wish granted with Pakistan agreeing for all players to shake hands in a sign of goodwill before play began in the First Test on Sunday but the harsh reality of life in this part of the world soon struck for the tourists.
The Australian captain has spoken about the "patience game" heading into this series and the tourists will need that - and more - if they are to prosper under searing heat in the series opener at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. They weathered a tough initiation during the opening session after Paine lost the toss, with the hosts immediately seizing the chance to bat first on a dry, barren and abrasive pitch ensconced amid a rough centre square sure to scuff the ball and benefit reverse swing.
Pakistan openers Mohammad Hafeez and Imam-ul-Haq were diligent in negotiating through the opening spells of Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle, the latter returning to the side for the first time in almost two years. The tourists understand they cannot blast opponents out, and need to play the longer game if they hope to secure their first series victory in Asia since 2011. But the manner in which Pakistan began suggested the hosts were going to provide a tremendous test in patience, for the tourists were wicketless before lunch despite Paine rotating his b owlers well and mixing up his field placings.
Hafeez was unbeaten on 58 while Imam was 41 not out, as the hosts rolled to 0-104.
Nathan Lyon was brought into the attack in the ninth over. While there was not a great deal of spin on offer, he immediately struck a fine line, with left-armer Imam nervously prodding at him, but he and veteran Hafeez maintained their rhythm. Hafeez had been tested by Starc, having ducked into a bouncer, but his experience was crucial. He took to Jon Holland early, the Victorian left-arm finger spinner unable to settle as quickly as his more experienced counterpart. While he is not a debutant, this was only Holland's third Test - and first in two years - and it showed in his first spell before he was replaced by Starc.Advertisement
Hafeez, 37, was only drafted into the squad in recent days after strong performances for his local side. He has had a fractious relationship with coach Mickey Arthur but his experience, even after a two-y ear Test absence, was seen as important, particularly as fellow opener Imam was only in his fourth Test. Imam's uncle is chief selector and batting great Inzamam-ul-Haq but a brilliant start to his one-day international career has ensured there have been no suggestions of nepotism.
Debutant Marnus Labuschagne was given the job of donning the helmet and replacing Matt Rens haw at short leg when the spinners operated and was full of life in one of the more unenviable roles. There was much encouraging chat by the tourists in the field, dispelling concerns they would lack voice in wake of the troubles of South Africa when their overly aggressive behaviour contributed to the ball-tampering scandal and sparked a need for change.
What the tourists hope is that reverse swing will be a key weapon this series, with Paine revealing it's no longer simply the domain of the batsmen to work on the ball and keep it dry. Paine said Starc and Siddle would have an important role to play, for the suspended David Warner had largely been the "ball keeper" before the tumult of South Africa.
"They've taken a bit more ownership of the ball and they've got to bowl with it. I think that's a good idea, we'll have some guys probably holding it a bit more while the bowlers are bowling and they're traditionally going to be s weating a bit more, but I think in cricket team's I've been in, the bowlers tend to be pushed aside and the batters take over the ball," Paine said.
"We've spoken to our quicks, we've got Starc and Sidds who are really experienced, they exactly know what they want to do, and it's up to the rest of us to support them."
As part of bid to ease tensions in wake of the Cape Town scandal, Paine, when he replaced Steve Smith as skipper for the final Test in South Africa, organised for the two teams to shake hands before play on day one. Paine had approached counterpart Sarfraz Ahmed on Friday about the two teams shaking hands before play, with Sarfraz agreeing to what has been seen as a sign of goodwill.
"Yes definitely, why not? We have no issues ... with shaking hands. It's a very good sign. No issues," Sarfraz said.
It was a memorable day for Australia's three debutants. Aaron Finch was presented his bag gy green cap by former Australian captain Allan Border, Labuschagne was given his by Mike Hussey, while Travis Head had his presented by Lyon.
Australia XI: Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Tim Paine (c, wk), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle, Jon Holland.
Pakistan XI: Mohammad Hafeez, Imam-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed (c, wk), Yasir Shah, Bilal Asif, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Abbas.
- Test cricket
Jon Pierik is a sports writer with The Age, focusing primarily on AFL football, cricket and basketball. He has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.Loading
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