Australia have a mountain to climb to have a chance of winning the first Test in Rawalpindi.
Pakistan remain in full control after Saturday’s second day, declaring at 4-476 before Australia hit the stumps at 0-5.
These are the talking points after the second day of the first test.
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A MOMENT OF MAGIC WOULD HAVE MADE WARNE PROUD
Showing up to play on Saturday shouldn’t have been easy.
It was perhaps the last thing some Australians wanted to do with the tragic and sudden loss of Shane Warne hanging heavy.
The players wore black armbands and a minute’s silence was observed before the game, but the show was to go on.
What followed was tantamount to torture for Australia.
Pakistan has driven Australia deeper and deeper into the ground. The counter was lifeless. Rare and spaced chances.
Cricket commentator and writer Geoff Lemon said given the circumstances of the game, combined with the emotional toll of Warne’s defeat, it was Australia’s toughest day on the pitch since the ill-fated 2018 tour in South Africa.
“(I) think Australia are facing their toughest day on the pitch since matchday three in Jo’burg in 2018,” he tweeted as Azhar Ali and Imam-ul-Haq resumed their unbreakable position.
“Emotional, shaken, approaching 300 for a wicket on as flat a deck as you can get.”
The easiest thing to do would have been to drop heads on the pitch, but one stunning moment proved that was never an option.
It was a moment Warne would have been proud of.
After 150 overs in the field, and with Pakistan at 2-414, Babar Azam attempted to take a run on the arm of Marnus Labuschagne, who sharply collected the ball with one hand and threw the stumps to the non- attacking with little more than a stump to aim for.
He went wild in celebration, pumping and shouting with his fist, and rallying his troops in a way few teams that have conceded more than 400 runs for three wickets have ever had.
Of course, Warne could never move onto the pitch like Labuschagne.
But there was something about the never say die attitude and the ability to produce a moment of pure individual brilliance when his team needed it most, it reminded the late great.
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THE FALSE SENSE OF SAFETY FOR AUSSIES
It felt like it would never come, but it was finally Australia’s turn to beat.
A miracle aside, the best Australia can hope for in this test is a draw which, given the monumental advantage of winning the draw in Rawalpindi, would be a fine result.
But Australia battling their way to a draw with similar ease to what we’ve seen from the top of the Pakistan table shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Although there was little help from the bowlers, it was also not a wicket that allowed the batters to get up and run quickly.
As former Pakistan international Bazid Khan noted in a commentary, a big feature of Australia’s batting line-up over the host’s is that it is more aggressive.
Imam-ul-Haq and Azhar Ali happily beat the clock on the first and second days, showing unwavering patience that ultimately brought them results.
They needed it, with the ball not coming to the bat in a way that would make a quick score possible and could make an aggressive approach problematic early on.
Khan said Australia now faces a major challenge in replicating the Pakistani style, which is foreign to the likes of David Warner and Travis Head.
“What we’ve seen so far is that every player has given themselves time,” Khan said. “It’s really hard to hit the ball, kind of wait for it, slowly build that run.
“I think the challenge for Australia will be to build the sleeves that way.
“Marnus (Labuschagne), Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja are the kind of players who beat the clock and make sure they’re in…other Aussie batters like to carry on.
“I don’t think the terrain will allow you to be aggressive in that way. The ball doesn’t necessarily jump on the bat to be able to hit across the line or reach the boundary for fun.
The main discussion on day one focused on Australian selections and the decision not to pair another specialist spinner with Nathan Lyon.
With three rounds of part-time bowling alongside Lyon – including Travis Head in the first 20 overs – while Cameron Green bowled just five overs, questions had to be asked.
Caretaker Australian coach Andrew McDonald urged patience, telling reporters after the game not to judge the selections until after the test.
It was a good point from McDonald, as this could well be the right XI for Australia.
Apart from the early stages of day one, when there was still dampness on the wicket, the pitch was not too kind to the spinners. Lyon didn’t look particularly dangerous, while neither did any of the Australian part-timers until Labuschagne ripped up some deliveries late on the second day.
Instead, the reverse swing became a growing feature on day two. So Australia wanted more rhythm – and his selections meant that Pat Cummins had plenty of places to turn.
Former Australian fly-half Simon Katich backed pre-game caps, saying it would have been a big risk to pick another spinner, noting Mitchell Swepson has yet to make his debut.
“I actually agree with the team they chose,” Katich said in a comment. “I didn’t see that it was the wrong balance.
“I think they looked at all the numbers here and realized spin had a part to play, but the rapids have a better record at this site. So I don’t know if it would make a huge difference, especially if the young Mitchell Swepson was making his debut.
“It’s no disrespect to him, I think he’s a good young spin bowler who did well in the Sheffield Shield… but I just think with that surface there’s no not much here for spinners except for the first bit of play when there was moisture on top.
“Yes, it might turn around later in the test match, but I think because Pakistan won the draw, their team balance looks fantastic as they have points on the board.”
There are still three days to play and if the ground breaks, this debate could once again come to the fore.
But right now the heat is off with the selectors with spin clearly not the answer for the vast majority of games so far.
WICKET A MASSIVE LET-DOWN
For nearly 24 years, Australia have waited to tour Pakistan again, despite the nation not hitting the road for a test for nearly three years.
As such, Australia’s arrival in Pakistan for this tour was not only eagerly awaited, but seen as a massive victory for world cricket.
This is especially true after England and New Zealand pulled out of top-flight tours of the country in recent years due to security fears.
The sold-out crowds for the five days of the first Test and the noisy atmosphere inside Pindi Cricket Stadium tell you how great the occasion is.
It’s just a shame that cricket itself hasn’t matched it.
A few brief periods were absorbing, but the vast majority were boring with the conditions so heavily stacked in favor of the hitters.
The lifeless MCG box office has been torn to shreds ahead of a major overhaul in recent times. It might as well have been a green seamer compared to Rawalpindi.
It was one of the most brutal moments you could imagine for Australian bowlers, who had virtually no seams or swing assistance, while the wicket did not turn outside of the opening rounds of day one. .
All the Australian bowlers could do was hit the wicket hard and play the Pakistanis, hoping for a mistake until the reverse swing became more of a threat.
The reverse swing started to become a feature midway through the second day, and Pat Cummins took a wicket, but not before Australia were already effectively knocked out of the match.
There could still be life in the wicket if it started breaking late, but after two days it was a disappointment that let the opportunity down.