Australia must have regretted the decision to go without a second spinner at Rawalpindi after Pakistan closed at 245 for one on the opening day of the first Test. On a grassless wicket that proves particularly slow, Australia endured their toughest opening day on the pitch in over three years.
Pakistani fly-half Imam-ul-Haq was the hosts’ star on one of their biggest cricketing days in decades, scoring his first Test ton with an unbeaten 132. He combined in 105 and 140 stands with Abdullah Shafiq (44) and Azhar Ali (64 not knocked out), the latter well on his way to his third century against Australia. More worrying than Australia’s score will potentially be the surface. They are set to beat fourth on a wicket that has already shown signs of staying low, with Pakistan playing two spinners against their own in Nathan Lyon.
Lyon was eighth over and sent 31 overs, gaining significant spin early before powering out with a softer ball. He had the only success when Shafiq charged and threw his wicket, swinging hard and jumping halfway just before lunch.
Part-timer Travis Head was also called up by the 17th, while Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith also played on opening day as Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson watched.
Australia’s decision to face Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, as well as the all-rounder Cameron Green, was no doubt influenced by the rapids dominating in the last Test at Rawalpindi. The group each played tight and offered the Pakistani batsmen few opportunities to score runs, but wickets still seemed hard to come by. It was the first time in 12 Tests in Asia that they didn’t go there with at least two front row spinners, as Pakistan also scored big against them in the opening leg in 2014.
“What are you doing? The Australian formula of three fast bowlers and Nathan Lyon has been successful for so long [outside of Asia]”Said former Test spinner Kerry O’Keeffe on Fox Cricket. “Analysis suggests the beat was more successful than the spin at Rawalpindi. They played the only spinner, we had Travis Head who bowled in the first 17 overs. Was it a mistake to support the analyzes and the formula? »
Australia’s preparation for selection has also been less than ideal, with no practice matches. Spin coach Sridharan Sriram is also not there as he was unable to obtain a visa as an Indian national, while his replacement Fawad Ahmed is sidelined by Covid-19.
Either way, Pakistan’s front three looked home for the first time as they welcomed Australia to the country in 24 years. Aside from Shafiq, Pakistan were barely offered a chance after both teams started the day with a minute’s silence following the death of Australian Test great Rod Marsh.
Imam survived an initial Starc review for lbw and a chance to miss, all before he passed four, but then hit with flying colors. The 26-year-old twice hit Lyon over his head for six, and played one of the day’s shots when he hit him backwards over cover for four. He also twice covered Starc to the Border, raising his century with the second of them.