Pakistan proceed quietly to a Hobart demise

Not even the most determined spin doctor would have succeeded in whipping up much anticipation prior to the start of this day’s play. In a manner that’s become depressingly predictable, Pakistan had ended Day 2 in comic opera disarray, with selfishly negligent running from Salman Butt seeing off his side’s two most dangerous batsmen. At 4-94 in pursuit of the mere matter of 519, the game seemed to have entered mop-up mode already.

But as we’ve seen in the post Warne-McGrath era, never underestimate Australia’s current ability to drift in the field. So it was again in the morning session, as 28 overs passed for 64 runs and no breakthrough. Butt was obviously striving to make amends, and Shoab Malik provided solid if unspectacular support. For Australia, the only revelation would have been that Marcus North has lost almost as much confidence in his slip fielding as he has in his batting. The benign nature of the wicket made the previous evening’s run outs seem even more wasteful.

Lunch consumed, proceedings continued at similar pace. The batsmen were showing commendable resolve, but with only one wicket needed to expose a soft underbelly, it was hard to see how a more imaginative approach could have hurt the Australian cause. But such seems to be the Ponting way.

In due course, Malik reached a patient 50 and the 200 was passed. Then Butt raised a face saving century, but would have been conscious he owed his team even more. With the second new ball in sight, the introduction of Katich seemed merely designed to fill in for a few overs. But this Pakistan side has never seen an opportunity it couldn’t let pass, so it was in the nature of things that they chose to collapse to the part-timer.

A tentative prod saw Butt depart with figures of 2-102, and this began a series of abject capitulations which saw 5 wickets fall for 35 runs. Katich was landing them alright, but his analysis of 3-11 seemed excessive to say the least. In a flurry of reckless shots, Danish’s lame tap to short mid wicket deserves special mention. At 9-248, the ship seemed ready to go down with all still aboard.

But wait, suddenly Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif decided that Kato and Hauritz may not be unplayable after all. Some good old fashioned tail end slogging soon had the scoreboard ticking. The ticking was obviously too loud for Punter, as he decided the 2nd new ball was required to quell the insurrection. However, Siddle and Bollinger seemed to have made a pact that pitching up on the stumps to the tail was just too high falutin’ fancy for their tastes, so the runs continued to flow.

Eventually the 300 came up and thoughts of saving the follow-on breathed again. But then Hauritz returned, and promptly persuaded Asif to hole out. With 29 to his name, it is hard to see what heinous crime he’d committed to warrant batting below Danish. Gul remained unbeaten on 38 and Katich took the figures with 3-34. Hauritz must wish he played Pakistan every week.

The Australian camp had talked of follow-ons overnight, but the last pairs’ efforts had apparently caused an change of plan, and Australia took the crease already 218 to the good. Immediately, Watson tried to pull Aamer and got it horribly wrong; 1-1. Any thoughts of Perth against the Windies? Only if you are a supreme Pakistani optimist.

Ponting was certainly in no mood to entertain such nonsense, as he took up from where he finished the previous day. No doubt buoyed by his wickets, Katich happily joined in and they extended the lead to 277 by stumps, at 1-59.

Only the intervention of weather looks likely to prevent another Australian victory, which would make it 5 wins out of 6 tests this summer. Hard to do much better you might say. But we all know numbers can sometimes serve to deceive. Certainly the teams should have entered this match level pegging and, if Aamer holds the most basic of chances on the first morning, who knows how things might have transpired.

Should Australia have a clean sweep of this series, it will be much more a result of Pakistan’s frailty and manifest inability to make best use of their talents, rather than a sign of particular home team dominance. Likewise, if the West indies had been at full strength and allowed themselves a decent preparation before Brisbane, that series might also have taken a different course. Certainly the Poms will have seen little this summer to have them quaking in their boots.

Still, all you can do is beat the opponent in front of you, and the rest is speculation. England will have to wait until next summer to prove their wares. Meanwhile, you’d hope the Australian camp isn’t inclined to rest on this summer’s too easily won laurels.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World’s Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

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