Almanac Cricket – Australia v Pakistan: First Test – Performance reflective of the ’06 glory days.

There was a layer of uncertainty surrounding the half-full Gabba. Sitting in the outskirts of Brisbane’s CBD, the perennial host of the opening test match of the Australian cricketing summer was wavering in providing a hostile reception for touring nations. Supposedly impenetrable and actively having the second longest winning streak for its home country, Pakistan were batting stoically. By the time lunch rolled around, captain Azhar Ali and Shan Masood were unbeaten, frustrating the highly touted Aussies who had returned just months ago with the Ashes still in their grasp.


Returning to the highs of his previous tour down under, where he plundered runs for fun against the tiring Aussie attack, Azhar Ali was batting beautifully. Despite the going being slow, the Pakistanis were batting sensibly and according to the conditions, weathering the storm of Cummins, Hazlewood and Starc while moving their feet fluently to the crafty Lyon. Two hours into a daunting tour of Australia’s bouncy pitches, Pakistan looked as imposing and skilful as those glory years back in the last century.


Then it all changed. Ali continued to strike some crisp drives, knocking the ball around the lush Gabba turf. Unlike his mature partner, Masood was always on edge, scoring extremely slowly and somewhat painfully. With a fire in their belly, the reputation of the Aussie fast bowling cartel was at stake. No way could they let a foreign nation come in and plunder them around on their own decks after their conquest of the notorious swing conditions of the motherland.


Of course, Cummins and Hazelwood were the ones to change the tide. Bowling in tandem once more (Paine has implemented this more and more in recent times, to great effect), Cummins amped up the pace and aggression, varying from his impeccable short of a length delivery to rear the Kookaburra up at Masood’s helmet. Ducking, weaving and fending the brutes, Masood may have comprehended he was being worked over, but was helpless to quell it. Cummins was just too good. He eventually pitched it up, catching a frustrating edge that flew to third man before squaring him up. The nick flew to the patient Smith, and Australia were belatedly on the board. Just two balls later, Hazlewood produced a wonderful out-swinger to remove Ali, and from then on the match was in Australia’s grasp.


This unravelling originally happened swiftly. Pakistan’s middle order didn’t implement the same application and respect for the different conditions, playing some unwise shots that were always going to bring about a nasty end. Only Asad Shafiq and wicket-keeper Rizwan produced some fight – both assessed the pitch and worked the tiring bowlers around smartly. Following Shafiq’s stubborn innings, Rizwan’s late flurry was accompanied by a plucky Shah, meaning the visitors reached 240 as Starc cleaned them up at the end of the first day.


With a changed top order to the top order that had mixed fortunes in England, the cricketing eye was cast on the Gabba as Burns and Warner strode out on the second morning. Within an hour, or even a session, the concentration had laxed and the answer was obvious. Burns was the opener they needed, and Warner was back in a big way. Both caressed the Pakistani bowlers around the vast expanses of the Gabba outfield, Warner returning to his punchy drives and Burns whipping out some beautiful shots.


Their partnership pushed into the 200s, surviving a Warner no-ball wicket off the 16-year-old Naseem Shah. Despite this disappointment, the youngster and Afridi were disciplined and offered some danger to Australian batsmen. Warner duly went on to punish the Pakistanis, notching another ton with nonchalant ease. Burns deserved to reach the milestone too, but unfortunately played a rash sweep off Shah that only deflected the turning Kookaburra onto his own stumps, just three runs short of a ton. Sometimes centuries aren’t needed to send a message – in Burns’ case, this was certainly one instance of this.


Setting the platform wonderfully, Labuschagne bolted to the middle with a mission. His tour of England had been a meteoric rise to the Australian first drop position. But no century had come for his heroic Ashes series. From the outset of his innings, his eye-catching bat swing and graceful footwork signalled the intent of a man set on raising his maiden test ton. His Kookaburra blade was a la Ponting, crafting hundreds with his Kahuna in the Brisbane sun. Labuschagne’s straight drives were crisp and breathtaking, his leg side play was solid. For a day the Queenslander burned his spikes into the pitch, racing up and back as he crafted a perfect ton. He then turned it into a big 185, showing his appetite for more runs. Never satisfied – that’s how we like them.


Smith was thus granted a rare failure, allowing Wade to carve up a quick fifty to show his dazzling 2019 form. All of a sudden, Australia’s perennial weakness of their top five had turned into a locked unit. The nation now has genuine faith in their top order.


Making the mammoth score they have struggled to accumulate in recent times, Australia returned to the field late on Saturday arvo with their tails up vertically. It was a perfect time for Starc to roar, quickly trapping Ali in front and then cheaply dismissing Sohail in identical fashion to his poor first innings exit. Once more the 45-degree angle of his bat was lending itself to an easy edge on the bouncy deck, and the Pakistani was back in the sheds. The mature resistance of Shafiq ran out fast, undone by another wonderful out-swinger, this time from Cummins. Despite some Babar Azam flashes in the latter overs, Australia’s Saturday was crushing and dominant. The Kookaburra belting runs, the fast bowlers snarling against the top order – it was all very circa 2000s. Ponting, McGrath and Gilchrist were watching proudly from the commentator’s box, realising this was what they used to do year upon year.


For the sake of the match, Babar Azam and Rizwan’s fight on day four was interesting and exciting to view. Masood once again worked hard for little runs – his hard slog was eventually undone by some aggressive Cummins bowling for the second time in the match. Bang bang. Hazlewood struck the next over and Pakistan were crumbling again. But Rizwan’s stature grew alongside the brewing potential of Babar. Reining in his heavy arsenal of lusty strokes, Babar Azam turned a page in his test career at the Gabba, working his way to a wonderful ton that may be a memorable one in a decade’s time. Much can be said for Rizwan too – he played a similar innings to Burns, as his 95 had the same meaning as a century in regards to his pluck, wit and temperament. With those two finding form alongside the experience of Shafiq and the potential of Azhar Ali, Adelaide could still be a tense match up.


In the end, Australia’s bowlers out-performed Pakistan’s. Nazeem Shah was a success, despite his no-ball issue. He has potential, and his pace worried Australia’s batsmen. Afridi and Yasir Shah also toiled, and eventually came good roughly 450 runs after it mattered. Imran Khan didn’t emulate his namesake, and may be changed for Abbas in Adelaide. On the other hand, Hazlewood and Cummins stand at the head of pace bowling rankings globally. Starc is more erratic but a classy companion, while Lyon didn’t have his best game yet still picked up a few.


Overall, Australia – with a bolstered batting line up – have found a line up for the next five years that could see them return to their former heyday. But as they say so often in the AFL, let’s take it one week at a time.




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  1. Great report. Lets see what the other tests bring. Different weather, different wckets, different crowds.

  2. Yes, Sean, the lack of discipline and fight that the Pakistani middle-order showed in the first innings was very disappointing.
    But “…the half-full Gabba…”??? Even Cricket Australia would be happy with that description!

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