Toss Pakistan 89 for 0 (Hafeez 48*, Imam 36*) v Australia
On a Dubai surface that couldn’t have been more suited to batting, Sarfraz Ahmed elected to bat after Tim Paine called wrong. From there on, Pakistan looked totally comfortable, finishing strongly on 89 for 0 in 31 overs. Mohammad Hafeez, playing his first Test in over two years, and Imam ul Haq, looked completely untroubled both against pace and spin to lay down the marker.
Hafeez was the more forceful of the two, pushing the run rate up and ensuring the Australians were always on the back foot. He regularly forced the bowlers to adjust their lines and coaxed Tim Paine into introducing spin as early as the ninth over. He wasn’t afraid to come a long way down the track against spin while looking in control of his shots. He was two short of a 13th Test fifty.
Imam, while more cautious, was by no means vulnerable, driving well against the quicker bowlers. A huge six over wide long-on off Jon Holland demonstrated his confidence against spin.
Mitchell Starc looked the sharpest Australian bowler, pitching full to allow the ball to swing away from the left-hander. He was even more impressive when brought on just before lunch, inducing a half-hearted drive from Hafeez that lobbed past a vacant gully. However, the surface was just too slow to seriously trouble either batsmen for consistent periods.
There wasn’t enough deviation for the slower bowlers in the first session, making it a game of patience and temperament. While Nathan Lyon settled into his rhythm early, Holland struggled after being repeatedly picked off by Imam and Hafeez. While the other three bowlers all went at under three at over, Holland conceded 32 off six.
It could be an attritional day for Australia, but equally, one lapse at any point in the day has the potential to lead to a handful of wickets in quick succession. The visitors have to be patient and hopeful, while for Pakistan, it will be a case of making the start count. Half an hour of madness could undo two hours on this first morning.