Lunch Pakistan 329 for 4 (Hafeez 126, Imam 76, Siddle 2-28) v Australia
This session may not be on the postcard, but you will find it in the manual. On a morning that typified the recipe for success Pakistan have replicated time and again in the UAE, excitement may have been in short supply, but determination and patience wasn’t. After the wobbles in the final session on the first day, Haris Sohail and Asad Shafiq dug their heels in as Pakistan inched their way towards and then beyond 300, with the loss of just their nightwatchman Mohammad Abbas, restoring their commanding position in the Test.
It was soporific viewing at times, in all honesty. The first hour would have left you reaching for an extra cup of coffee; adrenaline wasn’t going to be the stimulant here. Once Peter Siddle cleaned up Abbas early on, Pakistan gritted their teeth and ground their way along, determined to draw the sting out of the momentum Australia had built since the evening session on the first day. They did that superbly, even if Pakistan didn’t at first make much progress by way of runs – only seven runs were scored in the day’s first 11 overs, and it took Shafiq 21 balls to get off the mark.
The urgency, however, would have been felt more in Australia’s camp. These are tough conditions to be out in the field for, bowling to batsmen whose reserves of patience don’t look close to exhausted just yet. Mitchell Starc bowled 21 overs yesterday and looked like he was carrying a niggle by the end, and wasn’t quite as effective in the five overs he delivered today.
Siddle’s medium pace was sent to alleviate the fast bowler’s workload, while Mitchell Marsh was expensive and looked rusty when called upon. In the last half hour, Pakistan seized upon Australia’s fatigue and punished them when their lengths missed the mark. More than half the runs Pakistan scored this session – 41 – came in the last nine overs.
It was strange to see Australia persist with the old ball throughout the session, despite it being obvious for some time it had lost much of the reverse swing it carried the previous day. On these rock-hard surfaces, it’s hard enough to maintain balls up to 80 overs; by 120 here, it was unrecognisable as a cricket ball. The seam had worn off almost completely, with even the shiny side looking more ragged than the scuffed up side of the ball. It could be to do with Tim Paine’s reluctance to have anyone but Starc take the new one, and in turn Starc’s reticence to come in for another spell.
Pakistan have already toiled their way towards a near-impregnable situation here, with Babar Azam and Sarfraz Ahmed still to come after these two. By the end of the next session, they’ll look to turn that position into an invincible one.