Domain Test Series v Pakistan
Paine's shrewd follow-on ploy piles on pain for Pakistan
The swinging pink ball under lights offers a new tactical component in day-night Tests and Tim Paine exploited it to perfection in Adelaide
Andrew Ramsey at the Adelaide Oval
2 December 2019, 07:45 AM AEST
The point of difference for day-night Test matches has long been identified as the exaggerated movement of the heavily lacquered pink ball, and the bowler-friendly nature of pitches that carry an extra coating of grass to help preserve its delicate exterior.
But increasingly, there's a tactical component within the still-fledgling format that appears as starkly different to its red-ball forebear as is the seemingly luminescent magenta orb with which it's played.
That became obvious at Adelaide Oval on a windy and occasionally wet Sunday afternoon, as Australia battled to knock over Pakistan's lower-order after making a mess of their batting specialists the previous evening.
The wintry day – ironically denoting the formal start of Australia's summer – had begun with commentators and heavily swaddled cricket enthusiasts debating the likelihood of the home team enforcing the follow-on, so dominant was their position after two days.
Perhaps it was the sight of batting addicts Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne going through a series of warm-up drills in the practice nets before play resumed, with Pakistan an apparently hopeless 6-96 in pursuit of Australia's 589, that set tongues wagging.
Whatever the catalyst, a school of thought began to ferment that skipper Tim Paine would forego the chance to send his dispirited opponents back to the batting crease when their innings ended, and instead build an even greater lead while his bowlers recharged.
Despite the scorn with which that suggestion was met by a number of former greats thinking aloud in-between commentary stints, it began to look ever-more likely as Pakistan's lower-order dug in and Australia's bowlers were forced to labour where the previous night they were rampant.
Babar Azam's stylish 97 that deserved a century was the first speed hump, then Yasir Shah's maiden Test ton and his dogged partnerships with fellow batting bunnies Mohammad Abbas (87 runs for the ninth wicket) and teenage debutant Musa Khan (21 for the 10th) put paid to plans for an early Sunday roasting.
Instead, the home team sent down almost 60 largely luckless overs across virtually two sessions before Pakistan were eventually knocked over for 302, and the case for granting the quicks (who shared nearly half that workload) a few hours of recuperation seemed compelling.
Certainly, David Warner seemed of the impression that he would be re-fitting his barely cooled batting gloves and heading back out into the middle when Pakistan's innings ended at 5.55pm local time – 25 minutes before the scheduled dinner break.
After making a brief detour to offer congratulations to unlikely century maker Yasir, Warner bolted for the players' tunnel thereby giving the clear impression Australia would bat once more.
With a session and two days remaining in the match (weather permitting), the accumulation of an extra 150 or so runs should still leave sufficient time to bowl out the battle-scarred visitors.
And it wasn't just Warner's understandable desire to continue his rare runs-scoring form that underpinned that assumption.
Since Australia most recently chose to make an opponent follow-on – the 2015 Test match against the West Indies in Hobart, which was Steve Smith's first summer as Test skipper – they have found themselves in a position to do so five times.
And on each occasion, they've opted not to.
Furthermore, in the corresponding Adelaide pink-ball Test against England two years ago, Australia found themselves in a similar match position and Smith controversially decided they would forego the follow-on and bat again.
In that game, as with yesterday, Australia's bowlers had dismissed their rivals around the onset of dusk, the time of evening when batting against the new pink ball is most fraught.
But rather than expose England's top-order to that ordeal when facing a deficit of 215 (as opposed to Pakistan's 287 yesterday), Smith sent his own troops into the firing line and saw then crash to 4-53 against the expert swing and seam bowling of James Anderson and Chris Woakes.
That session under lights changed the match's momentum, and Australia suddenly found themselves at risk of squandering their sizeable advantage and granting their Ashes foes a way back into the game, although Smith's men ultimately prevailed by 120 runs.
So it was understandable that, even with a bowling attack that had undertaken a notable load of work, Paine made the call to return to the field, in the belief that snatching a few quick Pakistan wickets rather than surrendering some of his own was the optimum outcome.
As it transpired, it was a shrewd and decisive ploy.
Josh Hazlewood's removal of newly recalled opener Imam-ul-Haq in the few overs before tea was vindication in itself, and then the cheap wickets of Pakistan captain Azhar Ali (9) and their best batter Babar (8) amid the rain squalls that followed the interval sealed the verdict.
On the surface, it might seem counter-intuitive that the longer Pakistan batted on Sunday, and the deeper inroads they made into Australia's huge first innings tally, the more likely it became they would be forced to follow-on.
Once the day's play approached the witching hour when the lights take over and the ball misbehaves, it would have been remiss if Paine had passed up the chance to get his rivals' flimsy batting back under the spotlight – or floodlights, as the genre dictates.
As the learned pundits who had bemoaned the notion of Australia batting again at day's start were quick to point out, had the game been played in daylight with a red ball there would have been little chance of Pakistan being sent back to the middle.
Rather, Australia would have played the percentages and ground the already demoralised tourists deeper into the dusk before unleashing the fresh phalanx of fast bowlers.
There were, of course, two other mitigating factors underpinning Paine's decision yesterday.
The first was Adelaide's atypical summer weather, with further showers forecast at times on Monday which might have proved problematic in terms of timing a second-innings declaration.
And there's also the extraordinary recent batting form of Australia's top-order, which could not find a run apart from those contributed by Smith during the recent Ashes campaign, but now operates so slickly the ex-skipper is virtually surplus to requirements.
As Mitchell Starc, who returned his second-best Test career figures of 6-66 in Pakistan's first innings, noted at day's end, the extra rest and rehabilitation time granted the bowlers due to the batting group's productivity means they can readily tackle tough assignments like back-to-back bowling efforts.
"Our batting has been phenomenal in the first two Test matches, to have the huge partnerships that we've had and the big individual scores," Starc said.
"We talk a lot about having big first innings totals, and the guys have responded really well to that with Davey (Warner) making 300, and Marnus (Labuschagne) with back-to-back 150s.
"It's given the bowlers days off by batting for long periods of time.
"So our consistency with the bat has been really, really positive and I think we've been fantastic in bowling partnerships as well.
"Pakistan have had a couple of really positive innings individually, but probably haven't had that consistency to either wear us down or maintain the pressure long enough to break us open."
Domain Test Series v Pakistan
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner
Pakistan squad: Azhar Ali (c), Abid Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Imran Khan Snr, Iftikhar Ahmed, Kashif Bhatti, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Musa Khan, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Yasir Shah.
First Test: Australia won by an innings and five runs.