Pakistan crumble in Gabba spotlight

16 December 2016

Pakistan lose 7-24 against pink-ball attack of Aussies to put hosts in box seat after two days

Australia v Pakistan Tests, First Test


A day after Australia had dispelled fears about the difficulties of batting against the pink ball at night, Pakistan imploded under floodlights to hand the hosts a steely grip on the first Test of the series.

Australia’s first innings total of 429 might have been the highest posted in the brief history of day-night Tests on their home turf, but so few issues had the pink ball caused batters across five sessions – under both sun and electric light – there was a feeling it might have been a touch on the skinny side.

Especially given the home team’s middle-order stumble that saw a clatter of wickets early in the day and the fact that Pakistan faced few overt concerns making it to the dinner break for the loss of only opener Azhar Ali.

But in a match-defining final couple of hours under lights, Pakistan’s batting folded meekly in the face of some unrelenting seam bowling and some flawless close catching to finish 8-97.

That leaves them a distant 332 adrift of their rivals and requiring a further 133 from their last two batters to prevent the prospect of being forced to follow-on.

Casual observers casting an eye over the scorecards from afar might deduce that Mitchell Starc (3-45), Josh Hazlewood (3-19 from 11 impeccable overs) and Jackson Bird (2-7 from nine) were bending the pink ball like a banana in the heavy sub-tropical evening humidity.

The truth for those who witnessed the capitulation was neither the Gabba pitch – on which Pakistan’s quicks failed to claim a wicket in Thursday night’s session – or the ambient conditions offered any radical assistance.

Rather it was a hybrid of clever lengths, aggressive bouncers and technical shortcomings that exhumed the ghosts of so many Pakistan teams to have toured Australia in the past.

Where they have won just four Tests and never a Test series in more than half a century.

Khawaja claims couple of slips screamers

After Peter Handscomb had completed his maiden Test hundred earlier in the day, the only players in Pakistan’s top-order able to find a way to double figures were stoic opener Sami Aslam (22 from 100 balls), number three Babar Azam (19 from 41) and redoubtable keeper Sarfraz Ahmed (31not out from as many deliveries faced).

But even those three exposed sufficient chinks in their battle plans – especially Aslam who was twice struck flush on the helmet while turning his back on Hazlewood bouncers – to give the Australians plenty to work with heading into the second innings.

Which could get underway early in tomorrow's play, and certainly in subsequent Tests of this three-game Commonwealth Bank Series in Melbourne and Sydney.

Of greater concern for the tourists was the dual failure of senior pair Younis Khan (caught behind for a first-ball duck off Hazlewood) and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq (snared at first slip off Bird for four).

Hazlewood rocks Pakistan with double strike

Khan, 39, has been a mainstay of Pakistan’s batting for years but has now managed just 16 runs from his past six Test innings, while 42-year-old Misbah has passed 50 only twice in seven and a half Tests since his famous century at Lord’s last July.

When Pakistan was on its way to becoming the number one-ranked Test team in the world.

They appeared as far from that mantle as they currently find themselves from St John’s Wood as the dominance that Australia exerted with the bat on day one turned into a vice-like grip when it was their turn with the ball this evening.

Having dominated the opening day, Australia’s to-do list when they went back to work this afternoon was as simple as it was predictable.

To push their total onwards past 500 and, by doing so, consign a foot-weary Pakistan to starting their pursuit against the heavily lacquered new ball just as the sun dipped behind the grandstands and the floodlights came into effect.

Certainly the tourists seemed willing to transform that template into reality.

Steve Smith had added 19 runs to his overnight 110 when he pulled out the sort of impetuous stroke he had so assiduously kept hidden on day one and offered up a simple skied catch to long-off.

Smith's Gabba captain's knock cut short on 130

Where Mohammed Amir sprinted in at, circled back under, ran alongside and ultimately fumbled the ball that would have feasibly landed in his lap had he judged its flight from the outset.

It meant the Australia captain had been gifted three lives after reaching his half-century the previous afternoon – two turfed catches and an edge for which Pakistan’s slips cordon didn’t offer up an appeal, to Smith’s admitted disbelief – and it seemed he would substantially cash in.

But instead, it seemed to instil him with a sense he was blessed and that no ill would befall him.

Certainly that was the impression left after his most un-skipper like swing at Wahab Riaz five overs later, when his front foot splayed towards mid-wicket, his bat scythed an arc in the direction of extra cover and the ball ended up in the belatedly safe gloves of Sarfraz Ahmed.

Watch all 10 of Australia's first-innings wickets

The sort of shot that might be expected when fatigue was setting in, the team total had edged close to sufficient and there was but a few tailenders left for company.

Not so much in the day’s first hour when the scoreboard showed less than 350 and his top-order batting partner was 23 runs shy of a maiden Test century, in just his second international outing.

If Smith was not rueing his indiscretion on the walk back to the dressing room, it must have set in shortly after taking his seat in the viewing area as another untimely batting collapse began to brew.

Maddinson's rocky road in Test career continues

Concerns about the softness of Australia’s middle-order resurfaced when Nic Maddinson, Matthew Wade and Mitchell Starc fell inside 10 overs for the addition of just 20 runs.

All caught behind the wicket playing at deliveries that could have been safely let past.

All for single-figure scores as the home team were suddenly eyeing a first innings tally below 400 having started the day with 500-plus in their sights.

Peter Perfect breaks through for debut century

But despite – or perhaps due to – his comparative newness to such calamities, Handscomb held his nerve and after spending almost an hour in the 80s as wickets tumbled freely at the other end, he skipped from 91 to century maker in two deft blows.

A six off Yasir Shah’s leg spin that cleared long-on, and then a seemingly effortless square drive from Mohammed Amir that had barely reached the rope at point before Handscomb had whipped off his helmet and was smiling and waving to his family in the stands.

Handscomb in a hurry through the nineties

He eventually fell for 105, the ball after Josh Hazlewood added himself to the list of those offering catches to the cordon and at 9-380 Australia was facing a slightly sub-par total.

And the prospect that Pakistan’s openers might have a chance to get themselves in the comparative comfort of late afternoon, as opposed to the witching hours around dusk.

Bird, Lyon bat like kings of the Gabba jungle

However, a breezy 10th wicket stand of almost 50 between Nathan Lyon and Jackson Bird proved a fillip for the hosts and a frustration for the visitors before their Test match took a sharp turn for the worse.

Windows 10 Analyser reviews Renshaw's knock

Australia XI: David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (c), Peter Handscomb, Nic Maddinson, Matthew Wade (wk), Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird, Nathan Lyon

Pakistan XI: Sami Aslam, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (c), Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Yasir Shah, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, Rahat Ali

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Meg Lanning Steve Smith

Handscomb stands tall with unbeaten 64
Handscomb stands tall with unbeaten 64