Domain Test Series v Pakistan
Starc leads the way as Pakistan bowled out for 240
Mitchell Starc takes two in two balls as he and Pat Cummins clean up the Pakistan tail with the new ball late on day one
Andrew Ramsey at The Gabba, Brisbane
21 November 2019, 09:00 PM AEST
At first glance, Pakistan's total of 240 on the opening day of the Domain Test Series might suggest a typical tale of a brave touring team fighting doggedly in the face of a bullish opponent at a hostile venue.
But on closer inspection, and in keeping with Pakistan's reputation for oscillating at speed between brilliant and diabolical, it was revealed to be a production of four distinct acts – a slow build-up that gave way to disaster, then redemption and – in the final half-hour – melodrama tinged with occasional comedy.
Following a wicket-free first session, the visitors lost five wickets in a hellish hurry before Asad Shafiq – hero of another improbable bating effort in Brisbane three years ago – forged partnerships with the lower-order on his way to an innings high 76.
That might have been an even more decisive contribution had his partner Muhammad Rizwan (37) not been adjudged out from what many onlookers – but crucially not the third umpire – deemed to be a no-ball from Pat Cummins.
And in a thrill-a-ball final stanza, Mitchell Starc came within a whisker of a Test hat-trick as Pakistan were eventually knocked over in the shadow of stumps, with Australia to begin their pursuit from ball one tomorrow.
At the toss of the coin today, having watched it land in his favour, Pakistan captain and opener Azhar Ali outlined his rationale for batting first against Australia's trio of quicks on a pitch that radiated more than a tinge of green.
"There's a bit of grass on it, but I think it's a very good pitch to bat on, especially if you get through the new ball," Azhar said.
Not only did Azhar and his opening partner Shaan Masood "get through the new ball", they negotiated the seamers so successfully that spinner Nathan Lyon was required to send down four overs prior to lunch.
For the first time EVER, Australia have failed to take a wicket in the first session of a Gabba Test match when bowling first #AUSvPAK— Samuel Ferris (@samuelfez) November 21, 2019
In addition to Pakistan's 0-57 at the break being a superior opening stand to anything England could muster on their own patch during the recent Ashes series, they became the first touring Test outfit to survive the inaugural session of a match at the Gabba without forfeiting a wicket to their hosts.
To be fair, their resistance had been more stout than stunning.
The first two hours yielded just five boundaries, a couple of perfunctory appeals (a half shout for a caught behind and a slightly more enthused lbw plea, both off Azhar) and a run rate of barely two per over.
So Australia's bowling group convened during the adjournment and agreed they had bowled a touch too short, that they needed to adjust their aim to the top of their opponents' stumps, and challenge them to play more regularly off the front foot.
By contrast, Pakistan – who have never before won at the Gabba – might have contemplated the heady prospect of openers still being in occupation when stumps were pulled five hours later.
What they could not have foreseen at that point was those openers would more likely be wearing Australia colours.
Even by the mercurial standards of Pakistan's 67-year Test history, their post-lunch fortunes found reverse at dizzying speed.
In just six and a half overs of recalibrated pace bowling and some regrettable shot selection, 0-75 became 4-78 and ignominy beckoned.
The procession, however, was precipitated by a well-directed short ball rather than a fuller length that was to be employed to counter the loopy 'tennis ball' bounce on the first-day Gabba strip.
By firing a fast delivery into the armpit of Shaan, Pat Cummins had the left-hander fending awkwardly as the ball thumped into his batting gloves and lobbed tantalisingly short of Marnus Labuschagne who launched himself from his fielding position at forward square leg.
While the sight of a rare false stroke might have emboldened the home team, it was the stinging blow on Shaan's left index finger that unsettled the opener sufficiently to bring the breakthrough.
In Cummins' next over, the left-hander was squared-up by another delivery angled into his person and the resultant leading edge was pouched by Steve Smith at second slip, almost in the form of an Aussie rules chest mark.
Two balls later, Azhar pressed hesitantly forward to a full delivery from Josh Hazlewood with the ensuing nick looping at such a leisurely rate towards slip that Joe Burns belatedly realised he needed to throw himself forwards to intercept the chance before it bounced.
Despite the propensity to self-destruct that he showed in the T20 internationals that preceded the Test campaign, Haris Sohail retained his number three posting for the Tests.
His tenure may come under review in the wake of today's failure, wafting the bat away from his body to present Tim Paine with a straightforward catch and Starc with his first wicket as Pakistan fell to 3-77.
An over later, the crisis deepened to 4-78 when Babar Azam – touted as Pakistan's best batter and most likely to prosper in this series – became the most culpable in the clatter of wickets as he gifted his hand to Australia.
Prior to the Test, former Australia captain Ricky Ponting opined that cricket had yet to see Babar's best in the five-day format and that remains the case after the 25-year-old threw his bat at a full, wide delivery from Hazlewood.
After their luckless first session, Australia could scarcely take a false step as was proved when Lyon returned to the attack and accounted for allrounder Iftikhar Ahmed with his first delivery, courtesy of a sharp catch squeezed to Labuschagne at short-leg.
That was when defiant keeper Rizwan joined Asad, with the former clearly of the mind that counterattack posed the most effective alternative to grim defence and the 49-run sixth-wicket stand they fashioned soaked up only 55 balls.
But no sooner had Pakistan regained a toehold in the contest, a sliver of rubber on Cummins' right bowling boot cost them a crucial wicket when third umpire Michael Gough deemed that some imperceptible part of that footwear manifested behind the front crease.
The examination of the video evidence continued for minutes while Rizwan lingered hopefully near the boundary rope, increasingly confident he would be recalled until some Abraham Zapruder-style mystery footage must have emerged to clinch the case for the prosecution.
Unlike the conspiracy theories floated in the wake of Zapruder's vision of the JFK assassination, justice seemed to be served when leg spinner Yasir Shah assumed Rizwan's role as solid support for Asad throughout the final session.
With the quicks unable to finish the rout they had started, Paine deployed occasional spinners Labuschagne and Steve Smith until arrival of the second new-ball late in the day hastened the end.
Starc's third delivery with the shiny Kookaburra veered violently towards Yasir's front toe before cannoning from pad to stumps, sending the off bail on a vertical climb.
Australia's lamentable recent record with DRS was partially rectified when, after a considered committee meeting, Shaheen Shah Afridi's apparent play-and-miss to his first ball was reviewed, and confirmed Starc was on a hat-trick.
As if arriving in Test cricket at age 16 wasn't sufficiently daunting, Naseem Shah found himself confronted by Starc with new ball in hand, the scent of history in his nostrils and an armada of expectant catchers behind the wicket.
The teenager survived, through sheer luck rather than batting acumen as the inside edge he was able to get on to fast, in-swinging delivery he barely saw flashed perilously past his stumps.
But his batting partner Asad's refusal to contemplate a single from that near-miss proved pointless, when Cummins – granted the new ball in preference to Hazlewood who had begun the day's proceedings with Starc – speared through the last recognised batter's defence.
Australia XI: Joe Burns, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon.
Pakistan XI: Shan Masood, Azhar Ali (c), Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq, Iftikhar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Yasir Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah, Imran Khan.
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: November 21-25, Gabba (Seven, Fox & Kayo)