Azhar Ali’s 185 overshadowed on an emotional day for Australia

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This was a strange old day in Rawalpindi. A torpor hung over proceedings, a feeling that what was happening here was prosaic compared to what else was going on in the world of cricket.

The first session, in which just 57 runs were scored for no wicket, seemed like everyone was preoccupied. It was if the moment’s silence for the late, great Shane Warne extended into the opening stanza and continued until lunch.

One feels for Azhar Ali, who converted his start into a mammoth 185, but will forever get second billing when this Test is remembered. One suspects, too, that he won’t mind too much. Even though this was his day, it wasn’t.

Today was the sort of day that SK Warne would have loved, one where nothing was happening and it needed a special character to inject themselves into proceedings and bend them to their will.

Alas, Australia did not have such a figure today, though their enthusiasm never waned. Marnus Labuschagne’s run out, 147 overs deep into an innings, was proof of that.

It’s inevitable, especially in Asia, that touring teams will come across wickets that offer very little and indeed, Australia managed just one wicket in this Test via their bowling – a Pat Cummins LBW that finally got Imam – as Abdullah Shafique and Azhar Ali got themselves out slogging and Babar Azam was run out.

Pakistan gets a go tomorrow, their attempts thwarted by their own late declaration call that led to just a solitary over before the light intervened.

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Even the afternoon’s declaration speculation was fitting: if only there’d been a knowing voice on commentary to talk about it.

Stumps, Day 2: Pakistan 4/476 (dec) – Australia 0/5

When it’s not always raining, there’ll be days like this

Towards the end of the second session, with the drift well and truly set in and Marnus Labuschagne chucking them down, the commentary conversation turned to the length of time that the Australians had been in the field.

Nasser Hussain proffered that, at close to 2/400, it might behove Pakistan not to hit boundaries and instead to run the legs of Australia into the ground.

While this isn’t as hot a day as some are in Pakistan, being forced to truck around after endless singles is knackering for any team, and Australia aren’t used to it: this was the longest innings they have conceded in terms of overs since the New Year’s Test of 2019 and just the 7th longest in the last decade.

Evidently, Pakistan think its a bat once, bat big wicket and, particularly facing an attack with four pace bowlers, could see the benefit in making their opponents run.

That Australia was able to manufacture a run out at that stage, thanks to the excellent fielding of Labuschagne, was a testament to the mental fortitude of this team.

The important thing for Australia is that they remained sharp and committed for when the slightest door opened. It won’t make much difference on the scoreboard, but it means a lot in terms of team mentality.

These two reconvene in Karachi just four days after the end of this Test and that’s less than ideal for a team that’s bowled for two days straight with little success. It’s a long game that could see success for Pakistan even if this one ends in a draw – Australia will need all that mental strength and more.

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Pindi tale of a donkey

The key moment, insofar as there was a key moment, was perhaps Alex Carey’s catch of Imam-ul-Haq in the first session. Alright, donkey is a bit harsh, but let a hack have his headline.

Imam was caught going back to Nathan Lyon, with a catch pouched by Carey behind the stumps…only for the wicket-keeper to decline the option of a DRS review. Any momentum that Australia could have built up to end the innings on their own terms went into the ether right about then.

Imam might well have walked, of course, but with 150 in his sights, that was never likely.

It went from bad to worse for the keeper, with Carey dropping a fairly regulation top edge that gave Mohammad Rizwan a life on 0 – and when you don’t generate many chances, then you have to take what little you create.

Lyon might be sitting at the other end of the dinner table from his keeper, given that he was into his 51st over at that point and had one wicket rather than three to his name.

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Carey has been criticised in the past for poor DRSing: both Aaron Finch and Glen Maxwell have said in the past that they cut him out of the ODI decision-making process despite, theoretically at least, him having the best view in the house.

His keeping, too, has come under question. Ian Healy described him as getting “a pass, just” during the Ashes and that was in Australia: in Asia, keepers become even more crucial.

Who’s Afridi of the dark?

Australian batsmen aren’t used to coming in nearly 500 runs behind. They’re not used to coming in late on the second day. They certainly aren’t used to coming in to face a spinner with the light fading all around them.

It wasn’t quite Graham Thorpe in the Karachi gloom of 2000 as Sajid Khan, with a moustache that makes him look like he ties maidens to railway tracks rather than bowls them, opened the innings, but it was too late.

The umpires had already told captain Babar Azam that it was too dark for quicks, and after one over of Sajid, decided it was too dark for anyone.

The happiest of all would be Usman Khawaja and David Warner, who didn’t have to navigate that tricky mini-session before the close.

Close behind them might be Shaheen Shah Afridi, as big a weapon as the Pakistanis have with the ball, who wouldn’t have wanted that new ball wasted.

The biggest losers in all likelihood are Pakistan, however, as they could have gone quicker earlier in pursuit of more time at the end of the day to have a look at the batsman.

One suspects that they won’t be too fussed, however: this was their day again.



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