Imam’s the man as century lifts hosts to 1/245 at close

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It was the 16th over, when Australia brought on Travis Head to bowl something not entirely unlike off-spin, that things began to go south.

The game had, to that point at least, looked a lot like previous Tests against Pakistan for Australia, albeit not ones held in Pakistan itself: slower than a week in jail.

The bowling was innocuous, the scoring funereal. Simply put, it looked like a tough task for those of us committed to covering this match until late in the evening over the next few days.

Travis Head’s bowling wasn’t the main talking point, but it does form a good narrative start to a day of cricket that inexorably slid away from Australia, because it was from about that point onwards that the problem became very clear.

It was Pakistan’s day, largely thanks to Imam-ul-Haq’s masterclass, but also because Pat Cummins and his men never managed to shift the narrative.

The pitch isn’t doing a thing, but it remains to be seen if that’s because it’s rubbish or because Australia couldn’t ask the right question.

Imam’s a man for a’ that

Douglas Adams once described spaceships that “hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t”. You can take that metaphor and apply it to Imam-ul-Haq, batting with elevation in a way that Brits don’t.

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This has been an easy pitch to bat on, but you still have to do it, and the Pakistani batters did so in exactly the way that England’s failed to during the Ashes.

Perhaps this is what happens when you don’t play test matches away from home for years on end: you forget that, on occasion, things aren’t slanted in your favour by dint of conditions or mentally shot opposition.

Imam-ul-Haq batted almost the perfect opener’s innings, watchful to a fault at first, then accelerated, then decelerated, then recelerated (if that’s a word).

He got in by not getting out. When he was in, he cashed in. When Abdullah Shafique got himself out, Imam reeled in the aggression – no boundaries for 12 overs – then when the time was right, smashed Lyon back over his head, flicked the switch and cashed in again. When the new ball came, he dug back in and saw it out to the close.

Throughout, ul-Haq controlled the momentum of the innings. It was a masterpiece.

Pressure, oh, pressure gonna drop on you

If you look at the Australian bowling figures, they don’t look too bad. Nobody – not even Travis Head – got smashed about too badly.

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The problem wasn’t that Pakistan were dominating the bowling per se, it was more that Australia gave them ample opportunities to release all the pressure.

There were long periods where one bad ball an over would come, and on a pitch like this with an outfield like that, those balls were sent to the fence.

In the second session in particular, Australia chased a wicket too often rather than steadily building pressure, creating a situation where waiting for trash was possible.

It wasn’t like Pakistan ever went after Australia: of the 26 boundaries, only twice did two come in the same over. Mostly it was a drip feed of dross that released any tension that the batters had accumulated.

Indeed, if you factor in that there were two ten over periods with no boundaries, from over 1 to over 10 and then again after Shafique got out, it worked out about a boundary every two overs from the rest.

By the time Steve Smith was bowling waist-high full tosses at Imam in the last knockings before the new ball, it was too late. The Pakistan opener didn’t even bother to smack him to the boundary.

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RawalSPINdi, amiright?

It’s a truism in cricket that you shouldn’t judge a pitch until both sides have batted on it, but having seen 90 overs on this deck – close to a third of them sent down by Nathan Lyon – it does seem like having a second spinner might have helped Australia ask more questions of the Pakistani batters.

The obvious takeaway when the home team picks three spinners and the away team picks one is that the away team has made a mistake.

In essence, Australia seemed to make the same mistake that England often did in the Ashes, with a fundamental lack of variety in their attack, with three of their five throwing down unmoving right arm fast.

Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummins bowled dry, because they’re really, really good, and constantly forced the batters to at least play, with Imam leaving just 6% of balls.

Lyon battled manfully and was handed a wicket by Shafique, but beyond him, nobody really threatened. You wonder what different question a Mitch Swepson, bowling leggies, might have asked, or whether spin from both ends, via Swepson or Ashton Agar, could have created a different atmosphere.

I guess we’ll find out tomorrow when Nauman Ali and Sajid Khan get going.

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