Preview: Bilal Asif returned with third-best figures for a Pakistan bowler on debut finishing with 6 for 36 in 21.3 overs as the hosts gained control over the first Test against Australia at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Tuesday.
It was a day of two halves - the first dominated by the Australian openers Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja, the second which saw Asif and Mohammad Abbas rip through the visitors' middle-order sparking a spectacular collapse that saw them go from 142 for 0 after 51.3 overs to 202 all out in 83.3 overs eventually conceding a lead of 280 runs. Sarfraz Ahmed, the Pakistan captain, then decided against enforcing the follow-on. By the time stumps were drawn on Day three, Pakistan had further extended their lead to 325 finishing on 45 for 3 after 16.2 overs with Imam-ul-Haq unbeaten on 23. However, the morning of the third day had a different story to tell. Debutant Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja started off well mixing defence with controlled aggression to take their side forward. Resuming on 30 for 0, any attempts by the Pakistan bowlers to get the early breakthrough was thwarted by both batsmen with utmost confidence. Khawaja did give an early chance when he skipped down the track in the fourth over the day of Yasir Shah only to miss the ball completely. But, Ahmed behind the stumps fluffed the stumping chance and it was no looking back for the left-hander thereon. He tightened his defence and made sure to cut down on the loose shots early on in his innings before opening up. He took a particular liking to fast bowler Wahab Riaz cutting him through backward point to collect his first boundary of the morning before slamming him for a couple more in his next two overs.
Finch, on the other hand, looked far more solid on debut bringing all his limited-overs experience into play. He tucked Abbas for a four down to fine leg to get his morning rolling before thumping Shah for two fours and a massive six straight down the ground in trademark fashion. He soon reached his maiden half-century with a fierce sweep off Asif, taking 95 deliveries to reach the landmark. Khawaja, as well, reached his fifty - his 13th in Tests with a paddle sweep off Asif as the duo also brought up their 100-run stand. Pakistan did manage to create a few chances, but couldn't break the stand with Australia going into lunch comfortably placed at 137 for 0 - Khawaja unbeaten on 68 and Finch looking solid on 59 not out. A smart bit of captaincy from Ahmed coupled with an excellent catch by Asad Shafiq after the interval then changed the course of the game completely. Abbas, who had been toiling hard all morning got one to shape into Finch, who flicked the length ball uppishly. Shafiq, who was standing at short mid-on stayed low and plucked the chance inches from the ground to end Finch's resistance on 62.
Shaun Marsh (7), coming in at No.3 had a slice of luck early when he edged Abbas through the vacant third slip to open his account, but he failed to make it count soon falling to Asif. The off-spinner tossed one above the eye-line of the batsman who took the bait and went for the full-blooded drive only to edge it straight into the hands of first slip. Things went downhill for Australia rather quickly from there. He dismissed Khawaja for 85 in his very next over with the batsman falling to what can only be termed as a tame shot. Having battled for 175 deliveries, Khawaja went for a pre-meditated lap sweep, but got into the stroke too early ending up lobbing a simple catch to short leg. The pitch that looked docile in the first session suddenly started acting up with the ball spitting past the outside edge of the bats. It proved too much to tackle for debutants Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne, with Asif trapping both batsmen in the space of three deliveries for a duck each as Australia found themselves at 180 for 5 at tea. Having gone wicketless after the first session they lost 5 for 43 from 27 overs in the second with Asif doing the bulk of the damage. The final session brought no respite to the visitors with Abbas trapping Mitchell Marsh lbw for 12 before Asif claimed his fifth wicket of the innings getting rid of the Australian skipper Tim Paine for 7. Abbas then had Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle in quick succession while Asif fittingly closed the innings picking the last wicket of Nathan Lyon who was caught at square leg for 6. Australia lost their 10 wickets for just 60 runs after the 142-run opening stand. Abbas, who supported Asif brilliantly finished with 4 for 29 off his 14 overs.
The star of the first innings, Mohammad Hafeez then started the second stint from where he left off crashing Lyon through the covers to open his account before slamming Starc for two thumping fours. His sparkling innings was, however, cut short by Jon Holland for 17 with Labuschagne taking a smart catch at silly point. Asif, who was sent out as nightwatchman also couldn't last long falling to Lyon for a duck before Holland brought some smiles back on the Australian faces trapping Azhar Ali for 4 off the last ball of the day.
Australia Playing XI: Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Tim Paine (C & WK), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle, Jon Holland
Pakistan Playing XI: Mohammad Hafeez, Imam-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed, Yasir Shah, Bilal Asif, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Abbas