Captain Tim Paine stamped his leadership on the Australian team and Usman Khawaja made a giant leap towards Test stardom yesterday as the tourists willed themselves to a rousing draw in the 1st Test against Pakistan.
Australia looked to be headed for a humiliating defeat when they lost 3-0 late on day four but were rescued yesterday by tenacious innings from Khawaja, Paine and debutant Travis Head.
Aside from being a wonderful result for a team which has been pilloried this year, this Test was also a landmark moment in the careers of Khawaja, Paine, Head and another first-gamer in Aaron Finch.
Leading a wounded and under-manned team in conditions which have so often undone Australian sides of the past, Paine’s keeping was flawless and his unbeaten 219-minute vigil was gutsy and inspiring.
If there were any doubts he is the man to guide Australia through this tumultuous era they evaporated yesterday.
Unlike his glovework in this Test, Paine’s knock of 61* was far from perfect. Truth be told, he looked like a dismissal waiting to occur for his first 30 minutes at the crease. But, like any fine leader, he maintained his composure under pressure, and backed himself and his colleagues to execute a task.
In doing so he cemented himself as the skipper of this cobbled-together Test unit.
Meanwhile, this match was a similar watershed moment for Khawaja. The 31-year-old banished lingering concerns about his ability to step up in the absence of Steve Smith and become not just Australia’s best batsman but also an all-conditions master, just like the banned former captain.
In crafting innings of 85 and 141, Khawaja produced a batting performance which ranks up there with any by an Australian in Asia in Test history.
What made it all the more remarkable is that, prior to this Test, he had scored just 117 runs from his nine Test innings in Asia.
For the first time on this continent, Khawaja batted as though he believed he could dominate.
His command of champion leg spinner Yasir Shah was so complete that the Pakistani star, one of the most exuberant cricketers in the world, looked deflated and bereft of ideas.
Khawaja’s job was made easier, for more than three hours, by the company of first-gamer Head. Just like Khawaja, Head arrived in the UAE with a reputation for being frail against spin.
That perception was strengthened during his ugly nine-ball duck in the first innings amid an extraordinary collapse by Australia.
Yesterday, however, Head batted with a level of skill, composure and maturity which many Australian fans did not believe he possessed.
The 24-year-old is commonly written off as a skittish batsman who has potential in limited overs cricket but lacks the technique and temperament to flourish in Tests. I must admit I had my own doubts as to whether he could adapt to the longest format at this early stage of his career.
Head’s raw talent is obvious but yesterday we got to see some of his more intangible qualities as a cricketer. Whether he can kick on and cement his place in the Test team we’ll just have to wait and watch.
I have no doubt, however, that if he can consistently channel the same focus and determination he displayed yesterday then Head has a great chance of becoming a fine Test cricketer.
The same can be said of Finch, yet another Australian who has more doubters than first-class runs. While he didn’t take the field yesterday, Australia were only in position to scrape for a draw due to his pair of patient knocks.
Finch spent 314 minutes at the crease over the course of this Test, grinding out 111 runs from 260 balls. He was circumspect against the quicks, nimble against the spinners, ran well between wickets and rotated the strike nicely, rather than relying on boundaries.
In limited overs cricket, Finch is startlingly aggressive. Here, on Test debut, he was reassuringly patient. It boded well for his future as a Test player, just as this Test provided cause for optimism about the direction of Australian cricket.