Australia have overcome a flat first session in the field to roll Pakistan for a sub-par total of 240 on a good batting surface in the first Test in Brisbane.
The home side’s ability to consistently do damage with the new ball at the Gabba is a key reason why they haven’t lost a Test there for more than 30 years.
In the previous Test at the ground, Sri Lanka batted first and were 5-66 shortly after lunch. But yesterday it was the tourists who set the tone.
In the 33rd over Pakistan were 0-75.
Criticisms of the bowling were rolling in – too short, too wide, too defensive. They were fair judgments, too.
In that early period, the quicks had given Pakistan’s openers too many chances to leave the ball. Azhar Ali and Shan Masood gleefully accepted those opportunities. In watching the ball pass by their off stump again and again they were able to gradually gauge the conditions.
The tourists were only going at 2.4 runs per over up until that 33rd over. Yet that was less to do with tight bowling and more a product of the home side’s inability to get Ali and Masood playing at the ball.
With the pitch offering decent pace and bounce as usual, the key mode of dismissal was always going to be caught behind the wicket. So bowling back of a length a foot outside off stump was only going to work against impatient batsmen.
Finally, Australia’s pacemen straightened their lines and things changed. Coming from around the wicket, Pat Cummins began cramping the left-handed Masood for room. The Pakistani edged through a vacant fourth slip.
Two balls later, he looked to deflect a waist-height delivery to the leg side, got squared up and succeeded only in feeding a catch to Steve Smith at second slip.
Pakistan remained in good shape, though, with their captain and best batsman Ali rooted to the other end on 39* from 102 balls. Then, in the next over, Ali received a beautiful delivery from Josh Hazlewood.
The ball angled in at Ali, headed for the top of his off stump and then straightened off the pitch. Ali did nothing wrong but regardless, the ball kissed his outside edge and flew low to first slip, where Joe Burns took a terrific catch diving forward.
Even then, you imagine Pakistan would have accepted being two wickets down after 34 overs given the potency of Australia’s attack and their fine record in Queensland. The pitch was playing well and Pakistan had plenty of batting talent left in the changerooms.
That didn’t matter, though. Australia’s bowling in the first hour after lunch was of such a consistently high quality that they suffocated their opponents.
Their line, in particular, was outstanding, consistently on or just outside off stump. Suddenly, the batsmen had to play. Rarely were they able to shoulder arms. The pressure intensified and prompted a pair of loose shots.
First Haris Sohail, stuck on the crease, played a half-hearted push at a Mitch Starc delivery he easily could have left alone. Then Babar Azam had a brain-fade.
From just his fourth ball faced, Azam aimed an expansive drive at a wide, full delivery from Hazlewood.
It was a classic sucker ball and Azam was a classic sucker. Both of these unnecessary strokes from Sohail and Azam ended with catches behind the wicket.
Another lazy shot, this time a defensive prod by Iftikhar Ahmed against Nathan Lyon, left Pakistan in a crevasse at 5-94. Since their fine start, they had lost 5-19.
Asad Shafiq (76) and Mohammad Rizwan (37) counter-attacked in a stand of 49 from just 9.1 overs. They were threatening to bat back into the Test before Rizwan was caught behind off Cummins in a controversial incident.
Replays suggested it was a no-ball but the third umpire ruled in favour of the bowler.
Shafiq continued to bat beautifully and found an unlikely ally in Yasir Shah, who made 26 in a crucial stand of 84. That partnership ensured Pakistan would not be blown away for under 200, which had looked likely.
The second new ball prompted a tumble of wickets and saw the tourists make just 240.
With consistent pace and bounce on offer and no appreciable seam movement, that total looks well below par.