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From Bazball to Snoozeball: Aussies toil despite monster first-innings total as gritty Pakistan fight back with the bat

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15th December, 2023
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A late Mitchell Starc strike has ensured Australia remain in a position of strength after the second day of the first Test, but a defiant Pakistan batting performance means the hosts will need to work hard for victory in Perth.

After a freewheeling Mitchell Marsh struck a quickfire 90 to lift Australia’s total to 487 despite a tireless six-wicket haul from promising quick Aamer Jamal, the tourists showed plenty of character to grit their way to 2/132 at the close, with opener Imam-ul-Haq negotiating 136 balls to reach stumps unbeaten on 38.

However, captain Shan Masood wasn’t so lucky, edging Mitchell Starc behind within sight of the end of the day; though umpire Richard Illingworth gave him not out, Australia knew they had their man, with a Pat Cummins review showing a hefty snick on Ultra-Edge.

Nevertheless, with first Abdullah Shafique (43) and then Masood (30) digging in alongside Imam, and nightwatchman Khurram Shahzad successfully surviving through to stumps, Pakistan have started their innings well with former captain and best batter Babar Azam still waiting in the wings, though Australia’s first innings total is still some way off.

For all England’s famed Bazball approach did to furrow Australian brows in the Ashes earlier this year, just once all series were they forced to bowl more than 82 overs: 53 of them for just two wickets to end Day 2 will surely have been nearly as frustrating for Cummins and his team, and just as tiring.

Having made regular inroads on Day 1, Pakistan would have been after a quick end to Australia’s innings after they resumed on 5/346 to begin Day 2.

However, with Marsh and Carey keen to punish anything loose – the Western Australian thrice boshing cover drives in a single Faheem Ashraf over – keeping the scoreboard in check remained an issue for Masood, with strike bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi lacking bite.

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It took an early ball of the summer contender to break the stand at 90: Jamal finding wicked seam movement angling into the left-handed Carey and taking off stump with an all-but-unplayable peach.

Bringing up 50 off 66 balls, the in-form Marsh had no interest in slowing down, Jamal’s feast-or-famine innings continuing as a 17-run over featuring a monster Marsh six over mid-wicket was soon followed by disturbing Starc’s furniture with another sharp cutter.

As it turned out, the lunch break would do what Pakistan’s bowlers couldn’t: having looked unperturbed all morning to cruise to 90, Marsh saw his middle stump knocked back on the first ball of the second session, another first-gamer in Khurram Shahzad zipping through the most ambitious of drives.

The tail provided scant resistance to add just 11 more runs once the hometown hero fell: Cummins granted Jamal a well-deserved debut five-wicket haul with an edge to slip, with Lyon producing a carbon copy dismissal for his sixth.

Despite the late collapse, Jamal’s haul would have attracted the interest of Australia’s seamers, with the pitch appearing to offer more for bowlers than Day 1.

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Pakistan’s top order would swiftly disabuse them of that notion: while at no point could Shafique and Imam be said to be on top of the Aussie pace attack, the pair proved as difficult to dismiss as they were during the 2022 series between these two teams on their own shores.

While both had their nervous moments, Shafique twice having his outside edge beaten by Hazlewood and Imam wearing a sharp short ball to the gloves from Starc, even half-chances were few and far between.

Smith failed to get a hand on a tough catch at slip off Lyon, Cummins somehow missed all three stumps with a prodigious nip-backer that cut Shafique in half on the stroke of tea, and most bizarrely of all, Shafique was nearly run out when Carey, having received a pass from Marnus Labuschagne at short leg, flicked the bails with the opener’s foot out, but failed to dislodge them.

Throughout it all, the opening partnership remained intact: 43 at tea and past 50 not long after, Shafique celebrating with a gorgeous on drive to a Hazlewood delivery that did little to deserve such treatment.

It took until the 37th over for the breakthrough to arrive: looking to take the game to Lyon by advancing down the pitch, Shafique was beaten in flight by the wily off-spinner and could only succeed in clipping straight to David Warner at leg slip.

David Warner celebrates taking a catch to dismiss Abdullah Shafique.

David Warner celebrates taking a catch to dismiss Abdullah Shafique. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

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In a more expansive mood than his openers, Masood seemed keen to mark his first Test as captain with some bold strokeplay, aggressively forcing Lyon wide of mid-on second ball and only upping the ante from there.

Hitting Hazlewood for boundaries through square and straight, Masood raced to 19 off just 15 balls – Imam, by comparison, had 23 from 104 – with only a hairy moment between the wickets in which the captain only just beat Warner’s throw to Carey home cause for concern.

Their partnership had swelled to 49 before Starc struck late in the day: a booming Masood drive only caught the outside edge through to Carey, with Illingworth’s miss of a sizeable outside edge redeemed by the DRS.

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The captain’s fall couldn’t dent an excellent rearguard effort from Pakistan’s top order, but it will definitely sting the tourists heading into Day 3, though Khurram managed to hold out Starc and Hail Mary last-over-taker Travis Head to reach stumps.

For Australia, notwithstanding a still-substantial 355-run lead, the hope will be to be more incisive with the ball to prevent the tourists grinding their way back into the contest.

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