Australian Test debutant Aaron Finch full of praise for Pakistan's Bilal Asif

Alex Broun 9/10/2018
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Aaron Finch on his way to his maiden Test fifty.

Australian Test debutant Aaron Finch said the Aussie batsmen prepared thoroughly for facing 33-year-old Pakistan debutant Bilal Asif but in the end all their preparation came to nothing on day three of the First Test in Dubai.

After Finch and fellow opener Usman Khawaja laid a great platform for the Australian innings with an opening stand of 140, Asif skittled the Aussie bats to take six wickets for 36 as Australia were rolled for just 202.

“There was a lot of video we watched,” said Finch, 31, after stumps. “We did a lot of research but watching it on a computer screen is very different to being out in a Test match environment facing him.”

“He’s very tall, gets over the top, and puts a lot of revs on the ball which was a challenge to start with and I think that he was very accurate as well.”

 Out - Aaron Finch fails to keep his drive down and is caught by Asad Shafiq


Out – Aaron Finch fails to keep his drive down and is caught by Asad Shafiq

The key factor between Asif and fellow spinner Yasir Shah, who went wicketless, according to Finch was bounce.

“The difference between him (Asif) today was just the bounce,” the Australian said.

“He didn’t give us anything off the back foot which was probably the easiest to score on a wicket like that so it just felt like it was just his accuracy and his bounce that was probably the difference over all.”

“The bounce that Bilal was getting with the old ball was extraordinary. He bowled quality today and we’re going to have to come up with some quality plans in the second innings.”

Finch also paid credit to the overall Pakistan attack and how they were able to apply pressure just when Australia were getting on top.

“They squeezed hard for probably a 10-over period” explained Finch.

“The way that they finished before lunch – that twenty minutes before lunch and twenty minutes after lunch – was some real quality bowling.”

“They set some straight fields, they bowled straight with a little bit of reverse swing at one end and spin at the other. It was tough going, it was a real grind and credit to them.”

“As you know in the sub-continent on slow wickets like this the game flows.

“You can go through forty minutes of no runs and then the runs flow for fifteen minutes and they bring it back together.

“I thought that we were just about through that (tough period). So that was my bad for getting out right then when we were probably coming to the end of that little period and not going on and getting through it.”

In the end Finch was dismissed for a well-made 62 (off 161 balls) not by Asif but by paceman Mohammad Abbas, failing to get over an on-drive which was snapped up by Asad Shafiq at short mid-on.

Despite the collapse, Finch still believes Australia can get a positive result in the match.

“We’ve practiced hard and it was just unfortunate that didn’t show (today)” he said. “All the hard work we’ve done in the lead up.

“But we’re still really positive that we can come out and fight really hard in the back half of this game.

“Pakistan bowled beautifully (today). They bowled extremely well and put us under a lot of pressure.

“Once you get new batters at the crease in these conditions it can be really really tough. It’s something we’ve got to work on but I’m sure in the second innings we’ll fight as hard as we can.”

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Meet Marnus Labuschagne - the South African born 'heartbeat' of new-look Australia

Alex Broun 8/10/2018
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Marnus Labuschagne celebrates his first test wicket.

He has been described as the “heartbeat” of Justin Langer’s new look team and 24-year-old debutant Marnus Labuschagne certainly lived up to that tag on day two of the first Test between Australia and Pakistan in Dubai.

Pakistan were working their way to a massive first innings total on Monday when the Queenslander struck with a quick one two in just three overs.

Firstly, he had Asad Shafiq caught behind on 80 with his energetic leg-spin then he produced a sharp run out to dismiss Babar Azam 18 balls later.

But Labuschagne (pronounced ‘La-boo-shane’) did not even expect to be playing in this Test, with Matt Renshaw expected to fill the No6 batting berth.

But all that changed when Renshaw was hit in the helmet fielding at short leg against Pakistan A and Labuschagne was given his chance as his replacement in that game.

A fluid 39 not out and some lively overs of leg spin convinced the Australian selectors he should be given his chance – and the South African born youngster has grabbed it with both hands.

“I’m just happy I was able to contribute out there in some way,” said a beaming Labuschagne after the day’s play. “We fought really well for two days there and (I just wanted to do) anything to contribute to the team.”

“Obviously with the ball first, it was great to get the wicket but mainly just to do the best for the team and find a way for us to keep getting wickets.”

Even with Labuschagne’s heroics Pakistan still managed to compile 482 and the Aussies will have a challenge to put up a similar first innings total especially with Yasir Shah set to work his magic over the next day or so.

But Labuschagne is upbeat.

“Look the wickets pretty good,” he said. “It’s deteriorated a little bit but I think it will hold together pretty well and I think if we can put a good batting performance on the board, which I’m sure we will, it will put us in very good stead for that third innings.”

Asked about how the Australians maintained their energy through the nearly two full days in the field, Labuschagne revealed: “On wickets that are like this, quite flat wickets, it’s just about being patient and trying to keep the energy up in the field to make sure we’re ready for when there is a small chance coming.

“Just those small opportunities to change the momentum of the game on slower days like today.”

Thanks to Labuschagne the Aussies certainly took those opportunities and it sets up an intriguing three days of cricket ahead.

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Australia must take a leaf out of Pakistan's book as hosts get selection right

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Hafeez (l) was picked because of his UAE record and ability to bowl off-spin.

No matter how good or bad things are, poor planning for the next venture is almost guaranteed to end in failure.

In a cricketing context, failure to prepare well ahead of a major assignment and not picking the most ‘appropriate’ players makes the task a lot more difficult than it should be.

Just take a look at India in England and Pakistan in the Asia Cup. The Indians had just one curtailed warm-up match before the five Test series and took a five-day leave before the opening match.

They did not have two main fast bowlers – Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah – available for vast parts of the series and compounded their problems by going in with one spinner short in the first Test in Birmingham, one spinner extra on a green top at Lord’s and an injured spinner –Ravi Ashwin – in the fourth match in Southampton. In a low-scoring Test series, India lost 4-1 and we now know why.

Pakistan went into the Asia Cup in the UAE with six fast bowling options. Having played in the UAE for a decade, they should have known that you need spinners to make an impact. As expected, the wicket in Dubai became slower as the tournament wore on and while India ended up picking four proper spinning options, Pakistan had two and a half at best.

It was one of the main reasons, apart from poor form of opener Fakhar Zaman and pace spearheads Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali, for their debacle.

Team selection was in the spotlight during the first Test between Pakistan and Australia in Dubai. The men in green learnt their lessons from the Asia Cup and went in with tried-and-tested and experienced players for the series opener.

There was no place in the squad/playing XI for Asia Cup flops like Amir, Ali and Zaman. Veteran all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez was brought in to play his first Test in two years after hitting top form in the domestic circuit. Left-arm fast bowler Wahab Riaz was selected ahead of Mir Hamza.

Hafeez is a master of Asian conditions and duly scored his fourth Test ton in the UAE. Wahab has bowled his heart out in these parts – 25 wickets in eight Tests at an average of 30 – and was clearly a better option than Amir in UAE – seven wickets in four Tests at 56.

Compare that to what the Aussies did and you understand why Pakistan are in control of the opening match. Australia went in with three debutants in the absence of the banned Steve Smith and David Warner and injured pacers Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.

They did have the option of picking experienced off-spinning all-rounder Glenn Maxwell in the squad – but they didn’t.

Maxwell was not selected despite being in great red-ball form.

Maxwell was not selected despite being in great red-ball form.

Maxwell was not selected for the UAE tour despite registering the best Sheffield Shield campaign of his career – 707 runs at an average of 50 – last season while being one of only two players in contention with a Test century in Asia under their belt.

Not only was Maxwell overlooked, the reason behind it was comically bizarre as coach Justin Langer got his maths completely wrong when explaining the decision.

“Glenn Maxwell is 30 years old and everything above A-grade cricket he’s scored 17 hundreds,” Langer had said. “I’ll put that in perspective for you, Steve Smith has scored 79 hundreds and David Warner’s scored 88. Travis Head, for example, is six years younger than Maxwell and he’s got 15 hundreds and white or red ball, he’s a developing cricketer, he’s a terrific young bloke, he’s a captain of South Australia, has been for three years and incredibly impressive.”

Langer added up all centuries on the stats page, making the childish mistake of adding international and individual format centuries even through it is well known that the former is included in the latter. Even the fact that Maxwell bowls excellent off spin didn’t come to his aid.

Australia don’t have a single recognised wrist spinner in the team. That decision came to haunt them as left-arm spinner Jon Holland was carted for 126 runs from 29 overs at more than four an over in Dubai while debutant batsman and part-time leggie Marnus Labuschagne was forced to roll his arm over.
Someone like leg-spinner Adam Zampa would have been a better option as he has extensive experience of Asian conditions, albeit in limited overs cricket.

Any other wrist spinner – experienced or otherwise – would have been a good choice as all Test teams try to include at least one wrist spinner. India played the first Test in Rajkot against the West Indies with three spinners; wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav as the third option.

There is a lot more cricket left to be played in the Dubai Test and the second match in Abu Dhabi. But the Aussies have done themselves no favour with their selections while Pakistan have done the basics right by picking the right personnel according to the condition and opposition – Hafeez was selected because he could bowl off-spin to Australia’s three lefties in the top order.

Sometimes it’s best to keep it simple.

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