Usman Khawaja revealed he went into the final day with the same batting approach as his century helped Australia salvage a thrilling draw in the first Test against Pakistan.
The tourists started the day at 136-3 but Khawaja, 31, was in fine form at Dubai International Cricket Stadium as he struck his seventh Test century. His 141 runs came off 302 deliveries and although he was dismissed by Yasir Shah, the Australians grinded out a deserved draw.
It was Khawaja’s first ton in Asia and the batsman said he would not have been able to get triple figures if he changed his approach at the crease.
“I was batting like any other innings,” he said. “I wasn’t worried whether it was the fourth innings or saving the match. I just wanted to bat because I knew if I went away from batting normally then I was more likely get out to those conditions. Being a left-hander, Yasir Shah was bowling to my right and it was tough, so I just knew I had to play in any normal situation. For me, the best way is to score runs and stay here. We were pretty positive throughout and it was more of a mindset thing and staying positive as these conditions are tough.”
It was Australia’s first Test since the sandpaper scandal that saw Steve Smith, Cameron Bancroft and David Warner suspended. And skipper Tim Paine praised his players for how they pulled off the draw.
“I’m just really proud with the whole group on how they stuck to their plans and kept digging in for what was a great Test innings,” said Paine.
“We always want to play good cricket and we spoke pre-season about showing real patience and it’s one thing to talk about it, but a different matter to do it on the pitch. Full credit to the players as we never lost hope. There were times where we thought it was part of a dream but we dug in.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed described Khawaja’s innings ‘as one of the best he’s seen in the fourth innings’.
“The way he batted and he played a big role in helping them draw the game. Credit goes to him and played good shots and he played really well,” he said.
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.”
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.”
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.
Although primarily a batsman, Marnus Labuschagne took his maiden Test wicket today before he's had a chance to bat.— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) October 8, 2018
He spoke to @GeoffLemonSport at the close of play after another tiring day for Australia. #PAKvAUS pic.twitter.com/F8MykcDUX7
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.