The Australian sporting public like nothing more than a comeback. A team or a player that shows ticker, heart, fighting spirit.
In the Aussie lexicon there is no higher praise then being described as “gritty”.
And that is exactly what captain Tim Paine and his new look Baggy Greens showed in the bucket load during the drawn First Test against Pakistan in Dubai, which finished on Thursday.
A battling performance that has already been christened – The Stand in the Sand.
Written off as they began the fourth innings chasing an unlikely victory target of 462, the Australians dug in on a fast deteriorating pitch and somehow survived 140 overs from the wily Pakistan attack, including spin maestro Yasir Shah and impressive debutant Bilal Asif.
Australia's first-Test hero Usman Khawaja praised for his training regimen and willingness to step up as a senior player: https://t.co/HovFcaLzUp— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) October 12, 2018
Even better were the players who carried the brunt of the survival story.
In-and-out batsman Usman Khawaja, re-cast as an opener due to the suspension of regular openers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, finally wiped away any questions about his test credentials with a stunning match return of 226, inclusive of a game high 141 off 302 balls in the fourth innings.
The performance took him into the top ten of the ICC Test batting rankings for the first time in his 34-Test career.
Debutant Travis Head also rose to the challenge in the second dig. After being dismissed for a nine-ball duck in his first innings, the 24-year-old South Australian defied the Pakistan attack for over three hours as he compiled a fighting 72, as part of a fourth-wicket partnership with Khawaja worth 132.
A mention also has to be made of another debutant, Aaron Finch, who showed his mettle in the red-ball game with scores of 62 and 49, after starring for many years in white-ball cricket.
But perhaps most surprising of all was the oft-derided “stand-in” captain Paine who more than anybody made sure Australia held on for the draw, batting for nearly four hours on the final day to compile a patient 61 off 194 balls.
There are very few who would have believed the 33-year-old Tasmanian, in just his 14th Test, was capable of that prior to the match.
Upon completing his batting masterpiece, the second-longest fourth innings in the history of all Tests, Usman Khawaja declared it proof that he was as hard a worker as anyone https://t.co/25Kjp6hXyu #PAKvAUS pic.twitter.com/oHcsxQNre2— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) October 12, 2018
Together he and Nathan Lyon, a player too who had to battle to re-establish himself in the Test arena, survived the last tension-filled 12 overs in a result that is being favourably compared to Hobart 1999.
Aussie boss Justin Langer, in just his first Test as head coach, knows a lot about backs-to-the-wall performances like his team showed in the UAE, as it was he and wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist who thwarted the Pakistan team 19 years ago.
After being 126-5, Langer (127) and Gilchrist (149no) guided Australia to victory as they finished 369-6 in that famous Tasmania Test.
That effort has always been a key part of the Langer story, as Dubai will now be a part of Paine, Khawaja, and Head’s.
Langer revealed that he had spoken of that performance to the team on the morning of day five.
“I actually talked about that Test match to the boys before the game,” Langer explained.
“I remember that Test match because it was against Pakistan obviously and there was personal involvement. It was an important game for individuals but more importantly the team.
“We felt if we could win from there we could win from anywhere. For us to draw from where we’ve been throughout (the Dubai) game that’s going to be a huge confidence booster to help us build this team
“I’ve got no doubt for this young team and for a very young captain, that’s a booster for them. Never underestimate how victories like that, even though it was a draw, are significant for building a team.”
As dramatic as day five in Dubai was, it means nothing unless the team now go on to perform well in Abu Dhabi.
If the Aussies are beaten in four days in the Second Test, the Stand in the Sand will be quickly forgotten.
But if it is anything like Hobart 1999, the result can be used to propel the team on to greater heights (that Aussie team went on to win 16 straight Tests). Day five in the Emirates might be seen as the moment a new Australian team was forged.
It all comes down to Abu Dhabi and the Test which begins on Tuesday, where we will discover whether the gritty effort in Dubai was indeed a watershed for a fledgling side or another false dawn.
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