Pakistan veteran batsman Mohammad Hafeez hit a memorable Test century on his comeback to the team after staining out of the red-ball side for more than two years.
Things had come to a boil when Hafeez didn’t make the cut for the ODI team for the recently concluded Asia Cup. The miffed all-rounder was on the verge of making a major announcement, believed to be an abrupt retirement, but was convinced to change his mind after getting assurances from the PCB, among others.
Looking back at that emotional day early last month, Hafeez said he is glad he didn’t take any drastic decisions as he basked in the glow of his 10th Test ton against Australia which helped Pakistan finish day one on 255-3 in Dubai.
“I was stopped from taking certain drastic steps after I was not selected for Asia Cup. Mentally I was not ready for that. I could have taken some steps. I was stopped by my wife and also Shoaib Akhtar, who called me,” Hafeez revealed on Sunday.
“I was extremely disturbed at that time. But I feel this is the best plan. Maybe this is where I was supposed to make a comeback.”
Luckily for Hafeez, Pakistan flopped at the Asia Cup and saw Fakhar Zaman and Sarfraz Ahmed lose form with the bat. That hastened Hafeez’s comeback into the Test arena.
“I was looking forward to the challenge. I was the 18th member announced by the management (for Australia Tests). I was playing domestic cricket, I scored good runs. I was expecting to come back.”
But that’s in the past now. Right now, Pakistan are three down for just over 250 on a pitch starting to offer reverse swing and turn. The 37-year-old opener said the team is looking at another 200 runs.
“The pitch was getting slow. There was more moisture on it. We managed it very well. Imam batted very well and gave me confidence. We are still happy as a team. We have 250 on board. If we manage to score 200 more, we will have a better chance to bowl with our spinners. Yasir Shah is our match winner in these conditions. We back ourselves to score 450 in first innings and put pressure on Australian batsmen.”
Siddle proud of effort
While Hafeez is happy with the overall state of the match, Australia fast bowler Peter Siddle is proud of the way in which his team fought back in the final session after Pakistan took tea at 199-0.
“Credit to Pakistan for putting us under pressure in first two sessions. Credit has to go to us after the break. To go in at tea at none for 200 and finish with three for 50 in the third session, it gives us a good platform,” Siddle said.
“The wicket didn’t offer a lot. We knew we had to just keep grinding. As we saw this evening, once the ball started reversing we made some inroads.”
Batting first in pristine batting conditions, returning batsman Mohammad Hafeez hit his 10th Test century, finishing on 126, while fellow opener Imam-ul-Haq made his best score of 76 as Sarfraz Ahmed’s openers added 205.
Australia went in with three debutants in their first Test series since the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in March. However, while the ball did all sorts in South Africa, in the UAE it did nothing for them in the first two sessions.
The Aussies went in with just two seam bowling options in Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle and had to soon resort to the part-time leg spin of debutant Marnus Labuschagne. They gained some reverse swing towards the end of the day’s play to lift their morale on a tough Day One in Dubai.
Hafeez back in the mix – Pakistan all-rounder Hafeez had found himself out of contention Tests and ODIs, not featuring in Tests since 2016 and getting dropped from the ODI side for the Asia Cup. It seemed like the end of the road. But a good run in first-class cricket, which included a double ton, and the simultaneous loss of form of opener Fakhar Zaman and skipper Sarfraz in the Asia Cup expedited his return.
On the first day of his Test return, Hafeez batted as if he had never left. He kept pushing the scoring rate and was not afraid to take his chances. First innings total is critical in UAE and the 37-year-old gave Pakistan a big edge with his 10th Test ton.
Starc’s persistence – It is not easy being a genuine fast bowler in such conditions. Temperatures remained around 37 degree Celsius and the pitch had next to no pace or carry. Even the ball didn’t get scuffed up enough for it to reverse in the first two sessions. But Mitchell Starc ran in all day and tried to get the ball to bend from round the wicket. He got numerous edges off Hafeez’s bat but the ball either died down or found the tiniest of gaps behind square. It was a heroic effort nonetheless.
Australia’s selection – Granted, Australia are without the banned Steve Smith and David Warner while pacers Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood are still nursing injuries. But even so, playing a Test on a placid UAE wicket without a recognised wrist spinner was a poor move. Lyon needed some support and Jon Holland simply didn’t offer enough on a Day One pitch. A proper wrist spinner would have been a better option and the Aussies looked one bowler short.
The crowd – It was a working day in the UAE and Test cricket anyhow doesn’t attract a lot of people in most countries. But just days after a thrilling 50-over Asia Cup in the UAE, reality hit home. Barely 200 people turned up for the match and since there won’t be any weekend during the match, the stadium is likely to remain almost empty. Not a good advertisement for Test cricket.
44.5 Hafeez dropped – Opener Hafeez was batting on 74 when he charged at Holland and sliced the ball down the ground where a running Mitchell Marsh covered good ground but mistimed his jump to grass the opportunity. Hafeez went on to score 52 more runs and put Pakistan in total control.
62.6 Lyon gets Imam – Off-spinner Lyon was getting some turn but it was slow. He was still the best bowler on show and he forced the left-hander to late cut a quickish delivery to catch the edge behind. The 205-run opening stand was finally broken.
69.3 Reverse swing appears – Siddle was getting the ball to move a long way and it was clearly reversing towards the end of the day’s play. Hafeez first almost chopped one on before falling lbw to an in-swinger.
KEY TURNING POINT
Pakistan winning the toss
Batting first is so important on slow pitches. The ball hardly does anything on the opening day and putting up a big total in the first outing is important. Sarfraz did his job perfectly, giving his openers a chance to pile on the runs. It’s as if the Asia Cup didn’t happen.
Yes the hosts had a 200-run opening stand but they scored at less than three an over in the day’s play. The openers set the stage for a big reply from Pakistan’s batsmen but once they fell in succession, the scoring rate dipped as Australia’s bowlers found reverse, spin and rhythm. A good effort anyhow.
Nothing went their way for the first two sessions as Australia failed to pick up a wicket. But the effort was always there. And once the ball started to reverse in the final session, they turned on the screws to keep the Baggy Greens in the hunt. Still a chance of restricting Pakistan to under 350.
Pakistan veteran batsman Mohammad Hafeez was playing his first Test in more than two years. Despite being part of the Pakistan set-up in last year’s Champions Trophy win, he found himself slowly phased out of all teams as the management went for youth.
Continued question marks over his bowling action made him an unattractive option. He wasn’t given a chance in the Zimbabwe ODIs and didn’t feature in the Asia Cup in the UAE.
But a disastrous Asia Cup campaign for Pakistan and loss of form of key batsmen like Fakhar Zaman and captain Sarfraz Ahmed saw the 37-year-old make a comeback to the Test team, more so because he could bowl off-spin again to the plethora of left-handed batsmen in the Aussie line-up.
But on the opening day of the first Test in Dubai, Hafeez showed his batting is still his forte. Teaming up with youngster Imam-ul-Haq, the right-handed batsman hit a sublime century (126) against a dispirited Australian attack, putting the men in green in total control.
BALLS FACED: 208
STRIKE RATE: 60.5
The wicket was flat and Australia were without frontline quick bowlers Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. But you still have to score the runs and Hafeez hardly put a foot wrong as he batted with total ease from the start. He did not let Australian spinners Nathan Lyon and Jon Holland settle, forcing Tim Paine to constantly shuffle his bowlers. A master of the conditions.
Hafeez didn’t let the scoreboard slow down at any moment. All the batsmen needed to do was find the gaps as the ball neither spun nor did it offer reverse swing on the opening day. He swept off-spinner Lyon almost habitually and made up for the slow batting of Imam, who was on 65 from 167 balls when Hafeez reached three figures from 172 deliveries.
The opener lost his focus when part-timer and debutant Marnus Labuschagne came on to bowl in the 44th over. He first lofted left-arm spinner Holland towards long-off where Mitchell Marsh spilled a tough but catchable chance. Then in the next over off Labuschagne, Hafeez tried to loft the leggie only to get a leading edge that landed safely in the off-side.
The conditions were perfect for batting but you still have to put bat to ball and score the runs. Hafeez looked at ease, which is understandable as he is fresh off a double century in first-class cricket in Pakistan. The men in green needed to make a statement with the bat after their Asia Cup debacle and their proven performer delivered straightaway.