Mohammad Abbas took three wickets without conceding a run as Pakistan gained the upper hand in the first Test against Australia in Dubai.
Australia made a strong start in the chase of a mammoth 462-run target. Openers Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja continued from where they had left of in the first innings, adding 87 for the first wicket on day four after adding 142 in the opening essay. But Abbas took the scalps of Finch, Shaun and Mitchell Marsh with the score on 87 to break Australia’s back.
The visitors have a mountain to climb as they went to stumps on 136-3.
Pakistan had earlier declared their second inning on 181-6 right after lunch. Opener Imam-ul-Haq made 48 while middle order batsman Asad Shafiq hit 41 from 56 balls as Sarfraz Ahmed looked to give Australia a tough target while providing his bowlers enough time to take 10 wickets.
Here we take stock of what happened on day four.
Aussie openers – Khawaja and Finch at the top of the order have looked unflappable. Their backfoot play against the spinners was particularly impressive. Leg-spinner Yasir Shah was turning the ball a mile from the rough while bowling from round the stumps but Khawaja negotiated it admirably, playing late and with soft hands.
Abbas’ control – While the spotlight was on Pakistan’s debutant off-spinner Bilal Asif and his six-wicket haul, it’s veteran seamer Mohammad Abbas who has proven to be the most difficult to negotiate. His nagging line and late movement as the ball got older was almost impossible to negotiate as he bowled stumps to stumps to right-handers to bring lbw into play. He first got one to dip into Aaron finch to have the batsman lbw before forcing Shaun to poke outside off to be caught behind. A full ball which stayed low had Mitchell lbw as the Aussies went from 87-0 to 87-3.
Mitchell Marsh’s forgettable match – The Aussie all-rounder was appointed one of two new vice-captains of the Test team. One of the reasons given was his ‘lineage’. Unfortunately, Mitchell had a horrible match in Dubai. He bowled just 10 overs in the first innings and none in the second and his returns with the bat were similarly poor. He managed just 12 in the first outing before falling lbw for a duck in the second.
Shah wicketless –In a match with Pakistan on top, leg-spinner Yasir is yet to pick up a wicket. On a pitch with more than enough purchase for the slow bowlers, the leggie failed to find a scalp in 28 overs in the first innings and didn’t pick up a wicket on Wednesday. The pressure will be on Shah to make an impact as his indifferent display will put pressure on other bowlers to attack.
Aussie spinners take over – Pakistan’s second innings was all about scoring runs as quickly as possible. Captain Tim Paine realised that and decided not to try anything fancy with the quick bowlers as they could have leaked extra runs. Out of the 57.5 overs that Pakistan played, offie Nathan Lyon delivered 25.5 and left-arm spinner Jon Holland 20. That forced Pakistan to bat after lunch and it gave the visitors that extra cushion.
29.4 overs Abbas removes Finch– Aussie openers made a strong start again, adding 87. But the hosts knew it was a matter of just one wicket and the floodgates would open. Seamer Abbas, who had impressed thoroughly with his four wicket haul in the first innings, returned to sneak one through the defence of Finch to have the opener lbw.
31.4 overs Abbas removes Mitchell – The middle order bat needed to make a statement but was well beaten by one that darted in late and stayed low to be out leg before. Australia lost three wickets for the same score of 87 and the momentum with it.
KEY TURNING POINT
Decision to review Mitchell call
Mitchell was given not out to a low one from Abbas but Sarfraz decided to review as it looked adjacent. The bat and pad were close but replayed showed the ball hit the pad first. The ball was hitting the stumps and the decision was overturned.
A superb effort from Pakistan to stay positive despite another solid opening stand from the Australian openers. The perseverance of all bowlers, including Abbas, was exceptional and it was mainly down to experienced members in the team knowing it was just about being patient.
The visitors tried their best. Their spinners bowled a bulk of the overs and which forced Pakistan to bat after lunch. Then their openers pit their heads down and negotiated whatever was thrown at them. Take Abbas’s brilliance out of the equation and Australia did very well against all bowlers.
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