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Australian bats pass first significant Pakistan test


Warner’s exit, misreading the length of Sajid Khan and being bowled as the ball skidded past his attempted cut shot, signalled a more difficult passage for batting, even if the run rate did not dip too much.

It would have been one of the great moments in Australian cricket, even amid the pall cast by the deaths of Rod Marsh and Shane Warne, had Khawaja gone on from there to a century and more in his first Test innings in the land of his birth.

But his slight misjudgment of the right ball to play another fruitful reverse sweep brought a glove to short leg and, momentarily, a familiar sinking feeling for watchers of Australian teams in these parts.

Sensing the opportunity, Babar Azam immediately called back Shaheen to have a dash at Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne. Hearteningly, the Australian response took after Khawaja’s innings, demonstrating the right balance between attack and defence to keep the scoreboard moving without taking undue risk.

In fairness, the pitch remained excellent for batting. At the same time, Pakistan’s attack lacked the edge once provided by Yasir Shah. Sajid and the left-arm spinner Nauman Ali both posed plentiful questions, but at no stage did the Australians become pressured enough to look claustrophobic.

But recent Australian history in this region of the world has shown that even on previously docile surfaces, defensive shots can be loose, shot selections can be poor, and innings can collapse.

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Labuschagne had made much of his preparation for the series with a mat designed to replicate the variation in balls that spin and bounce and others that skid through. Smith and the rest of the Australia batting order had prepared on pitches prepared to take turn in Melbourne before departure.

That well-directed preparation appeared to have paid off in the way that Smith and Labuschagne ensured that, for once, Australia did not squander the start provided by their openers against Pakistan away from home. As such, it was the first significant test passed by the Australian batting lineup in this series, in a fashion outlined by Pat Cummins on arrival.

“Over here the conditions can be quite flat, at times you can have periods of the game where it’s not moving very fast and then other times it can speed up, especially late in the game,” he said. “Batting or bowling, it’s making sure we’re in control of the tempo, sticking at it.”

More will be needed over the remaining 12 days of Test cricket to claim the Benaud-Qadir Trophy, but this was a refreshing change to the recent trend. Having lost the toss and surrendered a large first innings, Cummins’ top order have stood up where predecessors slipped over.

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