Azhar followed Imam’s lead by bringing up triple figures and kissing the turf at Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, before accelerating beyond the opener’s score.
He departed for a terrific 185, caught at backward point off Marnus Labuschagne after attempting a reverse sweep.
Their respective hundreds sent a stark reminder to the tourists that Pakistan mean business and won’t wilt under pressure like England did, with unsurprising regularity, during the home summer.
Babar Azam hit some crisp cover drives before a direct hit run out from Marnus Labuschagne ended the Pakistan captain’s innings on 36. It was a rare highlight for an Australian team not used to fielding for more than 150 overs.
At stumps on day one, Australia’s interim coach Andrew McDonald implored critics to judge the selectors’ decision to pick just one specialist spinner only after five days of cricket had been completed.
Australia’s fast bowlers barely fired a shot, with the decision to play one specialist spinner looking more and more questionable, with the benefit of hindsight.
Earlier, Australia were left kicking themselves after failing to review a caught behind.
With Imam on 143, Nathan Lyon sent down a lovely off-break to the opener. There was a faint noise just before the ball cushioned into Alex Carey’s gloves but the Australians decided not to go upstairs.
Snicko showed a small spike, in what was a cruel blow for the tourists, whose aggressive approach early on day two did not go completely to plan. Carey also dropped Mohammad Rizwan on zero off Lyon, with the score at 3-419. The lack of concentration won’t keep his critics at bay.
Australia were energetic early, particularly Cummins during an opening spell in which he sent down a barrage of short-pitched deliveries.
Mitchell Starc kept bending his back in the first two sessions without reward. The left-armer sent down a vicious bouncer in his 19th over that put Azhar, six runs shy of a century, flat on his back.
Australia’s opening quick nearly found an edge next ball, courtesy of a loose shot from Azhar, who looked like he had lunch on his mind after batting in four different sessions.
Pakistan surged past the 269 total made by the team of 1998 against Australia, who lost by an innings to Mark Taylor’s side in the first Test of the last series held between the nations in Pakistan 24 years ago.
Before play, Cummins spoke of the need to not only try and take wickets but limit the damage if Pakistan chose to up the tempo from second gear to fourth or fifth.
“It’s finding that balance between trying to dry up the scoreboard and push for wickets,” Cummins said. “There wasn’t a lot of spin or pace or much on offer yesterday for us bowlers. We’ve got to try and find a way. We’ve got to try and be creative but also hold as well.”
Imam raised his bat 25 minutes before the tea break, posting a maiden Test 150, before doubling his previous highest Test knock of 76.
The Australians spoke at length before the series about how excited they were to arrive in Pakistan for such a historic series. But two days in, the harsh reality of the task ahead has dawned on them. The team of 1998 grinded out a 1-0 victory in a three-Test series and, on the early evidence of this match, on a pitch that is barely breaking up, hopes of victory are slipping through Australia’s fingers.
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