The first day in Dubai was an old-fashioned one, and as Ben Jones points out, it was a day where the old dogs came to the fore.
Mohammad Hafeez wasn’t meant to play in this Test. Originally, when this squad was devised, he wasn’t thought to be among the best 17 players in Pakistan, to be in that elite group of cricketers deemed good enough to take on Australia in this series. If that’s the case, then Pakistan will be Test No.1 within 12 months. Because today, The Professor taught the Aussies a lesson.
His century was a textbook example of how to bat in the sweltering climate of the United Arab Emirates, of how to tire opposition bowlers out on a flat, tired looking pitch. His ton included 16.8% attacking shots – only one of his Test centuries have included fewer – an innings where Hafeez ticked along, rarely rising above walking pace, but an innings which would have delighted Sarfraz Ahmed back in the changing room. What was needed in Dubai was patient batting, someone to sap the energy of Australia early on in the piece, and Hafeez did an excellent job.
Because bowling in these conditions is a challenge. Not simply is the pitch non-responsive, but the lack of crowd removes the sense of ebb and flow, of rising and falling drama. The day becomes, in a very tangible sense, just one ball after another.
As a bowler, you have to wait for the outlier. You have to wait all day for the ball which moves, the ball which grips, the ball that bounces. It’s mind-numbing, testing your capacity for patience, your capacity to keep doing the same thing and hoping for a different result.
Peter Siddle knows this. For years he’s made a career, for state, county and country, from hitting his mark over and and over, waiting for the ball to start doing something, waiting for the batsman to make a mistake. Much like Hafeez, the Australian seamer brought all that experience to bear on a day when old-fashioned tempos were in order.
Appropriately for the Dubai surrounding, Siddle bowled dry. An economy rate of just 1.53rpo from his 15 overs is splendid work, a welcome tonic to the new captain Tim Paine. But he wasn’t achieving this by bowling back of a length, trying to keep things tight; indeed, 42% of Siddle’s deliveries pitched fuller than 6m away from the batsman’s stumps, the highest proportion he’s bowled in a Test innings since January 2014. Despite the lack of encouragement from the conditions, the Aussie veteran was willing to pitch the ball up, and wait for the magic to happen. And so it did.
The ball which dismissed Mohammad Hafeez was an outlier. Moving 2.977°, it was the most swing of any ball Hafeez faced. It was the most swing of any ball Siddle had bowled at that point. Only one ball had moved more all day. The benefit of banging away on that full length – without a doubt, the riskier option – meant that when one did swing off the straight, Siddle was in a position to capitalise.
Despite the anticipation that Nathan Lyon could be the key for Australian hopes, he wasn’t able to replicate this patience today. Of his deliveries to the right-hander, 38% of Lyon’s bowling would have hit the stumps; only once in his career has he recorded a higher figure in a Test innings, for innings where he has bowled more than five overs. That’s not where you need to bowl in these conditions – against right-handers, off-spinners average 65.11 pitching in line with the stumps in the UAE, but they average 38.75 pitching wider, in that channel outside off. That’s where Lyon needed to target. Yet with so little spin available for the spinners, Lyon was reluctant to bowl a wider line, and so kept his deliveries quick (over 2kph faster than the last time he toured the UAE) and at the pads. If one did grip, if one did drift or bounce, then he wasn’t setting up to exploit it. He wasn’t bowling with the outlier in mind.
The wicket of Imam-ul-Haq looked like a classic off-spin dismissal, the bowler finding more bounce and deceiving the batsman playing a horizontal bat stroke – but that wasn’t the case. As shown in these beehives, the ball bounced almost exactly as much as you’d expect, the only man culpable for Imam’s wicket being Imam himself.
Australia can go to bed tonight knowing that the wicket of Azhar Ali has given them a sniff. The Pakistan No.3 is dismissed every 134 deliveries in the UAE, comfortably the highest figure on either team – and he’s back in the hutch. If Nathan Lyon can show a bit more guile, and is willing to wait for the magic ball and take his medicine until it arrives, then Paine’s side could still keep Pakistan under 450. At which stage, it’s over to the batsmen.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.