CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde examines two contrasting sessions in Brisbane.
Test cricket is a wonderfully fragile game. It takes hours and hours of hard work to establish a position of ascendency and ultimately days to win matches but they can be lost in a matter of minutes. That is exactly what happened on day one in Brisbane. Pakistan battled through the morning session without losing a wicket, gaining them a precious foothold in the match but after lunch that position was relinquished when Australian brilliance prized the game open before Pakistan’s middle order squandered the platform they had been given.
The morning session was tough, difficult and tense cricket. The Gabba pitch offered Australia’s quicks extreme pace and bounce – contributing to a difficulty rating of 9 out of 10 – making it the toughest conditions for the first morning of a Gabba Test in the CricViz ball-tracking database, which starts in 2007. The Gabba is Australia’s fortress—they are unbeaten here in 30 Tests—and on day one it could scarcely have been more inhospitable to the Pakistanis, who have been brought up on significantly lower and slower pitches back at home.
As Australia got into their work on a hazy Wednesday morning in Brisbane there was some talk that their lengths were too short but this wasn’t borne out in the numbers. In fact they pitched 41% of their deliveries in the attacking full length range – their highest in a session since the opening session of the India series last year. Their lines could have been fractionally straighter at times but generally speaking Australia bowled well and they bowled aggressively.
Pakistan did not fight fire with fire but responded by dousing the flames with cool, level-headed discipline. In the opening session, which spanned 27 overs, Pakistan only played 14 attacking shots. Only three teams in the entirety of 2019 have registered a lower attacking shot percentage in the first session of day one of a Test match than Pakistan’s 8.6%. Australia hammered away outside off stump but Azhar Ali and Shan Masood would not be tempted, leaving with assurance and defending with soft hands. It was excellent and obdurate Test batting.
Australia’s accuracy and the difficulty of conditions was neatly encapsulated by our Expected Runs and Wickets model which estimated that an average Test team facing those deliveries would have scored 87 runs in the morning session but would have lost three wickets. Pakistan’s own brilliance is best summarised by the fact that although they only scored 57 runs they didn’t lose a single wicket. It was the first time ever that Australia had failed to take a wicket in the first session of a Test at The Gabba.
At the interval the scale of Pakistan’s task was put into perspective by WinViz which suggested that their chances of winning had increased from a measly 13% to 22%. They had battled through the toughest period and they had nearly doubled their win probability but they remained little better than a one in five chance.
The fragility of Pakistan’s position was laid bare in a brutal passage of play after lunch. Australia had been good in the morning but in the moments immediately after the break they were sensational. The line – the problem before the interval – was the key. With Pat Cummins from one end and Josh Hazlewood from the other, Australia elevated the percentage of balls on a good line from 55% to 76% in the first 15 minutes of the session. Their average length was in fact 77cm shorter in that passage of play but so relentless was the line that this shorter length actually proved more hostile – with Cummins in particular forcing Masood onto the back foot.
The first to succumb was Masood – rattled by Cummins’ angle from round the wicket he was eventually beaten and caught at second slip. Two balls later Hazlewood had the big scalp when his pressure from the other end was rewarded with the wicket of Azhar, edging to first slip. After two hours of resilience it took just two deliveries to send Pakistan’s WinViz crashing back down to 15% and with two new batsmen at the crease the visitors were suddenly horribly exposed.
The hard work had at least been done though. With the shine worn off the ball and the fresh pitch dealt with Pakistan would still have fancied their chances of preserving their impressive start. It wasn’t to be. While Masood and Azhar can be said to have been got out, the same cannot be said of Haris Sohail and Babar Azam—both caught flashing recklessly outside off stump, and Iftikhar Ahmed—pushing with hard hands at the first ball of a Nathan Lyon spell.
In 39 balls Pakistan had collapsed from 75 for 0 to 79 for 4, their WinViz had plummeted from 23% to just 8% and just like that Pakistan were back to square one and minutes of mayhem had undone hours of hard work.
Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket