Tea Pakistan 199 for 0 (Hafeez 113*, Imam 75*) v Australia
Pakistan already settled into a formidable position by the first evening on a flat Dubai surface, with both openers still around 61 overs into the day. Mohammad Hafeez, recalled after two years out of the Test side, marked the occasion with his 10th Test century. Imam-ul-Haq, who looked more comfortable of the two, approached a hundred of his own. At tea, Pakistan were 199 for 0.
Hafeez was instrumental in pushing the run rate up and ensuring the Australians were always on the back foot. He regularly forced the bowlers to adjust their lines and coaxed Tim Paine into introducing spin as early as the ninth over. He wasn’t afraid to come a long way down the track against spin while looking in control of his shots.
The run rate picked up after lunch as the openers shook off any nerves or fears they might have had about the pitch or the Australian attack. Hafeez also went after Nathan Lyon, who was the most economical bowler for Australia in the first session. There was a period, midway through, when he lost his focus, playing a series of false shots, displaying the concentration lapses that have prevented him taking the next step in his career and becoming the batsman he truly could have been. While the sun beat down, lady luck, too, was smiling at him, as a lofted cover drive off Jon Holland was put down at long-off.
Imam’s innings, meanwhile, was almost chanceless. He appears to be mentally ready for the grind of Test cricket in his inhospitable weather. His footwork against the spin, in particular, was excellent, moving back and forward to the rhythm of where the ball pitched with the deft expertise of a tap dancer. It wasn’t just in service of defensive strokes however, with a couple of charges down the pitch against Holland earning him the only two sixes of the day so far.
In the first hour after lunch, Pakistan were running away with the score, moving at four per over, but Australia regrouped after the drinks break. It wasn’t enough to get Australia a wicket, with Pakistan making history of sorts already; never before have Australia failed to get a wicket in the first 55 overs of a Test match that has data for fall of wickets. But the return of Starc immediately came with an increased intensity, he was, as before, outstanding again, keeping his pace up in the extreme heat and regularly threatening Hafeez’s outside edge with subtle outswing.
In the morning session, Pakistan had demonstrated total control over the spinners, while, as in the afternoon, Starc was the only bowler who threatened to take wickets. On a Dubai surface that couldn’t have been more suited to batting, Sarfraz Ahmed elected to bat after Paine called wrong.
There wasn’t enough deviation for the slower bowlers in the first session, making it a game of patience and temperament. While Lyon settled into his rhythm early, Holland struggled after being repeatedly picked off by Imam and Hafeez.
Pakistan were good, but not quite perfect in this session, and it would be folly to call this their day already. However, time is running out for the visitors to be able to draw some satisfaction from a day that has been every bit as draining as they would have been prepared for.