On Australia’s return to Pakistan for the first time in over 24 years, the home side took all the spoils on Day 1 of the historic Rawalpindi Test.
Opener Imam ul-Haq saluted with his maiden Test century, batting through the day as Pakistan reached stumps 1/245, in a commanding position with their engine room to come.
Here are the moments that mattered from Day 1 in Rawalpindi:
Moments silence before a historic match begins to honour a cricketing great.
The cricketing world awoke to the awful news of former Australian great Rod Marsh’s untimely passing on Friday morning. Marsh suffered a heart attack a week ago and had been in an induced coma since the tragic incident in Bundaberg.
Tributes immediately flowed for the great Australian wicketkeeper and longtime administrator across Australian and English cricket, with the loss reverberating around the cricketing world. Leaving a historic day with a somber start.
Prior to the anthems and the start of play, both teams stood side by side and observed a moment’s silence to honour the memory and legacy of Rod Marsh and his contribution to the game of cricket.
After the formalities were complete after Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat on a flat deck, Mitchell Starc was bestowed the privilege of delivering the first ball by an Australian in Pakistan in 24 long years.
Spin introduced early as Lyon sets in for a long day
Pat Cummins waited till the morning of the Test match to decide on his final XI, citing in his pre-match press conference that he wanted to have one last look at the pitch before deciding on the bowling combinations and balance between pace and spin.
After a morning pitchside consultation with head selector George Bailey and vice-captain Steve Smith, the Australians settled on their tried and tested with their three big quicks and Nathan Lyon. Pakistan on the other hand went with three spin bowling options.
After the Pakistani openers saw off the opening burst from both Starc and Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon was introduced into the attack in the eighth over and immediately, found the bounce and the turn in the Rawalpindi track.
The field was brought in within Lyon’s first over as he started challenging both edges of the Pakistani openers as Australia searched for their first wicket approaching the end of the first hour of play.
Come the 17th over, Pat Cummins had turned to one of his part-time spin options Travis Head, leaving many wondering if Australia had missed a trick by not going with the second spinner in the XI.
Pakistan settled to reach the 50 partnership for the opening stand as drinks arrived.
Runs flow, Australia rue potential misstep before brainfade delivers breakthrough
The Travis Head experiment was short-lived. Three overs for 13 runs as the Pakistani openers started to open their shoulders and up the scoring rate.
Abdullah Shafique danced down and lofted Nathan Lyon back over his head for six and started attacking the champion off-spinner. Imam ul- Haq joined in, also lofting Lyon back down the ground for a maximum as they targetted Australia’s sole frontline spin option.
After winning the selection battle for the spot at the top of the order from Shaan Masood, Imam brought up his half-century as the 100 run partnership was brought up as Australia searched for answers.
Pakistan looked poised to go to the first break unbroken before a brainfade from Shafique brought about his downfall and gave Australia their first wicket. Looking to take Lyon on down the ground once again, the ball flew off the top edge and was held brilliantly by Pat Cummins.
The vital breakthrough gave Australia a sniff of momentum as they went into Lunch after an extended first session
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The battle recommences after the long lunch
After the break for food and Friday prayers, watchers were treated to a wonderful battle between the Pakistani batsmen and Australian bowlers Cummins and Lyon.
The Australians were, for the most part, able to keep the batsmen at the ends that they wanted in the first half-hour, with Cummins looking to ruffle the feathers of an uncertain Azhar Ali, whilst Nathan Lyon looked to outlast the left-handed Imam ul-Haq for patience.
Cummins looked to employ a short-pitched length against Azhar. Whilst he had his moments of distinct discomfort, Azhar watched the ball well, weaving beneath balls that rarely rose above shoulder height. Imam stayed solid until he decided to again advance against Lyon, hitting him straight for a well-struck six.
He tried similar the next ball, but lost his shape and was relieved that his mis-hit went safely along the floor for a single.
Batters take control after withstanding the barrage
What does a batter do to break free after being tied down? Well, what he does is what we northern English call “giving it some welly”:
Azhar Ali wellied a six off Lyon in front of square leg, and then a four off Green behind square, and all of a sudden the shackles were released and he was away.
Captain Cummins turned to Hazlewood, and then to his main spearhead Mitchell Starc in the hope that the ball would reverse. It appeared to be going slightly, but not to an extent that the batters were troubled unduly.
Imam-ul-Haq went past his highest Test score (previously 76), and his partnership with Azhar Ali has, without anyone noticing too much, crept past 50.
“I’ve got an idea… let’s try this”
The moment has arrived. Many Australian cricket fans may have wondered whether it could have arrived earlier when Travis Head had a trundle, but 38 overs later, it’s here.
It’s Marnus time.
In the over before tea, Pat Cummins threw the ball to the people’s hero to see if he could make lightning strike. And what happened when Marnus Labuschagne had a bowl?
Well, not much really. Azhar Ali eased a single past mid-off, and then Imam-ul-Haq took his score into the 90s for the first time in his test career by cover-driving a full toss past the despairing dive of Usman Khawaja.
Pakistan went to tea at one for 171. Imam-ul-Haq on 92, Azhar Ali 30.
Patience, then frustration, then achievement
Rather like the tea that the locals like drinking in copious quantities, nothing good in this wondrous country comes quickly. One cannot drink from the cup straight away. The tea must be left to draw for just the right length of time for the fullness of the flavours to be enjoyed.
So it has been with this innings from Imam-ul-Haq. He went to the final break with his score on 92. The final eight runs did not come easily as Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, then Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc probed and cajoled in equal measures.
They kept their line and length tight, then threw the ball fuller and wider in an attempt to draw the false shot that comes with the anxiety of approaching your first test hundred four years after your debut. More than once he showed the frustration brought about by the inability to accept the taster that was offered.
And then, with his 39th ball after the tea break, the moment came. Starc overpitched slightly on a fifth-stump line, the ball was manoeuvred deftly past cover, and Imam had the boundary that took him past 100 for the first time at the highest level.
With Azhar Ali looking more untroubled with every over that passes, Australia are heading for a situation where a large first-innings total seemed inevitable.
Pakistan’s day as the second new ball brings little reward
Not a lot of any great consequence happened in the last hour or so of play, Which was a great positive for Pakistan, who batted through a largely uninterrupted first day of a test match against Australia for the loss of only one wicket, for the first time in their history.
The curiously underused Cameron Green wheeled a few overs down prior to the new ball being taken at the start of the 83rd over. So did Steve Smith, bowling his leg breaks that look more and more innocuous with each passing year. He was the eighth bowler that Cummins used on the opening day as he searched for that elusive breakthrough.
While they went unrewarded, Australia bowled well all day. They never let the lack of wickets dull their enthusiasm, nor did they lose their line and length. They kept control of the run rate; 90 overs for 245 runs bears that point out well.
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