Australia 1 for 302 (Warner 166*, Labuschagne 126*) v Pakistan
Even by the miserable standards of the past quarter century, this was a wretched day for Pakistan down under. Centuries from the resurgent David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne, a man who’s batsmanship has scaled heights he never appeared equipped for, had almost certainly already batted Pakistan out of the game on a rain-curtailed opening day.
Unbroken on 294, it was the highest partnership in day-night Tests, setting a record Australia will look to extend on the second afternoon when the pair return to pile more misery on their dispirited visitors. By the end of the day, Australia had amassed 1 for 302 at over four runs per over, and Pakistan were already down to the part-time spin of Iftikhar Ahmed and Azhar Ali to protect an ineffectual three-man pace attack.
Warner’s was the performance of the day, the memories of that torrid Ashes summer well and truly distant now. Pakistan, for a change, decided to come around the wicket to him with the new ball at last, and in Mohammad Abbas, they had someone with the ability to make sure the ball held its line outside the left-hander’s off stump. He looked sharp for the first three overs, but Warner’s intensity was unmatched, and once he had timed his first couple of drives either side of the wicket, he appeared as if carrying on from his 154 in Brisbane.
And yet, the mood music around the start of play was completely different to Brisbane, where Pakistan had never looked like taking 20 wickets. Under overcast skies, Tim Paine chose, rather bravely, to have a bat, with the start delayed by rain. The clouds hovered above as Shaheen Afridi – Pakistan’s best bowler by a stretch – troubled Joe Burns outside off stump, needing just nine balls to draw the edge and take the wicket.
It seemed a hazy dream by the end of the day, but Labuschagne, who faced 205 deliveries by the end of the day, was a whisker away from making his way back after just one. A huge appeal ensued after his first ball whizzed past his bat, a wooden sound audible as they crossed paths. Pakistan, wisely, chose not to review; the bat had hit the ground.
With two batsmen in form and the pink ball giving up swing somewhat earlier than Pakistan would have hoped, the partnership began to flow. It wasn’t helped by Pakistan’s ordinariness with the ball. Even Abbas wasn’t able to target the stumps which is when he’s at his best; his entire 18-over workload saw just two deliveries projected to disturb the timber. Muhammad Musa was quick but much too predictable with his length, far too eager to bang the ball in short. It allowed Warner to carve him through the offside repeatedly, and if Plan B had been discussed in the changing rooms beforehand, that’s where it stayed.
Labuschagne averaged 34 in first-class cricket before he made his Test debut but, of late, he’s batted like a Steven Smith clone – not surprising given the amount of time he has spent with him. Surviving an initial Afridi spell fraught with danger was as much a test of maturity as batting skill; for the first couple of hours he was out there, runs were hard to come by. He would battle, refusing to give his wicket away by forcing the issue, biding his time until he found his touch. His first 96 deliveries yielded just 37 runs but by the end his strike rate was up to 62.
Rain tore out a large chunk of the middle session, but once the pair settled after the break, it looked like carelessness would be the only thing that would break the partnership. The pressure began to lift, the field began to spread, the bowlers began to tire, and Ahmed and Azhar began to warm up. The pair brought up their half-centuries, then their hundreds. Warner would ease to 150 with consecutive boundaries off Yasir Shah, who had as horrific a time as he did last time Pakistan toured, going at 6.21. Afridi was the only bowler who threatened on occasions every time he was brought back on, but it never really appeared enough to draw another wicket.
Pakistan’s thoughts, meanwhile, may already have turned to the heavens, and whether they can unleash enough rain to prevent them heading back from Australia on the back of a fifth consecutive clean sweep.
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