Youhana special on Boxing Day
Pakistan 6 for 318 (Youhana 111, Younis 87, Butt 70) v Australia
Scorecard and ball-by-ball commentary
An innings of grace, poise and immense character from Yousuf Youhana lit up Melbourne on Boxing Day and allowed Pakistan to hit back in style after their Perth debacle. Youhana struck a classy 111, and along with Younis Khan (87) and Salman Butt (70) lifted Pakistan to 6 for 318 at close of play on the first day.
After being thoroughly outplayed on a bouncy WACA pitch, Pakistan's batsmen found the conditions much more to their liking here - there was none of the steepling bounce that characterised that wicket, and Australia's bowlers couldn't obtain much pace or seam movement either. Jason Gillespie was easily the outstanding bowler, though. He tested all the batsmen with his pace and outswing - especially with the second new ball - and his two late wickets kept Pakistan in check after the 192-run fourth-wicket stand between Youhana and Younis threatened to take them towards a huge score.
Faced with a pitch closer to the kind they are bred on back home, Pakistan's batsmen showed a refreshing change in attitude. At Perth, most of their batsmen were guilty of being stuck in defensive mode, waiting for the inevitable good delivery to nail them; here, they put the Australians on the defensive with some excellent aggressive cricket. Butt led the way at the start, but the innings which made the day memorable was Youhana's.
Throughout his 54-Test career, Youhana has been accused of milking weak opposition and choking in the face of pressure against tougher teams. There was nothing weak about this Australian attack, and coming into the match, Pakistan were under severe pressure - they had been pummeled at Perth, were written off by fans and critics alike, and then were hit further by the unavailability of Inzamam-ul-Haq. Youhana, standing in as captain, soaked up all that pressure and played an innings of impeccable composure and glittering strokes. His knock came off just 134 balls, and contained 11 fours and four sixes, most of them an exquisite combination of skill and elegance.
He came in to bat when Pakistan had lost three wickets for nine runs on either side of the lunch interval, and the innings threatened to unravel quickly after a promising start - Imran Farhat edged one to the slips, Yasir Hameed, in the side to replace Inzamam, was trapped in by Gillespie, and Butt ran himself out with his lackadaisical running (3 for 94).
Youhana and Younis then put the house back in order. Both started off circumspectly, keen to see off a testing spell by Gillespie. They did that, and then gradually flourished against the rest of the attack. Youhana was especially severe on Shane Warne, lofting him for three magnificent straight sixes and pulling and cutting whenever Warne erred even fractionally in length: in all Youhana scored 59 of his runs off Warne from 82 balls.
At the other end, Younis performed the sheet-anchor's role to perfection, secure in defence and reining in his tendency to attack. He was comfortably outscored by Youhana in the first half of the stand, but came into his own after tea, clattering drives down the ground and through cover, and upper-cutting the fast bowlers over the slips.
Warne finally got his own back after suffering at Youhana's hands, when he slid one down the leg side and Adam Gilchrist completed a fine stumping (4 for 286). That sparked off the second collapse of the day as Gillespie, armed with the second new ball, struck twice in two overs - Younis nicked a perfect awaygoing delivery to the keeper, and Shoaib Malik - in the side for Mohammad Khalil - perished to the bounce and movement as well.
Earlier, Butt was the star of the morning session, scoring his maiden Test fifty in his third match. He pulled the first ball of the match for a couple, and continued to go for his strokes at every opportunity, slashing hard whenever offered the width. He edged and middled those strokes in equal measure, but either way he was rewarded - the edges flew over the slip cordon, and the middled ones clattered through the covers. He benefited from an early fielding lapse too - Matthew Hayden made a mess of a regulation chance at gully when Butt slashed at the third ball of the day. Butt survived, and it seemed Pakistan's openers would do a repeat of what Virender Sehwag and Aakash Chopra had achieved exactly a year ago. They didn't quite manage the 141 that the Indians added, but it was just the start to prop up a demoralised side. Youhana and Younis capitalised on it, but Gillespie's late strikes evened a contest which Pakistan dominated for most of the day.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo.