Pakistan hopes rest on young shoulders
Finally the teeth were bared and, though it may be too late for them to make an impression here, it could yet prove a worthwhile baring. Pakistan must have many more moments with Umar Akmal and Mohammad Aamer at the centre if they are to stand a chance in the series.
The long-standing beauty of Pakistan cricket has been their faith in youth. It does not always last as long as it should, but is enough for them to throw them in without questions, where other nations tend to wait and miss the moment. In other spheres Pakistan is very rigidly structured with utmost deference to seniority of age and experience, but from the days of Kardar, their cricket has been comfortable with chancing it on teenaged sensations.
Though they haven't suffered for it, Australia haven't brought enough young players into their national side, recently at least. Ricky Ponting made that point pre-Test, about how good it feels to have someone young around the squad. His Pakistani counterparts have always appreciated the central beauty of youth - that it knows no fear or doubt. It has little experience of either. It is forever pumped and perky, and its shoulders don't often droop, burdened or haunted by the years.
So was Umar Akmal, undaunted by his first meeting with the Australians, his first innings at the MCG. He has not known past failure against them; in fact he has probably been too pumped and excited at the prospect of playing. And it showed during his fifty which continued a remarkable entry into international cricket.
It reaffirmed all that is refreshing about him, as bracing as the Melbourne air these days. He was solid and correct when he needed to be at the start of the morning. He didn't wilt when struck flush on the helmet by Peter Siddle. He was braver still to unleash the most audacious bout of stroke-making against the same man a few overs later; the pulled six pleased the crowds, but the easy loft over mid-on two balls earlier from outside off was the stroke of a boy blessed. Crowds here are demanding but they appreciate a battle no matter where it comes from and Umar's contribution was duly noted.
They bestowed similar appreciation upon Aamer later in the afternoon, when he took it upon himself to rattle Australia's top order. What has been most impressive about him is the manner in which he has taken to international cricket; history probably records some ducks taking to water with more difficulty. He has taken to all three formats with aplomb, knowing instantly where and how to bowl. One of the deepest impressions from the World Twenty20 was his calculated dismantling of Tillakaratne Dilshan with the short ball in the final's opening over.
He didn't quite dismantle Ricky Ponting with the short ball here - it is doubtful whether that is even possible of such a complete puller - but he certainly engaged him and the crowd in a wonderful battle. Twice he drew false pulls and just when it seemed he had overdone it, as Ponting dismissed him in front of midwicket, he got him pulling to deep square leg. The joust with Shane Watson was doubly compelling, for by now he was hitting and sustaining some serious pace, reaching speeds which he hasn't before hit. A little kiss, a few words, many bouncers and appeals; these are small things but they go a long way in Australia and they are loved by all.
It is another thing that Pakistan haven't always utilized their youth effectively. There is forever a fear that seniors try to run down successful youngsters and many selectors have publicly backed youth while privately grumbling about it. There is a sense developing right now that Umar's spirits may be clipped because of his rasher dismissals and Mohammad Yousuf seems to get frustrated too readily with Aamer's less disciplined spells.
Pakistan have traditionally had little patience for the foibles of youth and there will always be foibles; the list of discarded, dumped and broken young men is far too long in Pakistan. But every effort must be made to ensure these two names do not appear on that list.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo