Pak v Aus, 2nd MCC Spirit of Cricket Test, Headingley, 1st day July 21, 2010

Swinging Asif and Aamer demolish Australia

It would be an injustice to Pakistan if we said that the Australian batsmen looked vulnerable. It was the beauty of Pakistan's three-man fast-bowling pack that made the opponent look utterly helpless. And how beautifully they went on to unravel the Australians, who for the second time in two Tests failed to stand up to sustained pressure.

Just like at Lord's the overcast conditions were tailor-made for swing and seam bowling and Ricky Ponting's decision to bat first - Umar Gul called the move "shocking" - made Pakistan's fast men lick their lips. Mohammad Aamer needed only 14 balls to work out Simon Katich, Australia's Player of the Match in the first Test, as he targeted the batsman's trigger movement to shuffle across his crease. The ploy exposes his leg stump and also makes him a leg-before candidate, which is how Aamer struck.

Mohammad Asif, who has an envious fast-bowling IQ, caught the clay-footed Shane Watson leg before and then began his mental harassment of Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke. Like an ace matador, Asif tempted the duo to take him on as he fine-tuned his lengths and teased with swing and seam movement.

Twice across two overs, Asif bowled the two best deliveries on the day - both pitching on McGrath lengths, straightening and beating Ponting completely. Ponting is most nervous at the beginning of his innings as he lunges forward in an ungainly fashion trying to put bat to ball. Asif remained patient as he kept flashing the red cloth, confident that he was on the verge of taming Ponting. Headingley is one of Ponting's favourite hunting grounds - he has two centuries and two fifties in three Tests - but that reputation did not matter to Asif. The same held true for Aamer and Umar Gul.

At the moment when Salman Butt, making his captaincy debut, replaced Gul with Aamer it felt like an abrupt decision and a mistake. But with Asif tightening the noose at the other end Butt understood it was best to introduce Gul, who is a rhythm bowler and takes time to hit his lengths. It was a wise move as Gul ripped through the large gate between Clarke's bat and pad to damage his middle stump. Australia, normally adept at blasting the opponent and regaining control, failed miserably thereafter.

This assault was not incidental. In his last five Tests, Asif has dismissed Katich and Marcus North four times each, and got rid of Clarke and Ponting three times. Aamer has had Ponting's number on three occasions since December and Gul has got the better of Clarke, Michael Hussey and Watson twice.

This Australian batting line-up is not the best when it is bottled for long periods. Unfortunately for them, the Pakistan fast bowlers have the mental discipline, patience and skills to disintegrate the elite batsmen consistently. It looks like they have the psychological edge over Australia.

Australia's coach Tim Nielsen disagreed. "[We were] not dominated at all," Nielsen said. "They are a quality bowling attack. They have got pace. It is just a good contest."

Nielsen did give credit to Asif and Co for taking control and maintaining it. "I can't take anything away from Pakistan," he said. "They bowled with good pace and tremendous length and line and really did put us under pressure and once we got behind the game we just struggled to change it."

Pakistan were helped by the favourable conditions, but not many teams have been able to maintain the pressure lid tight on Australia. Despite being the underdogs, Pakistan have not choked. They have held their head high despite the defeat at Lord's and the abrupt retirement of Shahid Afridi. They walked into Headingley with a positive mind and a clear vision before dismantling the opponent without breaking sweat.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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