Déjà vu for inexperienced Pakistan
Ominously for Pakistan this Test is following the same trend as the Sydney match in the first week of the year. Australia have once again bounced back in this classic contest at Headingley, but Pakistan can claim equal ownership of this game thanks to the two Mohammads - Asif and Aamer - who continue to play with the batsmen like marionettes.
Sadly, their own run-makers have shown the spine of wafers. For the second week in a row Pakistan walked into the second day of a Test in a dominant position before letting the Australians kick their way through the door. The cold air persisted through the morning, but the overnight pair of Umar Akmal and Umar Amin should have gained confidence from the waywardness of the fast-bowling trio of Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Johnson and Doug Bollinger.
It should not have resulted in a bungee jump straight away, yet that is what the younger Akmal did. Umar flashed a thick outside edge that bounced a yard in front of Michael Hussey at gully. Then came a horrible shot as Umar went for a wild slog which landed in the hands of Simon Katich at mid-off on the final delivery of the first over of the morning. Terribly for Johnson, it was a no ball.
But Umar, who had hit Steve Smith for a huge six in the final over the previous evening, had not learnt from this reprieve or his mistake in the second innings at Lord's, where he had gone for a similar rash shot at the stroke of lunch. A couple of overs later Johnson got his man as Umar wafted lamely at a delivery that straightened on its way to Tim Paine.
It was not just inexperienced batsmen who lost their heads. Kamran Akmal poked at a delivery from Shane Watson that was shaping away. There was nothing shocking in that, but it was the penultimate delivery of the first over after lunch and could have been left alone. It did not help that Aamer offered no shot the very next ball and was trapped plumb.
Shoaib Malik, returning to Test cricket for the first time after the Australian tour, played some sumptuous drives but failed to assert himself. At one point he even took a single exposing new man Danish Kaneria to the strike. A desperate attempt to play an expansive shot brought his demise and the curtains down on any further Pakistan fightback.
The key question is do the Pakistan batsmen have the temperament to play according to the situation in a Test match for longer periods? A member of the team management admitted to me earlier on this tour that the young cricketers do not possess the patience. Mohammad Yousuf said something to the same effect a while ago. Days after his sudden and shocking retirement last week, Shahid Afridi has now asked certain players in the Pakistan squad, who do not have their hearts in Test cricket, to get their priorities correct.
Regardless of his abrupt exit, Afridi was brave enough to reveal his weakness. Waqar Younis and Salman Butt need to be more honest and blunt with their batsmen. There is no point in citing inexperience as a reason for the fall. Bad habits need to be uprooted before they grow.
Though Pakistan's lead seemed strong in the morning, it was never going to be enough against Australia, for whom the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel shines eternally. Waqar admitted later the absence of any good partnerships, barring the first two wickets, hurt Pakistan.
"We didn't really get enough runs," he said. "We didn't really get the partnership going apart from the top partnership and then the odd one in the middle. We didn't really get the partnerships of 70 or 80 runs. It's been lacking and it's just because we have got pretty young players in the middle order. If you look at numbers three, four and even five they're very new in this arena so I think we've got to give them a little bit of margin."
It would be more helpful to tell his batsmen how they lost the strong overnight advantage after a rousing start last evening. And how, and why, the situation after two days is now level. He did have a word of caution for his team. "The Australians, you know, they're very, very tough when it comes to these sorts of situations," he said. "We've got to make sure that we come [out] on top and try to make sure that we are tougher than them."
There is a lot Pakistan's young men can learn from the unbeaten Ricky Ponting, who has been harried and hurried up by the three fast men. Ponting might have crossed the 12,000-run mark in this game but he still remains nervous each time he starts his innings. Once he gets his eye in he never throws it away.
Despite the batting setbacks, Pakistan still have a good footing in this Test. The overhead conditions favour the fast bowlers and going by their form a compelling finish looms. But Australia already have detected the weakness in their opponent's batting and will not be shy to keep pressing that spot. "They are aggressive with the way they play," Watson, who got his second five-for in successive weeks, said. "They can't really live without scoring for too long."
There is no doubt Pakistan will aim for redemption for the Sydney defeat. They have a second chance, but if they fail again they will have nowhere to hide.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo