<
>

Haris Sohail's maiden Test ton sets Australia uphill task

Australia 30 for 0 (Khawaja 17*, Finch 13*) trail Pakistan 482 (Hafeez 126, Haris 110, Shafiq 80, Siddle 3-58) by 452 runs

Today's Test cricket may not be on the postcard, but you will find it in the manual. On a day that typified the recipe for success Pakistan have replicated time and again in the UAE, excitement may have been in short supply, but determination and patience weren't. After the wobbles in the final session on the first day, Haris Sohail and Asad Shafiq put on a masterclass in gritty Test-match batting, as Pakistan ground their way to 482 and pushed the game further out of Australia's reach. Just as importantly, they kept the hapless visitors out on the field for 164.2 overs in the blazing Dubai heat.

Along the way, Haris completed his maiden Test match hundred, while Shafiq fell 20 short. The partnership between the two stood at exactly 150 when Marnus Labuschagne - whose menace suggested Australia have missed a trick by not picking a specialist legspinner - took Shafiq's outside edge. By then the fifth-wicket pair had done enough to kill off the momentum Australia had built up at the tail end of the first day.

As on the first day, the wickets came after tea, though Pakistan's charitable mood did contribute to them. Babar Azam and Sarfraz Ahmed both fell cheaply, not just by way of runs scored but also in the manner of their dismissals. On a pitch where their predecessors ground Australia into the dirt, both were run out, finally allowing the bowlers a crack at the tail, and the psychological victory - however spurious - of keeping Pakistan this side of 500.

Sandwiched between those two dismissals was the wicket of Haris after a phenomenal innings from a player who is yet to properly nail down a spot in the Test side. Nathan Lyon was his conqueror, the left-hander falling in almost the same way Imam-ul-Haq had to Lyon, looking to cut but managing only a tickle of the outside edge through to the keeper.

Australia made short work of the tail, but still had the small matter of getting through 13 overs in fading light against Mohammad Abbas, Wahab Riaz and, most crucially, Yasir Shah. Predictably, it was the legspinner who looked likeliest to strike, with debutant Aaron Finch fortunate to survive a marginal lbw call early on. Had the umpire given him out, the call would have stood. Khawaja, though, looked more steady than he historically has in Asia, and will look to kick on tomorrow on what is still a pitch you'd rather bat than bowl on.

The first hour of play today would have left you reaching for an extra cup of coffee; adrenaline wasn't going to be the stimulant here. Once Peter Siddle cleaned up nightwatchman Mohammad Abbas early on, Pakistan gritted their teeth and gutsed their way along. They did that superbly, even though little progress was made by way of runs - only seven were scored in the day's first 11 overs, and it took Asad Shafiq 21 balls to get off the mark.

The afternoon's play wasn't quite as soporific as the morning's, but Pakistan still took an approach that wore down the opposition rather than blitzed them into submission. As Australia took the new ball after lunch, delayed likely because of Mitchell Starc reticence for another full-throttle spell earlier, Tim Paine would have known they needed to make immediate breakthroughs if there was to be any chance of keeping Pakistan under 400. In the UAE, Pakistan have won seven and drawn one of the eight matches they have reached that figure in in the first innings.

As it happened, Starc's salvo was somewhat toothless, with the ball doing nothing to perturb the settled batsmen. Just as in the first session, Pakistan bade their time, before upping the ante towards tea as the bowlers began to tire. After scoring just 45 runs in the first 18 overs post-lunch, they nearly doubled that number, scoring 43 off the last nine. Lyon and Siddle, both workhorses in the attack for much of the innings, never quite fell away, but Pakistan continued to pick off the inexperienced Jon Holland; targeting him appeared to be a clear gameplan.

In desperation, perhaps, Paine turned to Labuschagne. The second ball of his first over was a full-toss above waist height, in no way a harbinger of the next delivery. Pitched just outside off stump, the ball turned sharply, with Shafiq only able to get an edge to it as he stretched out to defend. Yasir, Pakistan's legspinner, would have taken notice.

But the recipe for success Pakistan have followed so faithfully here in the past decade is again on its way to delivering a sweet result. If Australia are to thwart them over the next three days, they will need quite a special secret ingredient.