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Self-assured Aslam thrives on unfussy approach

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Brisbane has made us confident of conditions - Aslam (1:44)

Pakistan batsman Sami Aslam says his team's performance in the Brisbane Test, where they nearly chased down a record 490, has buoyed the side in the lead-up to the Boxing Day Test (1:44)

For a long, long while in Pakistan's first innings in Brisbane, Sami Aslam was threatening to construct that peculiar - but not unique - kind of mini-epic that emerges only in an innings as disastrous as that one. Its virtue was found purely in the prolonged act of its existence. The decision-making of others around him was frazzled by the bounce in the surface, so much so that it wasn't actually the bounce that was doing for them. They were edging fuller-length deliveries to the cordon.

Aslam stood at the other end and watched, impassive and still. It wasn't that he was unaffected by the pace or bounce, or the lights and the pink ball, or the huge crowds. He was, but his judgement of what to play and what to leave, especially around off stump, was not polluted. That has been developed over years and years, mostly by simple methods: a new ball, hurled at him around his off-stump, from halfway down the pitch.

Jackson Bird beat him twice on the outside edge, in one over, but those were genuinely good deliveries. Not once in 100 balls and 135 minutes did he chase or dab or poke at a ball outside off-stump that he didn't need to. The only real misstep was an attempted sweep off Nathan Lyon that he missed and one that he top-edged onto his helmet.

Josh Hazlewood hit him twice on the helmet, though the second time it looked as if Aslam allowed it to strike him, turning his back into it. The next ball was fuller and outside off, and Aslam watched it go by like he was Otis Redding on the dock watching the tide roll away. There were more bouncers and short balls, from Mitchell Starc, that he just swayed out of the way of. Aslam has a boxer's nose and, in the unfussy way in which he reacted to the blows, perhaps a little bit of the disposition as well.

Had Sarfraz Ahmed not come in later and made the runs that he did and taken Pakistan comfortably past three figures, Aslam's 22 would have been a true mini-epic. It did look like the kind of an innings, however, from which he would have come out with a greater understanding not only of the conditions but also of himself and his game.

"When we came to Cairns, the practice pitches were very familiar, with low bounce and even the match pitch," he said. "When we came to Brisbane we got a lot of good practice on the practice pitches because they were bouncy like the match pitches. The coaches really worked hard with us. That helped us adapt to the conditions.

"But a Test is a really different scenario so the first innings in Brisbane was a little difficult. It was a very different type of bounce and it was the first time I have played on a surface like this. But in the second innings, it was quite a bit easier."

The hits on the head, he insisted, were not the result of misjudgments of the bounce but to do with the pink ball and its visibility under lights, as well as the skiddier bounce in the evening.

There is an unusual self-assurance about him, unusual at least by the measures of recent Pakistani openers. He has been, for instance, one of the few batsmen on tour to not use the marble slab during nets. The method, which creates steepling bounce to mimic conditions in countries like Australia and South Africa, is a time-honored one for Pakistani batsmen.

Javed Miandad's use of the slab while coach during the 2003-04 home series against India is the first time it came to public attention, and was later employed by Bob Woolmer when he took over from Miandad. Younis Khan is a great believer in the method. At times, however, it can feel a little like that last, desperate and hurried cramming session before a big exam - Woolmer used it ahead of the Old Trafford Test of 2006, for example, only for Pakistan to succumb twice to Steve Harmison and his - wait for it - steepling bounce and pace.

Aslam's logic in not using them here - he does when in Pakistan ahead of such a tour - is sound enough. "Here the pitches themselves have so much bounce that I don't feel I need to use a slab. But every batsman is different, some feel better after using a slab. I think it is just what you feel easy about doing in preparation."

The experience of Pakistani openers in Australia is not an illustrious one. Only three of 14 (who have played more than one Test in Australia) average 40 or more. It is an incongruous one: Salman Butt, for instance, has more runs than any other Pakistani opener in Australia.

But the one lesson many have been unable to apply - and one that Sami has drilled into his game - is that leaving the ball, as unsexy a skill as it may be, is absolutely necessary here. Not that it will be easy; in the second innings, in striving for greater urgency Aslam edged to slip a delivery from Starc he usually would have left.

"The first plan is always that the new ball is a little difficult, so the idea is to get the new ball a little older so that the others can benefit," he said. "I don't think that I've gotten out trying to hit shots to up my strike rate. I am still learning, gradually - in Test cricket you learn something every day."

In Australia, more than other places.