Short, outside leg, and about as bad a delivery a legspinner can bowl, was how Yasir Shah began his MCG Test. David Warner, struggling for anything approaching good touch, tried to hit it hard but mistimed it to deep-backward square leg.
The ball might have looked terrible, and even been terrible, but it wasn't accidental. In fact, Yasir's first ball of the Gabba Test had been similar, with a similar field of six men on the leg side and three on the off.
It might have been an ugly and useless first ball, but it was part of an ugly and useless plan.
The small change, though not to the field, against Matt Renshaw was that instead of bowling down leg side, Yasir was aiming at the stumps, or even just outside off stump.
It was a delivery pitching in line with the stumps that Renshaw tried to slog sweep, and gifted Yasir a wicket. He had figures of 1.1-0-1-1. To Usman Khawaja, Yasir was outside off side again and found the outside edge twice - the ball trickled into the empty off side for runs.
Warner played a similar shot against Yasir but with an open face. Then he put away a ball on the leg side, scored easily on the off side, and then helped himself to the odd filthy ball down leg again. It was like Yasir and his captain Misbah-ul-Haq were mates of Warner, and felt bad he was struggling against the Pakistan fast bowlers.
Six overs in, Yasir's figures were 1 for 33, and the six-three field that not only seemed to provide no way of stopping runs but actively promoted them, the field that did not allow Yasir to find his line and ruined his confidence so much that he also had no length, was finally changed. All it took were three boundaries in Yasir's seventh over. The field changed for the last three balls of that over and then Yasir disappeared from the attack for 15 overs.
Perhaps Yasir could find respite in the fact that Australia's spinner Nathan Lyon struggled just as much when Pakistan batted, but in reality that was nothing new. The shouts of "Niiiiiiiiiiiiice Garrrrrrrrrrrry," from the crowd on day one at the MCG were almost loud enough to drown out the people saying Lyon's spot was in danger.
Had Steve O'Keefe been fit, Lyon might not have played the Adelaide Test against South Africa. Had the Gabba had a little more grass, he might have been dropped for that day-night Test as well. Including the first innings in Melbourne, he has 11 wickets in his last five Tests.
On day two at the MCG, Lyon bowled six out of 51 overs. He wasn't bowled when Australia needed to keep their fast bowlers fresh for the new ball and he managed one maiden in 23 overs. Lyon bowled almost exclusively outside off stump and was scored off almost exclusively on the leg side. Australia's captain Steven Smith seemed to do nothing other than put out sweepers. Lyon only bowled a dot ball only every second delivery.
It was there that Lyon and Yasir had something in common. How do you bowl dot balls when your field is set for perpetual scoring? When your field is like a prolonged, unfunny practical joke where the punchline is, 'and then he scored easily whenever he wanted to.'
When Yasir came back on, Khawaja had been on 49 for half an hour. Misbah greeted Yasir not only with a six-three leg-side field, but three of those six were on the boundary. Khawaja didn't reach his 50, Misbah's field did it for him.
The only real chance after Renshaw's wicket was a poor ball from Yasir that Khawaja edged while trying to hit it too hard. It was like being so excited to finally have your food, that you drop it as you hurriedly try to stuff your mouth.It didn't matter anyway, because Younis barely saw the chance at slip, and there was nothing else like it after.
Yasir overpitched and got hit for a four through covers. The leg slip left to make it a five-four field. In the next over, though, the field was six-three again and Warner reverse swept into the empty off side, and Misbah changed back to five-four right after. But for Khawaja the field went back to six-three, and what do you know, another boundary on the offside.
The field was then spread for Warner because no one wanted to be near another fielder for fear that they would ask what the plan was. But once Khawaja was back on strike, there it was again: Misbah's six-three field, a plan so cunning it will only work when the score is seemingly 1 for 300, when it will suddenly spring to life like the spring-heel Jack and start devouring Australia's batsmen whole.
Warner hit one over long-off for six because Misbah had played him into such form that the MCG was no longer big enough to contain him. But for Khawaja, you know what I am going to say - six, three. SIX. THREE.
Why? I don't know why. Misbah just did, okay. What do you want me to tell you? Do you want me to explain why Pakistan would continually use a tactic that didn't work, that leaked runs, that produced only one lucky wicket, that they kept abandoning until they forgot why they quit it and then went back to it again? I don't know, this is silly, just make it stop.
Maybe the plan is to tire Warner out so he falls on his stumps, or to wait for a meteor to hit the ground and end this insanity, or maybe I can't count, or the #MCGsobig you can't see all the fielders. No, I can count, and I can see, and Khawaja has just swept a four past the packed leg-side field that is about as useful as a collection of samurai pizza cats trading cards, and then driven through an open off-side field that might as well have a sign on it that says, "This way for runs," being held by a smiling Misbah who thinks he is stroking a white cat but is actually holding a discarded Richie Benaud wig.
Was that too much? Need me to take it down a bit? How about some numbers? Yasir conceded more than six an over while bowling to a field supposed to stop runs. Over two-thirds of the runs off Yasir were scored on that half of the field in which he had less than two-thirds of his fielders.
Khawaja scored 51 off 52 balls against Yasir, and 42 off 95 from the seamers. Warner scored 45 off 30 against Yasir, and 99 off 113 from everyone else. Perhaps it was because Yasir was bowling to left handers, except his career average and economy rate are almost the same against left and right-hand batsmen. There was a time at the MCG when Yasir's economy rate was the worst ever for a Pakistan bowler who had bowled over ten overs. But six-three, that's your number, make as much sense of that as you can.
Azhar Ali tried to explain the tactics at the press conference, which was funny because his two overs of legspin were bowled with a much better field. His explanation made as much sense as the plan itself. He basically said, it wasn't spinning much, so Yasir bowled straight, but then when he didn't bowl straight, they smashed him, because he didn't bowl straight really much at all, and there was no one there when he didn't bowl straight.
Weirdly, Yasir's pitch map suggested he hadn't been told about the plan, and Misbah set the field like he wasn't watching Yasir bowl.
What started as a wacky plan in Brisbane became organised disaster in Melbourne. That terrible, ugly, useless first ball became a terrible, ugly, useless day. Not by accident, but by design.
Misbah might have one of cricket's sharpest brains, but at the MCG he had one long brain fart, and Yasir followed through. At least, I think that was the plan.