Following a sixth straight day of the series where the fall of a wicket proved a surprise rather than an expectation, it was telling that reborn run-machine Usman Khawaja questioned his opponents’ tactics with the bat, and not the ball, when considering Australia’s best path to victory in Karachi.
Test legend Waqar Younis led criticism of his former side’s opening-day strategy that saw Pakistan’s spinners bowl down the leg-side to Khawaja and Steve Smith after tea in a calculated bid to slow Australia’s scoring.
The hosts might have been accused of giving up on taking wickets had Smith and youngster Cameron Green not both fallen to the exact same ploy last week in Rawalpindi.
Pakistan’s tactics had the desired effect, seeing just 79 runs scored (at 2.2 an over) in the final 36-over session after Khawaja and David Warner got Australia off to a flyer, and were defended by wicketkeeper and senior figure Mohammad Rizwan as being part of “the beauty of Test cricket”.
“They won the toss and elected to bat first and took advantage of this – this is not negativity and I think our bowlers made a good comeback,” said Rizwan. “Their run-rate was quite good from the beginning.
“The bowlers did try but then when you don’t get support from the pitch then there is no result. Not every time the pitch favors you and even if the bowlers are trying, it goes in vain.”
Waqar was less impressed.
“The tactics I’m seeing at the moment is like we’re looking for a draw on the first day,” the former Pakistan captain said in commentary on Saturday. “It’s ridiculous.”
There were no complaints from Khawaja, whose remarkable return to international cricket continued with an unbeaten hundred in the city where the majority of his family were born.
“I think it’s pretty hard to bowl fast out there because it’s very hot,” he said when asked if the tactic backfired on Pakistan. “I think the spinners had to bowl in that period because it was hard for the pace bowlers in that period, and then take the (second) new ball and bowl again.
“So I think that was more tactics than anything.”
But Khawaja, who resumes Sunday’s second day on 127 not out after reaching his third century in six ins since returning to the Test team during the Ashes, did reserve a more subtle dig for Babar’s men.
After the opening day of the first Test in Rawalpindi, Pakistan put themselves into a near-identical position (1-245) to the one the Australians (3-251) currently find themselves in.
The hosts then strolled at hardly more than three runs per over on day two, with Khawaja suggesting they deprived themselves of time later in the match to bowl the visitors out twice as the Test instead petered out to a stalemate.
Khawaja vowed that Australia, presuming they can maintain their advantage through the early part of day two, would be more aggressive.
“If we bat well enough tomorrow morning we’ll have an opportunity to drive the game,” said the left-hander, who tipped debutant leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson to be a handful as the match wears on.
“I felt like Pakistan were in a perfect position last game to do the same (in Rawalpindi), but they just didn’t do it.
“They didn’t really take many opportunities to extend or increase the run rate.
“So if we bat well enough tomorrow and we earn the right (to attack) in that second session, I think if we can get anywhere near 400-500 that’s a really good task.
“That’s a long way to go still – we’re only 250 at the moment and need to double the score I reckon.”
Qantas Tour of Pakistan 2022
Pakistan squad: Babar Azam (c), Mohammad Rizwan (vc), Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Fawad Alam, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Naseem Shah, Nauman Ali, Sajid Khan, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Zahid Mahmood.
Australia Test squad: Pat Cummins (c), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc , Mark Steketee, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner. On standby: Sean Abbott, Brendan Doggett, Nick Maddinson, Matthew Renshaw
First Test: Match drawn
March 12-16: Second Test, Karachi
March 21-25: Third Test, Lahore
Australia ODI and T20 squad: Aaron Finch (c), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Ben McDermott, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa
March 29: First ODI, Rawalpindi
March 31: Second ODI, Rawalpindi
April 2: Third ODI, Rawalpindi
April 5: Only T20I, Rawalpindi
All matches to be broadcast in Australia on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports