Australia are well and truly in command of the first Test in Perth. They have extended their lead to 300 after bowling Pakistan out for 271 in their first innings. Pakistan fought back well with the ball, but a superb stand between Steven Smith and Usman Khawaja has given them the advantage. Let's deep dive into what the teams did well and not so well on Saturday (December 16):
Australia quicks hit the right lengths
Australian pacers were a tad too short on Day 2, as mentioned here, but they managed to hit the right length today. They got the ball to move around from the good length area (6-8m), kept the batters quiet, and picked up a couple of wickets.
However, Mitchell Starc's performance with the new ball is a cause for concern for Australia. He was wayward throughout, often bowling extremely wide, even beyond the sixth stump line. That let Australia release some pressure, which is the exact opposite of what the captain would expect when you take the second new ball.
Barring that, it was a clinical performance from the Aussie quicks, who picked up five wickets for 110 in the 37 overs between them on Day 3.
Lyon shows what Pakistan are missing
As discussed in the talking points on Day 1, Pakistan not picking a frontline spinner could ultimately cost them. Nathan Lyon, today, showed them just that. He got a lot of purchase from the Perth surface, and his tantalising lines and lengths kept the Pakistan batters on their toes.
It's not very often that Lyon bowls over the wicket to left-handers. However, he did so against Imam-ul-Haq with a plan in mind. He was eventually lured to dance down the track and play a wild slog, which he missed, and Alex Carey did the rest behind the wickets.
While Pakistan have the services of Salman Agha, a part-time off-spinner, he is by no stretch of imagination a wicket-taker. Lyon got some to grip and turn as well, further questioning Pakistan's decision to play five pacers.
Shahzad's fiery first spell
Khurram Shahzad bowled a terrific first spell in the first innings but had no luck. However, in the second innings, he bowled with more purpose and pace and was rewarded with the big wickets of David Warner (0) and Marnus Labuschagne (2).
He got both his wickets with shortish deliveries, cramping the batters for room and forcing them to mistime their pulls. While Warner mistimed one through mid-wicket, Labuschagne top-edged one to the wicketkeeper.
It was a dream start for Pakistan, especially after conceding a massive first-innings deficit.
Smith-Khawaja steady ship
Australia were in trouble when they lost two wickets in quick succession with just five runs on the board, but that's when Smith (43*) and Khawaja (34*) showed their class with their brilliant unbeaten 79-run stand. It was not easy initially. They had to weather the storm with Shahzad and Shaheen Afridi bowling hostile spells. But once they got their eye in, it became easier for them to negotiate the bowlers.
Remember, Australia were 7 for 2 in the first 10 overs of the innings when Shahzad and Shaheen were bowling from either end. However, the batters settled in nicely once both were removed from the attack. With the ball having softened up, they did not have the same impact when they came in for another spell later on.
From Pakistan's standpoint, they will hope to end the Smith-Khawaja stand early on Day 4. They have been among Australia's deadliest pairs, having accumulated nearly 2,500 runs at 60.17, including 10 century and as many fifty-run stands.
Pitch showing signs of breaking up?
A couple of deliveries spit onto the batters at chest level from a good length spot. It hit Labuschagne on the hand and had to receive treatment in the middle. Barring that, there was one more such delivery from Shaheen that pinned Smith on his arm.
We recently saw a Big Bash League (BBL) game called off in Geelong due to an "unsafe pitch." But thus far, barring a few instances, there doesn't seem to be any demons on the pitch to take such a call. But it would certainly play on the batters' minds.
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