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Shafique-Azhar claw things back after Naseem show

Last updated on 22 Mar 2022 | 12:47 PM
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Shafique-Azhar claw things back after Naseem show

On day two of the third Test, there was plenty of razzle and dazzle, both with bat and ball

Naseem Shah's four, as good as a fifer

Coming into the third Test, the 19-year-old Naseem Shah averaged 44.6 in Test cricket, picking up 21 wickets. He had a Test hattrick as well to his name but a strike-rate of 70.1 combined with his inability to stitch a string of consistent performances, put him under dire pressure. And to add to his misery, Pakistan had lost the toss and were made to field. 

However, Naseem was unperturbed by it all, put on a different coat to the rest of his teammates. On day one, when Steve Smith was threatening to take the game away from the hosts, Naseem bamboozled the Australian with a delivery that seamed sharply into the right-hander. 

And then, he did the unthinkable, he got the ball to straighten after pitching against the southpaw Travis Head, who was caught in a well-bound trap. If day one Naseem was a trailer, day two unleased a new world of the 19-year-old. 

Reverse-swing, yorkers, pace and extreme discipline: name it and Naseem aced it all. For someone who averages 44.6 thus far, Pakistan did take a gamble in Lahore. But sometimes numbers are merely instruments; they don't underline potential. On Tuesday, in a spell of thunder, the 19-year-old saw the back of a well-set, Cameron Green and Nathan Lyon. 

Naseem beautifully set Green up, with the Australian all-rounder previously showing his weakness against the ball tailing in late towards the stumps. While it might be a big puzzle as to why the Pakistani bowlers did not attack that channel early on, the right-arm pacer’s spell once again exposed Green in that area. 

It was an unplayable delivery, a delivery that was well deserved to dismiss Green, who was on course to scoring his first Test century. On a hot, humid and scathing day in Lahore, Naseem oozed class, pace and more importantly, discipline, bowling 13 maidens. 

Green-Carey and a partnership for ages

At 205/5, Australia were in all sorts of trouble heading into the final few overs on day one. Pakistan seamers, especially Naseem Shah, were getting the ball to move and swerve around in Lahore. For Alex Carey, who walked in on the back of his confident 90 in the previous Test, there was a fear over Naseem’s around the wicket angle. 

However, not only did Carey see the day safely through, he batted with so much precision, like a surgeon on the second day of the third Test. Time and again, with Green playing the more sedate role, Carey was actively finding the boundaries through the covers. Against Pakistan’s best bowler, Naseem, the Australian southpaw batted with a control of 94%. 

While he used the crease to perfection, rocking back onto the crease to crash through the covers against the pacers, Carey innovated against spinners, with sweeps and reverse sweeps. Especially against the off-spinner, Sajid Khan, against whom, he scored three boundaries in the innings. 

After the first Test, there was definitely a doubt over Carey’s stature in the Australian setup but the second and third Test has made it clear as daylight that Carey and Green are for the long haul. On the other hand, Green was more cautious, only taking the risk against Hasan Ali, against whom he scored five boundaries. 

The fact that both of them stitched a sixth-wicket record partnership for Australia in Pakistan, and they both had a control % of over 90 throughout the innings, showed that the lower-order for Australia is in safe hands. 

Shafique-Ali with a task in hand

16504 balls, 94 Tests for Pakistan since making his debut in 2010 but Azhar Ali had never played a Test at his home in Lahore. India’s VVS Laxman had played 116 Tests before playing his first Test in Hyderabad. On the cricketing front, it was an opportunity for Ali to prove his continued brilliance for Pakistan. 

Having scored 6926 runs for Pakistan, there was another big challenge in front of him, to conquer the home conditions against Australia. The pitch was torrid but with Australian pacers’ pace and late swing, it was always going to be a tricky hour or two to bat for the hosts. Especially after Naseem’s display earlier in the day, batting was always expected to be tough. 

When Pakistan lost their opener Imam-ul-Haq, the onus was on the shoulders of Azhar Ali, the man who had spent several years honing his skills in Lahore only to play his maiden Test at the venue, 93 Tests later.

If Babar Azam, Abdullah Shafique and Mohammad Rizwan had made their presence felt in the Karachi Test, it was Ali’s opportunity to step up and stomp his mark. Shafique wasn’t a newbie anymore, his exploits were well known. Having already scored massive runs in the first two Tests, Shafique continued his dominance, with solid interceptions on the front-foot against the seamers. 

While the edges and sledges were there, the technique that the 22-year-old showed, is always going to keep him steadfast in Pakistan cricket. 329 runs, an average of well over 100 in the series, Shafique is here to stay. 

Pakistan still trail by 301 runs and the two would be looking to continue their march. 

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