It is hard enough for touring teams at the Gabba without providing instances of charity to the hosts. On a night when floodlights and the pink ball ushered in Brisbane’s biggest ever non-Ashes Test crowd, Pakistan allowed the throng of 26,343 to salute a century for Australia’s captain Steven Smith with a pair of contrasting reprieves.
The first, in the final over before the tea break, came via an unexpectedly sharp leg break from Azhar Ali and an equally surprising fumble behind the stumps by Sarfraz Ahmed. Several hours later and Mohammad Amir fizzed the second new ball across Smith to coax the thinnest of edges. This time Sarfraz took it crisply – yet it was a nick so fine no appeal was made.
The fact Amir took the second new ball at all felt almost as remarkable as his return to the Pakistan side from an infamous jail sentence. Having bowled tidily early, his right knee had plugged in the Gabba outfield and seemed to have suffered an injury akin to that inflicted on Simon Jones in 2002. Yet Amir found a way to return, in a show of resilience Pakistan must now emulate collectively in order to find a way back into this first innings.
Smith’s innings was the centrepiece of Australia’s day, equal parts patient and punchy, but it would not have been possible without a pair of tremendous supporting hands from the young batsmen Matt Renshaw and Pete Handscomb. Renshaw’s discipline in early stands with David Warner and then Smith blunted the new ball in the hands of Pakistan’s pace attack and also compelled Yasir Shah to bowl a high volume of overs early in the match.
While Wahab Riaz was able to find Renshaw’s outside edge before he could go on to three figures, Smith and Handscomb then fought their way through to the whole final session with hope for more runs on resumption. Handscomb did not always look comfortable but fought his way through, at the same time showing no desire to depart from the batting methods that have served him well at domestic level.
Renshaw played an exemplary innings, showing his usual sound judgment around the off stump but also showing an ability to hit with power through midwicket and down the ground. In doing so he invited further comparisons with another tall Queensland opening batsman in Matthew Hayden – Australia’s selectors will dream of more such performances.
There had been some swing for Amir and Rahat Ali in the early overs, but Renshaw and Warner did very well to cover any movement and also punish any errors in line or length – in Warner’s case he started by punching Rahat to the cover fence first ball. Wahab’s greater pace was unable to make much of an impression, and Misbah was left to call on Yasir as early as the 11th over of the innings.
Bounce was plentiful even if the Gabba pitch will likely quicken up in pace on day two, but Yasir’s early overs were characterised by a somewhat odd tactic – attacking the leg stumps of Renshaw and Warner with a 6-3 leg side field. For the most part the batsmen took advantage of this, the only semblance of a chance coming when Yasir strayed wide of the off stump and Warner edged fractionally short of slip.
However Amir was brought back in the lead-up to the break and was able to pin Warner as he shuffled across the stumps to try to work the ball to the leg side. Gould’s finger was raised and Warner did not review; ball-tracking showed the ball would have clipped the outside of the leg stump.
Khawaja got started with one neat leg glance, but he was soon to be on his way when he lifted a Yasir delivery on the pads directly into the midriff of Misbah. Renshaw finished the session with a boundary from Azhar, before finding more gaps when play resumed – leaping out once to flay Yasir over cover.
Smith also played admirably straight, refusing to be tempted into a surfeit of deliveries angled across him by the Pakistani left-armers, and the pair were looking increasingly secure until Wahab found a modicum of away movement to coax an edge from Renshaw’s bat.
Coming in at No. 5, Handscomb again demonstrated his idiosyncrasies, staying deep in his crease to the pacemen while also trying to dance down the wicket to Yasir. There were a few nervy moments for him before the break, but Smith’s passing of 50 gave the hosts some cause for optimism as the match crept into the floodlit night.
Intriguingly Misbah resumed with twin spin after dinner, and Smith and Handscomb were duly able to get back into rhythm. The genuine concern for Amir left the tourists a bowler short, with Rahat also looking sluggish at various points. The second new ball brought Amir’s welcome return and the aforementioned unappealing edge from Smith, and after a protracted period in the 90s, the Australian captain was able to drive down the ground for Test hundred No. 16.
Of all the surprises thrown up by the first night’s pink ball cricket in Brisbane, a wicketless final session was surely the most startling. No-one will be more grateful for that than the No. 6 Nic Maddinson, who can now look forward to batting in sunlight on day two – whenever Smith and Handscomb exit the stage that is.