Australia and Pakistan on night two in Brisbane resembled nothing so much as Australia and most of the rest of the world during the great recession of 2008. Having planned and saved soundly in the good times on a slower day one pitch, the hosts were able to absorb the shock of tougher batting conditions, helped by a Peter Handscomb stimulus package.
Pakistan had no such safety net, and when the crash came under the Gabba lights against the wobbling pink ball, they went swiftly into free fall. The visiting batsmen jutted their bats out at the bad real estate offered by Australia’s canny bowlers like so many reckless traders, and were left observing the ruins of their first innings like former employees of Lehman Brothers.
The main reason for the day’s violent swerve from 1 for 43 to 8 for 67 was the quickening of the surface, which clearly did not need a single millimetre more grass than the two the curator Kevin Mitchell Jnr. left on it. One wonders how swiftly the match might have moved with the 6mm preferred by Adelaide’s groundsman Damian Hough.
Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Jackson Bird had far too much speed, accuracy and movement for Pakistan’s batsmen, cowed as they already had been on slower, seamier pitches in New Zealand. Of the tourists only Sami Aslam gave any indication of permanence, and even that was of the painful, white-knuckle kind as he wore two blows on the helmet before glancing Bird into Matthew Wade’s gloves.
Handscomb’s chanceless century, in only his second Test, ensured that the quality spells bowled by Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz did not result in a similar level of mayhem. Amir’s figures were his best since returning to the Pakistan side, but he was unable to dislodge Handscomb, who showed patience beyond his years and deep trust in his way of batting. Gleefully, he leapt from 91 to 101 with a powerful six off Yasir Shah then a delectable square drive off Amir. Bird and Nathan Lyon bolstered Australia’s total with a pesky stand of 49 – runs measured in value through the deepening furrow in Misbah-ul-Haq’s brow.
Steven Smith and Handscomb had begun intent on a long occupation, but the captain appeared to decide it was time to go on the attack after the fourth wicket stand went beyond 170 runs. First he tried to deposit Yasir into the Gabba stands only for Amir to drop a swirling chance, then flayed at Wahab to end an equal parts fine and fortunate innings.
Nic Maddinson was not confronted by floodlights and a swinging ball, but the extra pace off the pitch did appear to trouble him against both spin and pace before he was unable to withdraw his bat from Wahab in time – having already been turfed at short leg off Yasir. Wade and Starc both offered up catches to the slips off the persistent Amir before Handscomb was able to reach three figures, doing so with an exultant yell and matching fist pump.
Despite the late flurry from Bird and Lyon, Pakistan’s openers did have the advantage of starting in daylight. Starc gained some early swing, but it was a ball angled across with bounce that found the edge of Azhar Ali’s bat – expertly snaffled by Usman Khawaja. For a little more than 15 overs, the resolute Sami and a seemingly composed Babar Azam held the Australians at bay, even as the lights took effect.
It was clear they stuck around longer than the hosts preferred, as evidenced by Starc’s ever more prominent snarling in Sami’s direction. But it was to be Hazlewood who signalled the start of the downturn by tempting Babar with a delivery just wide enough to drive, and just short enough to make it risky. The resultant edge was well held by Smith, turning his body, and next ball Wade had a far simpler task to collect a thinner edge from a fencing Younis Khan.
Though Misbah survived the hat-trick, he seemed mesmerised by the bouncing, seaming ball, and it was no surprise when his searching bat succeeded only in edging low to Matt Renshaw at first slip. By now the Gabba had taken on full Colosseum mode, as near enough to 25,000 spectators willed further edges into the Australian cordon.
They got them too, as Asad Shafiq and Yasir offered further catches to Khawaja, either side of a return catch from Wahab and a forlorn touch down the leg side by Sami. His determination to keep his bat from harm had been the closest any Pakistani came to a workable method in such bouncy conditions.
Late in the piece, Sarfraz Ahmed and Amir managed to hang around until stumps while inching the total towards three figures – the former was reprieved when Wade failed to glove a stumping chance off Lyon. If Pakistan look about as healthy as numerous major economies did in late 2008 there is one troubling divergence from that tale: the Gabba doesn’t tend to do bail-outs.