“This will not only lift their morals for this tour, but it will also inject a lot of positivity in the dressing room ahead of the massive home season”
Depleted, yet not defeated.
Batting out almost 140 overs in the fourth innings to save a Test match on Asian conditions – this has been a massive statement by this new-look Australian unit. Remember, following the debacle of Cape Town, the Aussies are in a dire need of salvaging their reputations. And following this herculean effort by Tim Paine’s boys, they have certainly taken the right foot forward.
At the start of Day 5 of this Dubai Test, no one gave Australia a chance. At 136 for 3, they were required to bat out 90 overs on a fifth day pitch to save this match. And having collapsed miserably against spin and reverse swing in the first innings, all the odds were against the visitors.
But the resilience came when it mattered the most. Usman Khawaja and Travis Head – two southpaws – played out a wicket-less morning session to provide their team a realistic chance of an escape. The pair was at the crease for 49 overs and their efforts lifted the spirits in the dressing-room.
Khawaja, after missing a ton in the first innings, looked determined to make the most out of this opportunity. His technique seemed rock-solid against spin. This resistance shows how much the 31-year old has evolved as a batsman. Last year, when he played Test cricket in the sub-continent, Khawaja batted like a fish out water against the Bangladeshi spinners. Earlier in India, he had struggled against Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, got out sweeping on a number of occasions. However, on Thursday, against the likes of Yasir Shah and Bilal Asif, the left-hander played that shot with authority and control. It seemed, to counter the spin-threat, sweeping was his go-to option. At times, to frustrate the hosts even more, Khawaja reverse-swept the spinners elegantly.
Others like debutant Head and skipper Paine also seemed to have decisive feet movements against slow bowling and that was the prime reason behind these Aussies successfully smothering the spin and keeping the Pakistan spin-trio of Shah, Bilal Asif and Mohammad Hafeez at bay on a Day Five track.
Nevertheless, post-Lunch, Head and Marnus Labuschagne were dismissed in quick successions. Pakistan felt the floodgates were open. But a determined Paine alongside centurion Khawaja continued to keep the Aussie hope alive. No other Australian batsman had batted as long as Khawaja did in terms of time in the fourth innings of a Test match.
With 15 overs left in the Day, Shah trapped Khawaja in front of the stumps while sweeping. And soon the leggie dismissed Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle in the space of four deliveries. Paine was stranded at the other end. Pakistan had 74 balls to take the last two wickets. With only Nathan Lyon and Jon Holland left, the onus was on the Aussie skipper to take most of the strike, which was never easy on that surface and with Pakistan hunting for wickets with close-in field setting.
But it was Lyon who put his hands up. He showed a very useful front-foot technique against the spinners, which kept Australia in the game. Even against the likes of Shah and Asif, Paine was handing over the strike to Lyon, whereas he himself was more keen on facing the reverse-swing of Mohammad Abbas, who took 4 for 29 in the first innings with the old ball.
The partnership was decisive as the duo negotiated 73 deliveries before Sarfraz Ahmed went up to Paine and shook hands.
In an uncharted territory, not letting the opposition roll them over despite being outplayed for the majority of the Test match, is a huge confidence booster for this relatively inexperienced Australian batting line-up. This will not only lift their morals for this tour, but it will also inject a lot of positivity in the dressing room ahead of the massive home season. In Dubai, Paine and Co. has earned a lot of respect from the cricket fraternity and also successfully established the fact that even without Steve Smith and David Warner, there is enough fire-power left in this batting line-up.