Australia versus Pakistan first Test at the Gabba


This was the second no-balls-up in two days. It is a funny game indeed that can systemise alerts to frivolous scrawls on obscure whiteboards in distant parts, but not to an emerging, and fundamental problem in a Test match.

Worlds apart in nationality, age and accomplishments, Warner and Naseem were linked by tempo, the fast bowler and the toey batsman, naturals both. Warner has always preferred a game on high simmer. Naseem had already shown the previous evening that he could bear the heat as well as bring it, when keeping out Mitch Starc’s hat-trick ball and then flushing an on-drive.

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Overnight, a debate had flared about his true age, which rather missed two points, that he is young on any scale, a neophyte, but that kids in Asia grow up quicker than in Australia. He is one. Shaheen Afridi, himself all of 19, kept an eye on him yesterday, but plainly it was fraternal, not paternal.

In this pas de trois, Warner led. As he divides his country, so is his record divided between on-shore and off. The boy from Matraville travels about as well as Guinness, sarcasm and Americans, averaging nearly twice as much here as there and everywhere. This year is becoming a Warner year in excelsis: the broad country, but not Broad’s country, please.

Immediately, he looked a different batsman. Everything was amped up: calls, strokes, disposition. He took strike and got in first. He batted on off-stump, confident the Kookaburra would not seam or swing as the Duke did, confident also that there was no Stuart Broad among the mostly callow Pakistanis. He hit freely through the off field, a sure sign. In short, he took command. He never looked back, other than at two slices of luck, the no-ball dismissal and near run-out in the nineties. There was some mistiming, but only two false shots, and for one of those he got a refund in full, plus a voucher for more. With minutes to go, Afridi hit his stumps, but did not dislodge a bail. It was an Australian bail. Warner brought the permanently ruffled Burns along with him. Though geographically at home, he also had to take new bearings. Since we last saw him on this stage, he has brushed up his technique, but not his hair. No longer does he play so much around his front pad, freeing his repertoire.

Naseem joined the day after six overs. His first ball clocked 145km/h, his second 147km/h. With a high arm and a classic but now little-seen side-on action, he immediately looked what he was acclaimed to be, a born fast bowler, and not so long ago. He followed through like one, glared and stared like one. If he wasn’t leading the Pakistan line in a Test match, it would be called pouting. But he did not flinch, from the occasion or the task.

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Periodically, he made Warner and Burns duck, and we mean duck, not evade. He hit Burns on the elbow, Warner on the ego, but both survived. He hurried them. Unfortunately for him, they like pace, or at least know how to accommodate it. Fast, full and wide was another thing to Warner, who launched at it as if to put the stripling in his place. He was caught behind, but as it transpired it was on false pretences, for Naseem was caught on camera.

Thereafter, the day became as inevitable as death and taxes. Pakistan began each session vigorously and rigorously, but faded apace. For long stretches, they adopted a defensive formation: leg-spinner Yasir Shah bumping them down at one end, rotation of quicks at the other, without change-up or down. For Warner and Burns, it might as well have been yessir and yahoo. Despite themselves, Pakistan shrunk from their mission. It happens in Australia, to better teams than this. They toiled honestly, but as if with a flat ball.

At 100, Warner looked for a long time before he leapt, relief trumping rejoicing. No doubt in his darkest days in England he closed his eyes and thought of Australia, and here he was. Burns was about to complete the century quinella when he swept Yasir into his stumps. He left in the attitude of a man who has second prize in a lottery. Replacing him, Marnus Labuschagne made an unbeaten half-century, because that’s what he does. By day’s end, Warner was again right at home in all ways, and Australia as good as home here. On Thursday evening, Shane Warne said he wanted to give Naseem a hug. At least that meant he had been accepted in this wonderland, if he was not yet at home in it. But what he needed most was a massage.



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