The central precept of his game is balance. It’s a notion that has gone out of fashion in cricket. Power balance, work-life balance, balance in fixturing; the general rule now is that it is what it is. Balancing defence and attack seems harder now that every batsman can do both. In the first innings Babar got it horribly wrong.
Balance at the crease has diminished in importance now that it is possible for any bat-wielder with a half-decent eye to make meaty contact while out of kilter and position. A lunge generally is enough. Item A in evidence: Pakistan’s late order clubbing this day.
That is not for Babar. Back or forward, his weight invariably is over the correct foot, which means his head is there, too. The effect is classic.
Against fast bowlers and slow, he was prolific on the cut, as only the very best batsman are. He made two-thirds of his runs through the off field, a sign of class. Even his forcing shots did not look in the least forced. Exquisite timing will do that. But not a reverse sweep was to be seen. Babar saves contrivances for short-form cricket.
Ageless batting has one other effect: it ages bowlers. In the morning, Josh Hazlewood’s metronomic line and length acted as a straight-jacket on the Pakistanis. In the afternoon, it was he felt he had nowhere to go as Babar manoeuvred him off his line. Hazlewood frowned, but with the last laugh always up his sleeve.
At 100, Babar kissed the turf; they had gotten on famously all day. An over later, he kissed a Nathan Lyon ball with his outside edge and wicketkeeper Tim Paine caught it. You could say he lived by the sword and died by the sword, but it doesn’t seem enough. You’d be better to say he lived by the sabre and died by the jewel-encrusted scimitar.
Rizwan, in just his second Test, arrived free of expectations, though his first-class record suggests that in this, he was lightly handicapped. He was as patiently waiting back-up wicket-keepers often are, a known unknown.
The appropriate compliment for Rizwan’s innings is that he was often indistinguishable from Babar at the crease. He has the same stature and shape and played many of the same shots, for instance when paring Lyon away from the line of off-stump; bounce did not seem to bother either. Nor did reputation. Pakistani wicketkeepers tend to flatter to deceive, but Rizwan looks to have mettle as well as flamboyance.
His end was unbecoming. With the new ball due in an over, he steered Hazlewood high to third man, where Lyon awaited. For fully 30 seconds, Rizwan held his pose, as if having strayed a glance at a Gorgon. He had made 95. He had lived by the rapier, and fallen on it.
The end was played out in demob spirit. The Pakistan tail batted like a driver who is low on fuel and so drives faster to get to his destination before he runs out. In both instances, that can have only one outcome. Within five overs, it was all over.
So two phenomena grew. One was the way the Gabba pitch sometimes improves rather than deteriorates over the course of a Test match and second innings scores eclipse first. The Gabba sports the best pitch in the country, but it shouldn’t listen to its own rave reviews.
The other is an occasional log of charming Pakistani hundreds made as postscripts to horror stories. Last tour, it was Asad Shafiq on this ground who rode to the posthumous rescue. No doubt coach Misbah ul Haq would settle henceforth for something less glittering, more hardscrabble – and earlier.
Greg Baum is chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age.