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A brilliant stand from Australia’s new openers, Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja, was rendered irrelevant yesterday as their teammates imploded in the first Test against Pakistan in Dubai.

Khawaja (85) and Finch (62) adapted well to the conditions, showing fine discipline and patience as they grinded to a partnership of 142 from 51.4 overs.

They did a great job of blanketing Pakistan’s three spinners, who went wicketless across the 31 overs they bowled during the opening stand.

Then an all-too-familiar tale of woe unfolded for the tourists as they lost 10-60 to lurch from a position of dominance to one of humiliation.

The collapse began when Finch was undone by a canny Pakistan strategy and clinical execution by their star seamer, Mohammad Abbas. Sarfraz Ahmed employed both a short mid-on and a short mid-off as he instructed Abbas to bowl dead straight at Finch. The Australian batsman managed to resist the lure of playing across the line, or inside out, to get the ball past those fielders.

But when Finch lifted a forceful on-drive just centimetres above the turf it was caught by short mid-on.

That was followed soon after by a procession of wicket gifting. First Shaun Marsh aimed an optimistic off drive at a wide, loopy delivery from debutant spinner Bilal Asif and gave a catch to first slip.

Soon after, Khawaja had a brainfade, playing a half-hearted lap sweep against Asif which merely lobbed to short leg. Khawaja had been in control when playing the full-blooded, conventional sweep shot but looked vulnerable every time he tried the lap version.

That brought to the crease Travis Head, one of Australia’s three debutants for the match. The 24-year-old has a reputation for being shaky against spin and that was justified, as he completed an ugly, nine-ball duck. Head’s outside edge was beaten twice in the first over he faced from Asif, who then had him caught at slip in a near-identical manner to the dismissal of Shaun Marsh.

First-gamer Marnus Labuschagne’s stay was even shorter, out second ball, caught at short leg as he pushed with hard hands at a well-flighted delivery from Asif. Australia had lost 5-29.

Captain Tim Paine and joint vice-captain Mitchell Marsh managed to hold back the flood for nine overs before they, too, were washed away. Caught on the crease, Marsh was LBW to an in-swinger from Abbas, who bowled with relentless precision to take 4-29 from 19 overs.

Four balls later Paine became one of Asif’s six victims as he gave a catch to short leg off his inside edge before the tail was mopped up by Pakistan.

Tim Paine

Skipper Tim Paine (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Gallo Images)

Frittering away a great opening stand is familiar territory for the Australians when playing in the UAE.

The last time they toured there, David Warner and Chris Rogers took them to 0-128 in the first Test, only to then lose 10-175, suffering a 221-run defeat.

Australia appear to be headed for a similarly hefty loss here, in spite of a good finish to Day 3, when they managed to reduce Pakistan to 3-45 in their second innings. On a pitch which is offering an increasing amount of help to slow bowlers, the Australian spinners grabbed all three wickets.

After struggling badly in the first innings, Jon Holland produced a terrific spell before stumps, grabbing 2-9. Even still, Pakistan lead by a whopping 325 runs, which is already 150 more than I would back Australia to make in the fourth innings.

Amid this dense gloom, however, were two significant positives: the efforts of Khawaja and Finch.

The former has long laboured overseas, particularly in Asia, where he averaged 14 from five Tests prior to this match. While he so often looks commanding at home against spinners, Khawaja has continually appeared anxious and timid against them in Asia. Not so in this innings, however, as the 31-year-old played the Pakistan tweakers with encouraging certainty. Even when Khawaja got a let-off on 17, as Sarfraz missed an easy legside stumping from the bowling of Yasir, he did not go back into his shell.

In his next few balls from Yasir, he advanced once more and also played a powerful sweep shot. To further underscore his newfound belief against spin, Khawaja reverse-swept consecutive balls for four off Yasir just after reaching his half century.

At the other end, Finch did a good job of shackling his aggressive instincts. When the seamers bowled straight, he avoided playing across the line, and when the spinners tossed up wide tempters, he left them alone.

His dawdling strike rate of 38 proved Finch is willing to shelve his ego in the quest to become a successful Test cricketer.

Yet, by stumps, the graft of Finch and Khawaja had been well and truly wasted by their teammates. Australia are staring at a big defeat.

Authors: Republished with permission from Bing News

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