RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AP) — Sometimes, it just took David Warner to step in and get the crowd going as Australia’s first test match in Pakistan in 24 years crawled toward an inevitable draw on a lifeless pitch at Pindi Cricket Stadium.
Bat was so dominant over ball that a mere 14 wickets fell across five days of cricket. As the home crowd’s appetite for batters piling on runs waned, fans turned their attention back to the novelty of just having the likes of Australian players Warner and Josh Hazlewood out on the field, smiling and waving back to them, responding to their cheers and chants.
Whenever Warner produced some dance moves on the field, including perfect steps to the Bhangra, a Punjabi dance, it brought the people in the crowd to their feet.
“I think the occasion has just really surpassed any concerns about the pitch,” Cricket Australia chief executive Nick Hockley said after the series-opening match ended in a draw.
Still, more than 40,000 spectators spent time at the stadium, holding placards and banners to welcome their favorite players on both teams, and enjoy two long Pakistan innings.
Opener Imam-ul-Haq became the fourth Pakistani batter after Younis Khan, Azhar Ali and Misbah-ul-Haq to score a century in each innings of a test match against Australia. Pakistan declared its first innings at 476-4, then chalked up 252-0 without loss in the second innings.
Australia's Islamabad-born Usman Khawaja missed out a century in the country of his birth. He and Marnus Labuschagne were dismissed in the 90s. Steve Smith and Warner also posted half-centuries in Australia's first innings of 459.
Veteran off-spinner Nathan Lyon, who suggested before the series that Australia was aiming for a 3-0 series sweep, ended up with just one just one wicket and finished with match figures of 1-236 off his 78 overs. The conditions were dispiriting for the bowlers.
They'll have to regroup quickly, with the second test starting Saturday in Karachi and the third test from March 21-25 in Lahore.
“We’d love to see an even contest between bat and ball. We want to see results in test matches,” Hockley said. “I think the two teams had an opportunity to really size each other up, so, you know, we’d love to see a bit more balance in the pitches for Karachi and Lahore.”
Australia hasn't played a test in Pakistan since 1998 because of security concerns. The players are embracing what for them is a new adventure.
Labuschagne is among the Aussies who've been particularly interactive with fans on social media.
“Thanks guys,” Labuschagne tweeted when two of his fans posted a picture holding a banner reading: “Marnus we love you so much we will learn your last name.”
Traffic congestion has been a common occurrence since the Australians arrived on Feb. 27. Traveling from the team hotel in Islamabad to the ground in nearby Rawalpindi in bulletproof buses, surrounded by fleet of vans containing armed guards, caused gridlock.
“We’re just very grateful for the general public because we can see the traffic has been stopped to allow the teams to come through,” Hockley said. “And, you know, obviously that of course causes a fair amount of disruption for people.”
He hoped it was a minor negative in the otherwise important process of strengthening the relationship between the two cricket boards.
“We firmly believe in Australia that we need a strong global game," he said. "And a strong global game (means) the best countries are playing regularly against each other. We’ve got two teams here that are that are extremely strong and very competitive.”
Planning for the tour has taken months. Hockley met with Pakistan Cricket Board officials on the sidelines during the Twenty20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates last year and then in December a security delegation also visited Rawalpindi, Karachi and Lahore to see the arrangements.
Former test all-rounder Shane Watson and Khawaja, who both have played in Pakistan Super League, were also engaged by CA to give advice and a full-strength squad was picked for the tour.
“Winning away is the pinnacle,” Hockley said. The Australian players “have just come off a very successful Ashes series and they want to test themselves in in the toughest conditions."
Andrew McDonald, who is Australia's interim coach in aftermath of Justin Langer's departure last month, said he was hoping for a more even contest between bat and ball in Karachi.
“We knew we were in for attritional cricket, probably not as attritional as that," he said of the series-opening match. "Clearly it was in favor of the batters.
“I think we’ll get a totally different surface come Karachi. Probably we’ll see the game speed up.”
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