If there was any doubt that Alex Doolan would bat at No.3 in the first Test in Dubai, there is not any more. Doolan scored a confident century on the second day against Pakistan A in Sharjah, where he showed his adeptness against both pace and spin to join the in-form Steven Smith in leading Australia’s strong recovery from a shaky top-order start.
Although the Australians failed to overtake Pakistan’s first-innings total, that was in part due to team management’s decision to have Doolan retire after his hundred and Smith retire having reached a half-century, to give batting practice to the rest of the line-up. By stumps, Brad Haddin had scored an entertaining 38 not out including five fours and a six, as the total reached 271 for 8.
But the Australians would have been thrilled with the efforts of Doolan, who entered this tour as the incumbent first drop after making his debut on the tour of South Africa earlier this year. However, on that trip Doolan made some encouraging starts without fully making the No.3 position his own, and the presence on this tour of Phillip Hughes could have placed him under some pressure.
Under the circumstances, a classy century in Sharjah was the best possible start for Doolan, who had sat watching from the sidelines as the one-day players swept Pakistan 3-0 over the past week and a half. It was especially impressive given that he came to the crease to face the second ball of the day, after Chris Rogers was lbw first delivery to Mohammad Talha.
Another couple of early wickets, Phillip Hughes lbw to Rahat Ali for a scratchy 14 and Michael Clarke, batting for the first time since hurting his hamstring in Zimbabwe in August, caught for 10 cutting Ehsan Adil to point, left Australians at 58 for 3. But that brought Doolan and Smith together, and they combined for a 106-run stand that ended only when Smith retired to give Mitchell Marsh a hit.
Smith was the more fluent of the two early, getting away with an outstanding cover drive for four off Imran Khan and impressing also when pulling the fast men. Smith picked up two boundaries in an over from Attaullah but perhaps his best stroke was another one against the same bowler, a perfectly timed straight drive for four. He brought up his fifty with a drive through mid-off for four off Raza, before retiring a few overs later.
Smith’s form against the fast men augured well for Australia’s Test team, given that he is also one of their finest players of spin. But equally pleasing for the team was the way Doolan handled the spin of Raza and Karamat Ali. Doolan was prepared to use his feet against the slow bowlers and brought up his century with a loft over long on for six off Raza, also pulling another six off Karamat over wide midwicket.
He had been scratchy early in his innings as he struggled to find the middle of the bat but gave no genuine chances and after lunch began to reap the rewards of his patience. Doolan was at his most impressive when flicking the ball off his pads against the fast men, a move that brought him several fours as he found the gaps with ease, and he moved into the 90s with a late cut for four off Attaullah.
Although the match does not have first-class status and Doolan therefore did not add to his first-class tally of six hundreds, it will be a confidence booster ahead of the Dubai Test. Another man keen for some runs ahead of Dubai was Mitchell Marsh, who could bat at No.6 on Test debut if he proves his fitness in this game. He was bowled by Attaullah for a third-ball duck.
It meant that all of Pakistan’s fast bowlers apart from Imran had picked up a wicket, and the spinners also chipped in with one each when Karamat trapped Mitchell Johnson lbw for 7 and Raza picked up the late wicket of Peter Siddle. But it was a pace heavy day from the Pakistanis, perhaps not surprisingly with several members of their attack auditioning for Test places.
Rahat was difficult to get away and could prove an awkward opponent for the Australians if he plays in the Test, but all the fast bowlers were impressive at different times. Doolan, though, will enjoy having scored runs against all of them.