SYDNEY: Azhar Ali and Younis Khan indicated they had no intention of leaving Australia quietly with a stubborn stand after Peter Handscomb maintained his Test-match honeymoon phase with a second century to lift Australia to 8 for 538 on a batsmen-friendly day two of the SCG Test.
When the visitors lost two wickets before tea, having been run ragged by David Warner, Matt Renshaw and then Handscomb, there seemed every chance of the procession continuing in the final session. Instead Azhar maintained his fine touch and found support from Younis, who was in need of a score after a barren tour.
Australia were not at their best in the field, Warner, in particular, was untidy, missing two run-outs and also dropping a difficult chance at leg slip off the bowling of Nathan Lyon in the day’s penultimate over. The first run-out chance was the most egregious error, as Warner shied for a glory direct hit rather than passing the ball to the bowler Mitchell Starc with Azhar stranded halfway up the pitch.
Earlier, the hosts strode steadily towards an enormous first-innings tally against bowling that improved somewhat on the first day’s effort, though Pakistan were not helped by more indifferent fielding from the captain Misbah-ul-Haq down.
Matt Renshaw’s 184, which seems to have set him up for a long and fruitful Test career, was the highest by an opening batsman under the age of 21, and was only ended by a fine over from Imran Khan, who moved the ball to the left-hander across the crease before prompting him to drag onto the stumps.
Handscomb, meanwhile, did not allow himself to be frustrated by periods of slow scoring, utilising the sweep in particular to excellent effect – a good sign ahead of the tour of India. He survived a nervous period in the 90s to pass three figures on the same ground where he made a double century in the Sheffield Shield earlier this season to earn his Test spot.
Hilton Cartwright also showed patience, and showcased an organised technique with the exception of a couple of chances: a Yasir Shah leg break that beat him but also the wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed, and an edge off Azhar’s part-timers that eluded Younis at first slip.
There had been hope of Renshaw going past 200 when play began, and, in the early overs, it seemed there was little to stop him. It took Imran’s artful use of the crease and line to prompt the false stroke that brought his downfall, but he departed the ground with the applause of thousands ringing in his 20-year-old ears.
Cartwright arrived to face a first ball from Mohammad Amir, and stroked a full offering through cover with plenty of confidence. Thereafter he was somewhat becalmed and gave up the aforementioned chances, but a half-century stand in Handscomb’s capable company was a more than useful start.
After lunch, Handscomb reached the outskirts of his hundred before Cartwright was bowled by Imran; then, some quick scoring by Matthew Wade and Mitchell Starc drew Steven Smith’s declaration. In the 15 minutes to the tea interval, Hazlewood had an impact, though debutant Sharjeel Khan’s technique was questionable to say the least, as he waved his bat at Hazlewood to be taken at slip.
Babar Azam, who fell in the same over, should also have been expected to keep out a ball that was full and straight but not really moving through the air or off the seam, evidence that the time in the field had left the visitors with heavy legs. There was time for one over of spin – from the recalled Steve O’Keefe – before the tea break.
When Azhar hurtled down the wicket for a single that did not interest Younis, it appeared a third wicket was about to fall, but Warner’s preference to shy at the stumps offered the reprieve the batsmen needed. Both would play some fine strokes off pace and spin, as neither Lyon nor O’Keefe could get much turn from a drying but still decidedly flat surface. Cartwright’s bowling debut was steady at best.
This is not to say Pakistan are out of trouble; the way the Melbourne Test panned out attests to the fact they are far from it. But the comfort with which Azhar stroked a boundary in the final over of the day suggested that plenty of runs remain in the surface, provided the tourists put their minds to it. Agencies