Daniel Brettig in Adelaide
“We’ve had the two heavyweight contests – we’re ready to go.”
With these words to the host broadcaster, Australia’s coach Justin Langer referred to the fact that after battling India at home and England away in the past 12 months, he and Tim Paine are leading a hardened Test match team. Judging by their ejection of Pakistan from two Tests each won by an innings, it is only the two aforementioned teams that are currently capable of containing them, and of those perhaps only India on home soil.
The final day in Adelaide unfolded with the air of inevitability that once enveloped so many Australian home Tests during their previous era of dominance between 1995 and 2008. Pakistan have been, save for a few sparkling moments in time, thoroughly outplayed and taught lessons in Test match craft that will serve some well, while being the breaking of others.
Australia meanwhile have enjoyed headlining performances from David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne and Mitchell Starc, while Nathan Lyon joined the party on the final day with his first ever five-for against Pakistan. For Paine, who nursed a stung finger through the final innings of the Test, this was the performance of a team that has grown enormously over the past 18 months, and has now recalibrated to focus upon future challenges against India at home, South Africa away and then the carrot of the world Test Championship final in mid-2021. New Zealand, ranked No. 2 in the world and disciplined to a fault, will provide a more systematic test than Pakistan have provided.
“Particularly this game I thought that it was quite a professional performance, barring some catches and my stumping yesterday, I thought we were always creating chances,” Paine said. “I thought our energy and attitude in the field was really good and we kept at them, we knew that it was going to be hard toil for us during the day time, the wicket was pretty flat and the ball doesn’t give you a hell of a lot through the air.
“But I thought the way our bowlers backed up, kept on coming, it was also really windy out there so difficult for the bowlers to bowl at one end. But I thought it was a really professional, clinical performance barring some fielding slips.”
Paine was, partly due to Lyon and partly due to the rest that had already been banked for the bowlers due to Warner, Labuschagne and also Joe Burns in Brisbane, able to enforce the follow-on and thus take advantage of the vagaries of a pink-ball Test. He was rewarded not only by some more fiery spells from his pacemen but also Lyon’s best performance against Pakistan, as he steadily worked his way through the visitors in the fashion of the wisened spin bowling pro he has become.
“I think he bowled really well in the first innings as well. We just let him down. Missed some chances off him,” Paine said. “But I think Lyno today turned up and did exactly what we wanted him to do particularly in the second innings and win us Test matches. And again, I don’t think people understand how difficult it can be with that pink ball, particularly during the day, and for Lyno to still be getting spin and bounce and challenging batsmen at all times and creating chances for our team is an unbelievable effort and why he’s such a great bowler.
“We’re lucky not only because of how good [the quick bowlers] are but they’re great athletes as well. We knew they had that in them to be able to go again. Starcy has a bit of a cut on his big toe, he did land awkwardly at one stage yesterday but that was fine. Most of his grimacing today…I think he’s waiting the nail to come off the big toe which happens to a lot of fast bowlers and until it actually happens it can be quite painful. He’s battling a little bit with that but nothing he hasn’t gone through before.”
This wear and tear will get the chance to heal over the next week before the team reconfigures in Perth for New Zealand, who have shown against England and by their consistent displays over recent years that they will likely make best use of every element of their game, where Pakistan – through inexperience and mental lapses – were unable to. Paine sees the series as another chance to further hone the skills seen in Adelaide, on three surfaces in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney that should provide some measure of contrasts.
“I think we’re getting better at it. I think in the second innings at the Gabba we had a big lead so we sort of tried to get a few wickets which is probably slightly different to the game plan we’ll stick with most of the time,” Paine said. “Again, that’s a product of playing really good cricket for the other four days is that we were so far ahead of that game that we could try that.
“I think we’ve got a very skilful attack. We’ve got an attack with good pace, we’ve got a great spinner but at the same time when you have players that good bowling, just giving you nothing and building pressure, at some stage you’re going to break teams open. At the moment, we’re finding ways to hold the scoreboard for long periods of time and when we take wickets we tend to take them quickly because of the quality bowling we’ve got.
“They’ve been awesome for a while now. I thought they were really good at the Ashes as well. I think our attack, as good as they are, is still getting better.”
A contrast in teams was offered not only by Pakistan as the Adelaide Test drew to a close but also by South Australia, a team in a far deeper hole. Having threatened to complete a tough fourth innings chase against Western Australia, they subsided to lose when Adam Zampa hooked with eight balls remaining. As Langer and Paine undoubtedly know, the current “heavyweight” pitch of the Australian team’s performance can so easily slip away.
Photo source: AFP