The fast bowler used his pace and the lack of bounce on the pitch to prise out two important wickets on day one
Slow pitches have been a burning issue right through the series. Rawalpindi produced a tame draw and Karachi a thrilling one thanks to Pakistan’s resilience with the bat. In Lahore, which is hosting a Test match for the first time in 13 years, the pitch appeared to be another docile one, but two quick wickets from Shaheen Shah Afridi in his second over brought the contest to life. Usman Khawaja and Steven Smith shared a 138-run third-wicket stand to help Australia recover from the early losses, before Naseem bagged two wickets – including the prize scalp of Smith – to move the focus away from the pitch and towards a tightly contested opening day.
Pakistan, who lost the toss, would have ended the day satisfied with their efforts, having shown excellent control with the ball and restricting Australia to 232 for 5.
“The sort of pitch it is, we quickly found out that we had to bowl our hearts out,” Naseem said after the day’s play. “It wasn’t quick but on the slower side, so to get the best out of it, you had to give it your all and try to get the ball to reverse when the ball was still hard. You had to bowl with extra pace, and since the ball was staying low, the more pace you put in, there was more chance of hitting the pads. All I tried to do was generate more pace and focus on hitting a fuller length.”
Over the course of the three Tests so far, Pakistan’s fast bowlers have only picked up a combined 13 wickets. The debate leading up to the Test had been over whether Pakistan should play a legspinner in place of the offspinner Sajid Khan. In a surprise move, Pakistan went with Naseem in place of the allrounder Faheem Ashraf, who bowls at a brisk pace and offers plenty of lower-order assurance.
Naseem was pleased to get a chance despite the conditions not being expected to favour him. He was diplomatic when asked if these slow pitches put him in a bad mood.
“It doesn’t anger me because if you get angry, you can’t bowl effectively,” Shah said. “Pitches are not in your control and as a professional I don’t really think about pitches. It’s more about how much effort you are putting in, and how well you adapt yourself.”
Lahore was warm compared to Rawalpindi and Karachi, which meant extra toil for the fast bowlers. “In hot weather, bowling in Test cricket isn’t easy. You can get frustrated when you don’t get wickets but you have to keep yourself relaxed because you have to bowl long [spells].”
The cream of Australia’s batting is back in the hut, and Naseem suggested the pitch was beginning to show signs of turn.
The cream of Australia’s batting is back in the hut, with Sajid taking the important wicket of Usman Khawaja for 91, and Pakistan could have been in an even better position had they taken their chances off both Sajid and Nauman Ali.
“We will try and get them all out for under 300,” Naseem said. “The pitch could break up later, there are a few [rough] patches forming on it, and I feel there will be a result.”
For now, though, he doesn’t think there is enough wear to trouble Pakistan when they come out to bat. “I can’t say how our batters will do until they come out to bat, but I don’t think there is that much on the wicket to worry them. I’m pretty confident that they will play well and we will win.”
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent