Hasan Ali feels Pakistan are ahead after shackling Australia at MCG

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The scorecard might not suggest too much reason for optimism, but Pakistan fast bowler Hasan Ali has always tried to look at the brighter side. And on a gloomy Boxing Day in Melbourne where Pakistan toiled hard for the reward of just three wickets in 66 overs despite prodigious swing and several passages of play where Australia’s batters looked shaky, 187 for 3 isn’t exactly the scoreline Pakistan will have wished for after winning the toss and inserting Australia under grey skies.

Hasan, though, felt Pakistan’s discipline and ability to keep Australia shackled meant they retained the upper hand. “We are a bit ahead of them right now,” he said at the post-match press conference. “Honestly, it was a good day as a bowling unit. We are a bit unlucky we haven’t got enough wickets, but the best thing is we have not given them enough runs. We’re looking forward to tomorrow, and restricting them to the minimum possible score.”

Pakistan captain Shan Masood had effectively thrown down the gauntlet to Hasan and his fellow fast bowlers. After narrowing down the squad for the Test to XII a day earlier, his Pakistan side had made the decision to cut their sole specialist spinner Sajid Khan from the starting XI, thus fielding an all-seam attack for the second consecutive game. Winning the toss and choosing to bowl was a sign he wanted them to do a job for him.

Hasan, left out of the first Test for the uncapped pair of Khurram Shahzad and Aamer Jamal, could argue he did exactly that. Coming on as Pakistan’s first-change bowler, he locked the scoring rate down just as Australia’s openers had begun to cut loose slightly. The helpful overhead conditions saw him generate movement through the air, and coupled with prodigious seam movement, he threatened both of David Warner‘s edges.

Post lunch, Hasan – and Pakistan – kicked the intensity up a notch. With ominous clouds threatening an interruption any moment, Pakistan began to recover from a wayward final half hour or so before lunch, tightening their lines and squeezing Australia’s run rate. Usman Khawaja had looked the most comfortable of the batters until that point, but a slightly audacious shot against a moving ball from Hasan found second slip, and Pakistan had two in quick succession, bookending the lunch break with the wickets of both openers.

“There are certain times when the bowlers are a bit wayward as [we were before lunch], or the bowlers have different plans,” Hasan said. “But there is always a chance to come back. After lunch, we had a small discussion, and we were especially good in that period. We just gave them about 20 runs in that session.”

It was the period in the game – indeed, in the series – that Pakistan looked most self-assured. Khawaja’s wicket saw an extended spell of Pakistani bowling dominance over Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, clogging up nearly all scoring opportunities. The 63 balls they survived after Khawaja’s wicket saw just seven runs scored, with every Pakistan bowler who came on probing and prodding, giving little away.

Frustratingly for them, they got little back in return, too. Arguably, Australia’s two most stubborn batters saw off that period, and much of an extended session after the weather interruption, thus shielding themselves from the worst of the damage. Even Warner, who had almost chastised Pakistan’s bowlers for being bullied off their lines early on in Perth, gave them credit for “bowling beautifully”.

“Credit to the way that Pakistan bowled,” he said. “They bowled unbelievable channels. I think the way that [Mir] Hamza bowled around the wicket and pretty much at the end, it was almost like he was bowling with a Duke ball. He actually used his skills very, very well. Made the boys play and put the ball in the right area. I think going into tomorrow, we’re in a pretty good position. We’re going to have to bat well and try to set up for our bowlers.

“If you’re not bowling quick in Australia, you have to have some skill base to actually hit that line and length area to actually create something. I think with these guys, they have actually been very, very good. I think they’ve been outstanding. They came back last Test match after lunch, and bowled a great line and length. With Shaheen Shah Afridi doing his job – and he bowled well today with not so much luck [but] when he’s up and about, I think the rest of the guys follow him – I think they’re fine.”

There was, of course, the customary “what if”. Warner shouldn’t have been in the position to notch up a 90-run opening stand, because when he was on 2, Afridi drew an outside edge that floated to Abdullah Shafique at first slip. There was no mitigating factor for the drop; he wasn’t unsighted and no one else distracted him. But as has happened far too often in Australia – and far too often against Warner – Pakistan gave him a chance, and deprived themselves of the opportunity to make an early breakthrough.

“If we’d caught it early, maybe the situation would have been different; but this is a part of the game – you drop some catches and you take others,” Hasan ruefully said. However, Pakistan didn’t let it define their day, and Hasan’s attitude suggests they will refuse to let the inability to take the wickets they felt they deserved define this Test, too.

Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000

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