Brave Starc embodies gutsy Aussie fightback
MITCHELL Starc defied severe cramp and heat exhaustion to embody a gutsy Australian bowling unit that refused to stop punching after being put to the sword by another mature-aged Pakistani.
The sweet emotion of a triple baggy green presentation was sucked dry by a ruthless hundred from Mohammad Hafeez in 38 degree heat on the cusp of his 38th birthday.
But Australia refused to roll over in Dubai and in the final session rescued a potential nightmare scenario to at least put the brakes on Pakistan who will resume on day two at 3-255.
Starc took a brilliant catch lunging forward at mid-off to dismiss dangerman Azhar Ali off the bowling of Jon Holland as Australia held Pakistan to 3-56 from the 29 overs in the final session.
That was after Hafeez and Imam ul-Haq had piled on 200 for the first wicket.
Starc was in visible distress in the shadows of stumps, reaching for his groin at one point and then collapsing to the ground after his follow-through with cramp.
Despite this, he backed up to bowl the next over - getting through 22 in arduous conditions.
Siddle said Starc was cramping for the last hour of play but denied he was feeling any other injury.
"Everyone around that last session bowled superbly. Building pressure, bowling in partnerships, things we've spoken a lot about in the lead-up. That last session summed up what we've been working on," said Peter Siddle who took the key wicket of Hafeez.
"To only go for 50 runs at the back end of a day when a team is none down at tea, I think that's a tremendous effort from the whole group to be able to restrict them to that, but get wickets along the way it showed the hard work's paying off.
"(Starc) is feeling alright. He toiled harder, he's always going to be used in a lot of short spells throughout the day, and I think that's what he's come to expect.
"It was great for him to finish off there. He'll rest up tonight, he was fine coming off, just a little bit of cramp."
Hafeez wasn't even picked in Pakistan's original 18-man squad, but returned to deliver Australia a nasty case of déjà vu just four years after they were brutalized by a 40-year-old Misbah ul-Haq and 36-year-old Younis Khan.
Veteran Peter Siddle ended a two-year drought from Test cricket to claim the key wicket of Hafeez lbw and inspired Australia's fight, giving up just 23 runs from 15 overs of toil.
"I've always dreamed of playing for Australia again in the last few years, but I've concentrated on just performing wherever I played. Today was a nice reward for the time I've put in off the park," said Siddle.
Australia still have a mountain to climb to win the first Test, but the newfound fitness and resolve of the team under Justin Langer was laid bare.
Nathan Lyon bowled an ironman 33 overs at less than two runs an over and got the ball rolling when he nicked off ul-Haq for 76.
Mitchell Marsh put down a difficult chance to dismiss Hafeez for 74, mistiming his two-handed leap on the boundary off the bowling of Jon Holland.
But Australia refused to drop their bundle.
Australia played their last Test amid the explosion of Sandpapergate, but returned last night to deafening silence in Dubai.
The atmosphere was soulless and the pitch dire, and Australia spent the first two sessions perishing at the hands of Hafeez (117 not out) and ul-Haq.
The families of the three debutants Aaron Finch, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne was about the extent of crowd on hand to witness the bold new chapter of Australian cricket.
It highlighted the lonely road ahead.
It wasn't long before the harsh reality of the grind facing Australia was rammed home.
No Steve Smith, no David Warner and a million miles from home, Australia found themselves back in the frying pan.
Test matches in Dubai often go until the last day, but Australia's rookie squad will need to fight for every scrap.
At lunch on day one, Pakistan were 0-89 and in a position to cause some serious damage.
The hosts made their intentions clear from the get go as they sat on Nathan Lyon and instead went after Australia's second spinner Holland.
Holland went at nearly 5.5 an over for his first six overs, and was under pressure to put the Pakistan batsmen back in their place.
Part-time leg-spinner Labuschagne was given a bowl on debut before Holland was called back for his second spell, but the Victorian improved and brought his rate down to four runs per over.
Lyon barely gave an inch and is set for an enormous load over the coming days on a dry and barren wicket.
Hafeez has been brought back from the wilderness and is looking to add further misery after destroying Australia with the ball four years ago on the corresponding tour.
To celebrate his hundred he crouched to the ground and gave praise to Allah.
Earlier, Nathan Lyon told Travis Head he was like "little brother" to him during an emotional baggy green cap presentation.
The very fact a current player was bestowing the honour on a debutant showed just how significant the tribute was to the young South Australian.
Not since Ricky Ponting presented Brad Haddin with his baggy green cap way back in 2008 is it thought a current member of the squad had been asked to speak about a first-Test player.
It's normally a former great from outside the dressing room. But this message came from within and won't be forgotten by Head.
Lyon spoke from the heart as he recalled the first time he crossed paths with a young batsman at South Australia and how he'd watched his journey through the ranks ever since.
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