Pakistan seem perfectly at home as Aamer shows pace and potential

Australia 229-9 Pakistan
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The Independent Online

It was the first day of a home series for Pakistan. As they walked through the Long Room clad in enough jumpers to keep Marks and Spencer going for the autumn season and on to a dank, damp, drizzly ground they might have wondered if Lahore or Karachi could ever be like this.

But the conditions did the trick for them. Shahid Afridi, the new captain, had the most magnificent of beginnings simply by winning the toss and seven hours later Pakistan had Australia at 229 for nine. There were times when it seemed that the tourists (Australia, that is) might keep the moving ball at bay, with Simon Katich obdurate and Michael Clarke commanding, but Pakistan held their nerve and direction.

From the last ball before tea in what is officially the MCC Spirit of Cricket Series, they were rampant. Seven wickets fell for 51 runs in 22 overs. Throughout the innings Pakistan's three seamers all contributed, as did the leg spinner Danish Kaneria, though none of them was more penetrative than the 18-year-old left-arm fast bowler Mohammad Aamer.

With every over he bowled, it was possible to see years of trouble ahead for batsmen around the world, and it was possible to see plenty of it for England later this summer. He was straight, quick, clever and achieved movement both ways.

It would not, of course, have been Pakistan without a hint of controversy (oh, the spirit of cricket) and that duly arrived when Aamer bumped into Australia's captain, Ricky Ponting, with his shoulder after dismissing him. It might have been accidental, though Aamer did something similar to Australia's vice-captain Michael Clarke during a Twenty20 match last week, and it was sufficient to persuade Ponting to mutter to the umpire Ian Gould as he passed.

Perhaps the clash exacerbated his disappointment at being out for 26. In seven Test innings at Lord's, Ponting has never made more than 42 and he is as far away as ever from appearing on an honours board for centurions, either the usual one, or the new one being erected for neutral Tests not involving England.

When Ponting went off angrily, having propelled a straight ball into short leg's hands, his side were in a modicum of bother at 51 for two. Aamer had already done for Shane Watson, twice in one ball as it happened, having him rightly judged lbw to a ball moving in, which then went on to remove the bails. Bowled it was, in accordance with law 30.

The recovery was led by Clarke with Katich in the quieter role initially, and as the day wore on it assumed an ominous hue for Pakistan. The skies were brightening, the pitch was flat, the bowling, while not uninspired, was not getting its due reward. Afridi himself bowled a few dreadful overs and there was the sound of shackles being loosened.

As Clarke and Katich developed a partnership of 120, no stroke they played was more important than the leave. They did it expansively and frequently: of the 138 balls Katich faced, he did not score from 99, of Clarke's 77, 62 were dot balls.

They had begun to warm to their work when tea loomed and suddenly the complexion of the match altered. Mohammad Asif, operating at a relatively sedate 80mph for most of the day, had taken time to settle. The last ball before the break was full and broke back down the Lord's slope hitting Clarke in front.

If the ball might have been missing leg it heralded Australian disaster. Asif, from the Pavilion End, took two more swift wickets, having Katich caught behind for a patient 80 with one that moved away and bowling the hapless Marcus North with late movement.

So it continued. Pakistan were brimful of confidence and pizzazz now. Tim Paine, one of four debutants in the match, two on each side, was in turmoil for most of his brief stay which ended with him edging agonisingly behind. Kaneria ended Steve Smith's first innings with a top spinner and though he was fortunate to be awarded the lbw decision, as Smith might have got a faint edge on the ball, there was nothing dubious about the leg spinner which Mitchell Johnson played all around to be bowled.

Before bad light ended play, Aamer, in his fifth spell of the abbreviated day, clipped Ben Hilfenhaus's off-stump. Australia are in a contest.

Q&A: The future for Pakistan and who's making money from their 'home' series

How serious is the terrorist threat to cricket in Pakistan?

The situation remains very tense; there have been several major attacks in Lahore (where the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked in March last year) recently and consequently any return to Test cricket in the country looks a long way off. Perhaps the biggest problem would be attracting teams to return there; the only foreign side likely to be seen in Pakistan is Afghanistan, many of whose players spend a lot of time there.

Who's making money out of this series?

Not the ECB, which says it is operating this series on a break-even basis: there is, it says, "no financial incentive" for it in agreeing to hosts the two Tests. As the official "hosts", the Pakistan Cricket Board will take all revenue from broadcasting and sponsorship while the grounds themselves will take the money from tickets, as they do for England matches. It remains to be seen exactly how they do, although ticket sales for the Lord's Test were good: just under 12,000 tickets (starting at £30 for adults) were pre-sold for yesterday, with the same number today.

Will Pakistan play more home Tests in England?

That depends on how well ticket sales go; while they have been respectable at Lord's, Headingley has found it harder to shift seats for the second Test. Nonetheless, the will is there from the ECB to help out and it would be no surprise were Pakistan to play more home matches in England.