Damp underfoot, damp air, rain delays, bad light ... we ain't in Karachi anymore.
In conditions very similar to the the start of the last Test between Pakistan and Australia in Sydney last January, Australia has made a strangely dejavu start to a Pakistan home Test at Lords. Played in England because poor conditions are better than bomb threats and crowd violence, this time Australia batted first because of a good decision. Afridi, new to this dodge of skippering the Test side, sent them in for a moving day's play ... moving ball, that is.
Watson was soon gone and Ponting lasted long enough to take Lara's second place on the run poll for best batsman in Test cricket. In the process, he failed to better a top score of 42 in four Tests at cricket's home and barely increased his average there to a tad better than 19. The second innings may well be his last chance to be etched on the honour board as his star is waning and 2013 is a long way off without a Tardis. At Lords, nobody hears you scream.
Katich was Katich. His stance and first movements look absurd but he finishes in all the right positions, built as they are around an obdurate defence. His work helps the strokemakers know their job and the best of them, Clarke, was wonderful. His move to four has been a year overdue, as has the move of Hussey back to five. For the non purist, this swap might seem insignificant but that would be an opinion festered by watching too many shortened forms of the game. By our summer, Clarke should be moved another rung up the ladder to the place where skipper's usually bat, three, and Ponting relaxed into four. It will enhance Clarke's career and prolong Ponting's.
There remains a question mark, a slight weakness in Clarke's game which we might call the Gower Effect: Clarke, as he did yesterday, often gets out when completely in charge of an attack and not infrequently in proximity to breaks in play. There is no doubting his mental toughness, as New Zealand most recently proved but here, his dismissal might prove a decisive moment which may have been avoided.
Of the others, there is little to say. I have supported North previously and Australia has had many mercurial batsmen occupy six: men whose dash and vigour and love of chance won and lost Test matches for Australia ... Doug Walters comes to mind ... but North's seeming feast or famine run scoring works well when the rest of the order is consistent. This is not the case currently. Paine and Smith both failed at their first attempt (Smith unluckily) but they will improve, Smith well enough to take North's spot. Johnson's batting form is always better when the track is true and the ball travels only in straight lines.
Dare I say that Hauritz will be missed with both bat and ball.
Pakistan bowled well and stuck at their task but then we saw that for most of the Sydney Test. At 2-171 at the end of a unsuccessful lunch to tea session in which plenty of runs had been scored and only Ponting's wicket gained (and that to a freakish catch by Umar Amin), bundle dropping would have been in fashion. Instead, they keep at good lines and length and picked up Clarke and after tea, rushed through the flood gates.
Australia has runs on the board - not many of them but at least some sort of a target which keeps them in the game. Given the conditions, this could well be a low scoring affair. Pakistan is a young side led by an audacious skipper. Australia has some newbies and many seasoned veterans. Winning in Sydney will justifiably make miracles part of the Australian game plan. This could be just as tight and exciting. Bollinger is our key bowler. Hillfenhaus will bowl well and as Johnson is only ever fifty/fifty, so it falls on Bollinger to produce the goods. Its hard to imagine Smith, a virtual nudie leg spinners worring batsmen bred on tracks that spit and bite like cobras being worried by him. Watson should be useful under these damp condition and the ground should provide him softer paths for his tempramental hamstring and thighs to travel on the way to the bowling crease.
Australia is well in this yet.