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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Mohammed Hafeez marks Test return with century for Pakistan against Australia in Dubai

After two years out of the Test team all-rounder hits 126 on opening day of first Test

Pakistan batsman  Mohammad Hafeez celebrates his hundred for Pakistan against Australia. AFP
Pakistan batsman  Mohammad Hafeez celebrates his hundred for Pakistan against Australia. AFP

When Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s chief selector, said last month that Mohammed Hafeez remained part of their future plans, few were overly convinced. Not least, it might be presumed, the player himself.

Hafeez had, after all, just been cut from Pakistan’s one-day international squad for the Asia Cup. That, too, after having had his central contract downgraded, as well as being out of the Test side for more than two years.

When his name was then left off the 17-man squad list for the first Test against Australia in Dubai, Hafeez, who turns 38 later this month, might have feared his days as an international cricketer were behind him.

Then, all of a sudden, he was given an unexpected summons in the days before the game. He was flown to Dubai, inserted straight into the starting XI, and responded with a century. Obviously.

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“There was no fear at all,” Hafeez said. “Whatever it is, it is. I really back myself and I know that whenever is the right time, I will get back in to the Pakistan team.

“There was no fear because I have prepared myself well, and the whole team had given me lots of confidence in the practice sessions we had had together.

“That really encouraged me a lot. As a senior player, I want to do really well in this Test series. I have started well, and I am happy to do that.”

Despite the muddled build up, and the doubt over whether he is particularly well-regarded by the selectors, Hafeez was confident he was in good touch.

He made 213 last time he played a first-class innings, for Sui Northern against Peshawar in the Qaid-e-Azam Trophy in September.

He had first use of a docile pitch that will likely take turn later in the game, and he looked untroubled against an experienced attack.

Australia might be giving debuts to three players in this Test – batsmen Aaron Finch, Travis Head and Magnus Labuschagne. But their leading bowlers - Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle – had 699 Test wickets between them before the start of play.

Hafeez offered up one chance, a tricky boundary catch missed by Mitchell Marsh when he was on 74, off Jon Holland’s left-arm spin. His luck was in, though.

His vigil was eventually ended by Siddle, another player returning after two years out of Test cricket, after he had reached 126.

“I’m so happy, as I have tried my level best in the past two years to get back in this format,” Hafeez said.

“After waiting for a long, long time to get back in, I’m really happy to be able to do something for the team.”

Australia’s bowlers had only recently been afforded had a semblance of joy on a tough day of toil. Pakistan’s openers Hafeez and Imam-ul-Haq had put on 205, before the younger partner had departed for 76.

Imam was livid when he was out, caught at the wicket by captain Tim Paine while trying to cut Lyon.

It was clear he realised he had just past up a golden chance to make a first Test century, in his fourth match.

En route back to the dressing room, he angrily ripped off his batting gloves, slapped himself on the crest at the front of his green Pakistan helmet, and whacked the boundary cushion for good measure.

Though his frustrations were understandable, he had done a fine job for his side, in concert with Hafeez.

Although each departed just six overs and 17 runs apart, the platform was built.

Australia had more to cheer, though, before the close, as Starc caught Azhar Ali at mid-off off Holland’s bowling. Pakistan reached stumps on 255 for three, with Haris Sohail and nightwatchman Mohammed Abbas the not out batsmen.