Hardworking Hafeez rises like a Phoenix
It was the kind of first-day pitch that can make even the most aggressive fast bowler cry.
And on such pitches, Mohammad Hafeez never puts a foot wrong.
It's the same Hafeez who was moved to tears following the Asia Cup snub, even telling his wife that enough was enough.
That at 37, he doesn't have to prove what he could still do in a Pakistan shirt. It's the shirt he has fought for since the day he first played international cricket.
It's the shirt he thought he would never get to wear again as he considered retiring from the game.
But there he was on Sunday, putting the Australian bowlers to the sword in his first Test in two years with a brilliant hundred that put Pakistan in a commanding position at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
For a man who had been left in the cold in Test cricket, Hafeez (126, 208 balls, 15 fours) showed remarkable composure as his innings inspired Pakistan to finish the opening day of the first Test on 255/3.
It could have been even better for Sarfraz Ahmed's team which went to the tea break at 199/0.
But the Australians fought back in brilliant fashion in the final session, taking all three wickets in the last 29 overs. In the morning Hafeez found the perfect partner in Imam-ul Haq ((76, 188 balls, 7 fours, 2 sixes) and their 205-run opening partnership broke the back of the Australian bowlers. If there was pressure on Hafeez on his comeback Test at 37, he did well to hide it.
Bringing all his experience, the right-hander played some delightful shots, especially the ones through the off side off Mitchell Starc, Australia's best fast bowler, were delicious.
Nathan Lyon tried hard with his off-spinners, but both the openers handled Australia's premier spinner well. Imam's use of the feet against the spinners was brilliant and he was especially harsh on the left-armer Jon Holland, hitting him for two sixes.
The 22-year-old left-hander would be ruing the missed opportunity to score his first hundred in Test cricket, but he played his part in the emphatic opening partnership.
Hafeez, on the other hand, enjoyed his share of luck as Mitchell Marsh dropped him off Holland when he was on 78. But barring that one mis-timed shot, he was in complete control of his innings and reached his hundred off 172 balls, his fourth in the UAE and the first under the iconic Ring of Fire.
And Australia fought back brilliantly in the last session after Lyon and the tireless Peter Siddle sent back Imam and Hafeez, taking all three wickets in the final session.
The bowlers' nagging line and reverse swing eventually slowed the scoring rate of the Pakistan batsmen.
Even the experienced Azhar Ali (18, 80 balls) succumbed to the pressure, losing his wicket to a poor shot off Holland in the 87th over.
Left-hander Haris Sohail (15, 53 balls, 1 six) and night-watchman Mohammad Abbas (1, 13 balls) will resume Pakistan's first innings on Monday.
Their middle-order now needs to ensure Hafeez's magnificent knock doesn't go in vain.
Pakistan 1st Innings
Imam-ul-Haq c Paine b Lyon 76
Mohammad Hafeez lbw b Siddle 126
Azhar Ali c Starc b Holland 18
Haris Sohail not out 15
Mohammad Abbas not out 1
Extras (b1, lb16, nb2) 19
Total: (for three wkts; 90 overs) 255
To bat: Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed, Bilal Asif, Yasir Shah, Wahab Riaz
Fall: 1-205, 2-222, 3-244
Bowling: Starc 21-6-66-0 (2nb), Siddle 15-7-23-1, Lyon 33-10-63-1, Holland 18-1-72-1, Labuschagne 2-0-9-0, M. Marsh 1-0-5-0