Pakistan put themselves seven wickets away from a third straight Test victory over Australia in the UAE, after taking three wickets after tea on the fourth day of the first Test. Having set Tim Paine’s men 462 to win, they landed three body blows to Australian aspirations of seeing out the 137 overs they need to survive. All three wickets were claimed by the unstylish brilliance of Mohammad Abbas within 12 balls of each other when the score reached 87 – Australia’s version of the unlucky number 13. Usman Khawaja once again displayed his desire and commitment to be an integral part of the Australian Test squad looking ahead, finishing the day unbeaten on a steely half-century.
As was the chase in the first innings, Australia’s openers continue to lead the resistance against a Pakistan surge. Khawaja and Aaron Finch picked up where they left off after their 142-run stand was broken yesterday, adding 87 for the first wicket. Aside from four overs at the top by Abbas, who was his consistent, probing self, the spinners operated for almost the entirety of the session before tea. But the Australian openers were wise to their wile, picking Bilal Asif early – perhaps even out of the hand – and their footwork did not let them down.
If someone had told Australia they would bat 50 overs today without losing a single wicket to spin, they would have snapped your hand off. But Abbas, always unsung but perpetually impressive, ensured the day would still firmly be Pakistan’s, with a spell of fast bowling so unerringly accurate even the Dubai surface could not help but reward him with wickets. Finch, who he had worked over with phenomenal forbearance in the first innings, once again succumbed to a similar delivery. Straight and tailing in, this one clattered into his pads a little quicker and sharper than the opener had been expecting. It trapped him dead in front.
Two balls later, Shaun Marsh poked at one that seamed away, giving Sarfraz Ahmed an easy catch, while his brother Mitchell was trapped in front in much the same way as Finch. Both failed to trouble the scorers, but Travis Head stepped up to the occasion and put together an unbeaten 61-run partnership with Khawaja, showing the sort of mettle Justin Langer would’ve wished was more on display in this Test match.
There was plenty to suggest Yasir Shah and Asif will continue to grow in stature as the match progresses. The odd ball spun sharply enough to worry the batsmen, and Yasir occasionally found the inside edge to keep the short leg interested. Pakistan set an unnecessarily negative field, before lunch, though; there were a number of fielders on the boundary in what were not conventional catching positions. Against a team that still required more than 400 runs to win, there was little need of such conservatism.
Mohammad Abbas traps Aaron Finch in front and gets the decision in his favour Getty Images.
For Australia, though, the work is less than half done. They must bat out at least 90 overs if they are to avoid defeat here. Pakistan’s declaration came eight overs after lunch, when Shafiq holed out with Pakistan’s lead at 461, attempting to launch Nathan Lyon over the midwicket boundary.
Any hopes Australia may have had of running through Pakistan this morning were dashed by a sedate, sensible partnership between Imam-ul-Haq and Haris Sohail. The pair guided their team out of the slightly uncomfortable overnight score of 45 for 3 with a 65-run partnership. It was hard to say whether the pitch had flattened out considerably since the last two sessions on Tuesday, or if it was just a case of Haris and Imam applying themselves better. They waited for Lyon’s turn while going after Jon Holland.
The first hour took the lead entirely out of the territory Australia were hoping for. But they did hit back with Holland and Marnus Labaschugne dismissing the Imam-Haris pair in quick succession, but with the lead having surpassed 450, Pakistan were well on their way.
The fall of the overnight batsman brought Shafiq and Babar together, and the pair maintained the tempo the left-handers had set. A six – off Holland, predictably – from Babar set the partnership rolling, and Australia began to leak runs thereafter. The pair rotated the strike regularly, finding boundaries almost every over, speeding towards the imminent declaration. Forty-one came off the last eight overs before lunch, and by the end, even Australia looked to be going through the motions.
By the end, though, Khawaja and Head were certainly fully focused, and will need to remain that way for a final day that will surely test their character, endurance and abilities to the fullest.—APP