Australia tighten grip with 489-run lead



There was no mayhem this time, no clatter of wickets in a giddy rush, or frenzied burst of noise from the Gabba’s biggest crowd ever outside the Ashes. Instead Australia steadily and surely placed their foot ever more firmly on the throat of Pakistan, claiming a pair of wickets at the start of their chase of 490 to win.
All of Australia’s bowlers delivered handy spells, Mitchell Starc accounting for Sami Aslam via another excellent catch from the new first slip Matt Renshaw, before Nathan Lyon coaxed another edge to slip, this time from Babar Azam to Steven Smith.
Lyon’s effort over numerous overs to find exactly the right line, length and pace to deceive Babar, like a destroyer sinking depth charges ever closer to a submarine, was instructive. It showed that Australia had earned themselves plenty of time to make life impossible for each of Pakistan’s batsmen, even if the visitors showed greater discipline in the second innings.
The initial decline to 8 for 67 on the second evening remained a millstone around the necks of Misbah-ul-Haq’s team. Younis Khan and Azhar Ali scrapped their way to the close of the third day, but plenty of deliveries had beat the bat and left Australia confident of their ability to finish the job. Some rain is forecast for day four but not enough to make the home side nervous just yet.
Australia had amassed a lead of 489 after an impish rearguard by Sarfraz Ahmed dissuaded Smith from asking Pakistan to follow on. Smith and Usman Khawaja did most of the run-scoring for the hosts, but there was another low score for Nic Maddinson as the declaration was delayed until the target was well beyond the world record chase.
David Warner started aggressively but he was undone when trying to pull a delivery from Mohammad Amir that was not short enough for the stroke, succeeding only in shovelling the ball to mid-on. Renshaw was turned around by a late outswinger from Rahat Ali, edging to the slips.
Smith and Khawaja, however, combined in an attractive stand. They built the lead with a mixture of the classical and the inventive, though neither went on to a century. Smith failed to clear mid-on to hand Yasir Shah a wicket, and Khawaja was well caught by Misbah-ul-Haq in a similar position off Rahat. Peter Handscomb maintained his sparkling start to Test cricket with another useful contribution, but Maddinson managed only one boundary before he hooked to fine leg. Australia eventually declared during the dinner break, on 5 for 202.
The third day had begun with Sarfraz and Amir facing an enormous task to prolong Pakistan’s first innings. With a combination of quick singles and the occasional boundary they were able to take their ninth-wicket stand beyond 50 while compelling Smith to call upon Nathan Lyon and Jackson Bird after trying Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
It was Bird who eventually broke through, finding the thinnest of inside edges on Amir’s bat – revealed by HotSpot and Realtime Snicko after the not-out decision was reviewed. Amir was visibly annoyed, perhaps because the ball also appeared to brush his elbow on its way through to Matthew Wade.
Sarfraz went on to 59 in the company of Rahat, cutting Australia’s lead slightly but more pointedly ensuring Smith did not risk enforcing the follow-on. His array of shots included a slog sweep off Bird, leading to one dropped catch by Maddinson at deep-backward square leg, before the innings concluded when Warner ran out Rahat by the width of a shadow over the crease.—Agencies

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