Employing a combination of new and old-ball skills, Pakistan’s pace bowlers subjected Australia to their toughest day of batting of the series so far as they took the honors on the first day of the final Test.
Having chosen to bat first, Australia struggled to recover from a disastrous start and will resume tomorrow 5-232 after another grinding day on an unresponsive pitch with all-rounder Cameron Green (20no) and keeper Alex Carey (8no) the last recognized batting hopes .
Once again it was Usman Khawaja – leading scorer in each of Australia’s four innings of this Qantas Tour to date – who held together the batting after Pat Cummins won a crucial toss on a pitch that is expected to benefit spinners as the match enters its final days .
Although the same erroneous claim was made about the surfaces in Rawalpindi and Karachi that produced bowler-breaking draws.
But when Khawaja was removed courtesy of a blinding catch by Pakistan skipper Babar Azam at slip, Australia’s batting blueprint to post a first innings total similar in scale to the 556 they managed in Karachi was hanging by a thread.
In the wake of Khawaja’s removal, Pakistan chose not to take a second new ball when it became due after 80 overs such was their faith in the quicks’ reverse-swing capabilities, and they were rewarded when Naseem Shah claimed the scalp of Travis Head in the final half hour.
Naseem, who was only added to the Test squad in the days prior to the series opener when fellow fast bowlers fell victim to injuries and COVID-19, was omitted for the second Test but recalled in line with both teams’ view reverse swing would be a dominant factor at Lahore.
However, it was the incisions Pakistan made with the new ball this morning that set Australia on their heels and despite another masterful contribution of more than five hours from Khawaja, the tourists remained on the metaphorical back foot all day.
Shaheen Shah Afridi set the tone when the left-armer removed prized pair David Warner (7) and Marnus Labuschagne (0) in his second over of the day, and by day’s end all but one wicket had fallen to Pakistan’s space men.
The sight of the ball swinging reverse before it sustained 30 overs of wear and tear meant speed played a far greater role than spin despite the pitch’s benign nature, and ensured Australia’s scoring rate remained below three runs per over for much of a hard-fought first day.
Even Khawaja, who can rightly claim to be among the world’s most in-form batters at present, found runs harder to come by (41.5 per 100 balls faced) than any innings of 75 deliveries or more he’s played for more than three years.
Had he found three more runs in his sole outing at Rawalpindi and an additional nine today, Khawaja would have joined Rahul Dravid as the only player to post centuries in three consecutive Tests in Pakistan although the current India coach’s run spanned two series in 2004 and 2006 .
As it stands, he is the leading runs-scorer in the Benaud-Qadir Trophy battle and boasts an average of 107.8 since his recall to the Australia Test side in January, a month after the left-hander turned 35.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) March 21, 2022
It also means he is one of only two batters to average more than 100 in Tests after reaching that age, with his efforts thus far narrowly eclipsing the other golden oldie, Don Bradman (average 105.7 from 15 matches).
Khawaja figured in a vital 138-run stand for the third wicket with Steve Smith (59) which was the only 50-plus partnership Australia managed for the day, and helped them recover from a faltering start in which they slumped to 2-8 inside three overs.
Smith has now gone 14 innings without posting a triple-figure score, an event that for most mortal batters would scarcely raise an eyebrow given he’s averaged almost 45 through that period.
But a combination of the 32-year-old’s historic benchmarks and the fact he’s passed 50 in half those knocks will only compound the frustration that was etched on his face when he was pinned in front of his stumps by recalled 19-year-old quick Naseem.
Asked prior to this Test about his inability to convert starts into big scores of late, Smith claimed he wasn’t troubled but also noted it was unusual for him to be dismissed in the 70s as was the case in the first two matches of the series , and added he hoped to push on should he get himself into a “similar position” this match.
He seemed destined to make good his vow today, and was so deeply embedded in his legendary ‘batting bubble’ from the outset he at one stage complained about the movement of the remote-controlled camera buggy as the bowler was in delivery stride even though it was operating at mid-wicket.
— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) March 21, 2022
But on 59, and with Pakistan’s space trio exploiting the reverse swing that had become apparent with the ball barely 30 overs old, he moved habitually across his stumps and was beaten on the inside of his bat (which clipped his rear pad) and knew immediately he was finished.
The breakthrough, which saw Australia still uncomfortably placed at 3-146 shortly after tea, should have brought another as Head battled to pick up the pace (or lack thereof) in the pitch and the swinging ball.
Head had scored seven when he looked to lift off-spinner Sajid Khan over his head but miscued and sent a scorching chance chest-high to the bowler who was unable to lay a hand on the ball before it slapped into his left shoulder.
It was the third tough chance – and the second caught-and-bowled offering – Pakistan had missed during the course of another bat-dominated day on a pitch that prising wickets will seemingly be as rare as finding diamonds in the dirt.
Despite a level of mystery hovering over the nature of Gadaffi Stadium’s pitch as the venue hosted its first Test in 13 years, it was revealed – to the surprise of nobody – to be as similarly devoid of life as the tracks trotted out at Rawalpindi and Karachi .
After Shaheen’s early double-strike it became clear the pace bowlers were struggling to get the ball through to the keeper at anything above shin height.
And with no turn on offer for Pakistan’s spinners on day one, as would be expected, Khawaja and Smith were able to slowly wrest the initiative if still unwilling to dictate the tempo.
— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) March 21, 2022
When speaking to media on Test Eve, Babar noted the team that won the coin toss at Gaddafi Stadium the following morning would “have the edge” and his heart might have sunk when it showed tails as per Cummins’ call.
But the Pakistan skipper, playing his maiden Test in the city of his birth noting Lahore hasn’t hosted a match since the 2009 shooting atrocity, also felt the pitch might offer a bit more to seamers as reflected in his team’s make-up.
Pakistan’s selectors opted to recall a third specialist quick – Naseem had claimed 1-89 from his 21 overs in Australia’s only batting innings of the first Test – in place of all-rounder Faheem Ashraf whose couple of wickets in Karachi were canceled out by dual failures with the bat.
That call looked to have been vindicated in the day’s opening over when Shaheen fired a short ball at Warner that took the Australia opener by surprise as he fended it away from in front of his face, and a more adroit fielder than Imam ul Haq at short leg might have made more of the luck.
But the tactic reaped reward in Shaheen’s next over by ensuring a wary Warner remained camped on the crease, and a fuller, faster delivery angled into the left-hander would have ripped out leg stump had it not crashed into the opener’s front pad.
Two balls later, Shaheen was in full celebration mode when Labuschagne was dismissed for the third duck of his 26-Test career to date, and the second in as many matches.
As was the case at Karachi last week, the world’s top-ranked Test batter fell victim to his keenness to get off the mark.
Whereas it was an ill-judged run that cost him his wicket in the second Test, today it was a wide, full ball from Shaheen that angled across the right-hander and drew him into his favored flick-drive through cover only to yield a low catch to keeper Mohammad Rizwan.
For the first time in the series, Australia found themselves two wickets down with the ball new and Pakistan’s pace bowlers able to apply early pressure.
However, apart from a vehement lbw shout from Shaheen to the first ball he faced that clearly struck the former Australia skipper outside off stump, Smith was unfazed by the situation as he and Khawaja set about the fightback.
Despite Khawaja’s irrefutable claims to being his team’s in-form batter, it was Smith who set the initial tempo with four boundaries in the first hour including a pair of exquisite cover drives when Pakistan’s bowlers over-pitched.
Soon after the day’s first drinks break, Babar introduced spin and it seemed the preference for pace might have been misplaced when left-arm orthodox Nauman Ali created two decidedly different chances in his opening over.
The first was a rare misstep from Khawaja whose attempted drive brought an outside edge that flew quickly between the ankles of Babar at slip before the skipper could react.
Two deliveries later, Smith advanced a clubbed a return catch at the bowler who got his right hand to the stinging offering partly as a reflex action in self-defence, only for it to bounce safely away.
The Australia pair had decided Nauman – who jogs in for five steps, but operates from a run-up three times that length from where he walks the first 10 steps – would be the target of any occasional aggression, and the 35-year-old’s first six overs cost 32 runs.
By that time, Khawaja was finding his fluency on the low-bouncing surface and by lunch had outscored Smith as the pair pushed their union beyond 50.
But the arrival of reverse swing a few overs after the resumption meant the experienced dup shelved any extravagance in favor of survival mode as the middle session provided 75 runs from 30 overs for no wickets and not many more highlights.
Qantas Tour of Pakistan 2022
Pakistan squad: Babar Azam (c), Mohammad Rizwan (vc), Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Fawad Alam, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Naseem Shah, Nauman Ali, Sajid Khan, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Zahid Mahmood.
Australia Test squad: Pat Cummins (c), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc , Mark Steketee, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner.
First Test: Match drawn
March 12-16: Match drawn
March 21-25: Third Test, Lahore
Pakistan ODI and T20 squad: Babar Azam (c), Shadab Khan, Abdullah Shafique*, Asif Afridi, Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imam-ul-Haq*, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Haris, Zahid Mahmood, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim, Saud Shakeel*, Shaheen Afridi, Shahnawaz Dahani, Usman Qadir (*ODIs only)
Australia ODI and T20 squad: Aaron Finch (c), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Ben McDermott, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa
March 29: First ODI, Lahore
March 31: Second ODI, Lahore
April 2: Third ODI, Lahore
April 5: Only T20I, Lahore
All matches to be broadcast in Australia on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports