Pakistan’s third-wicket stand extend to 228 before it was broken on the stroke of lunch
Pakistan 148 and 254 for 3 (Babar 133, Alam 3*) need 252 more runs to beat Australia 556 for 9 dec and 97 for 2 dec
Abdullah Shafique fell for 96 on the stroke of lunch to end an epic 228-run partnership with captain Babar Azam, quelling Pakistan’s hopes of an improbable second Test victory as Australia’s nerves eased amid relatively sedate conditions in Karachi.
Requiring a record 506 runs or to survive 172 overs, a gusty Pakistan reached lunch on the final day at 254 for 3 with Babar 133 not out and Fawad Alam on 3. Pakistan still need another 252 runs but they had appeared remarkably on track with Babar and Shafique batting through almost three sessions.
But Shafique’s 305-ball vigil ended 10 minutes before the break after he edged a loose drive to Steve Smith at slip off quick Pat Cummins, who started to conjure movement both ways.
With oppressive conditions in Karachi throughout the match, the pitch is marked by widening cracks in a contrast to the docile Rawalpindi deck amid a stale first Test draw. There was swing, sharp turn and variable bounce evident at times earlier in the match, but the pitch has not significantly deteriorated with few concerns for the batters in the morning session.
The toiling Australian bowlers had felt increasingly anxious having been unable to bowl out the opposition in the fourth innings on three occasions since the start of last year.
Cummins and Mitchell Starc bowled tightly with the second new ball to start the day’s play but couldn’t penetrate. Babar was almost flawless on day four, as he notched his sixth Test century shortly before stumps, but had trouble restarting with several loose plays and misses against Starc, who bowled rapidly at over 140kph.
But the batters continued to blunt the quicks and after 30 minutes Cummins resorted to debutant Mitchell Swepson, who had threatened late on day four bowling around the wicket aiming at the rough patches.
But Swepson, Australia’s first specialist legspinner since Bryce McGain in 2009, started nervously from over the wicket with two full tosses that were dispatched to the boundary by Babar. He couldn’t find his rhythm as a frustrated Swepson continued bowling loosely.
Cummins turned to frontline spinner Nathan Lyon, who has a patchy record leading Australia to last day victories, and he summoned his experience with accurate bowling to start making things happen although a long-awaited breakthrough was not forthcoming.
Australia had been left ruing two chances on day four against first Test centurion Shafique, who was dropped on 20 by Smith in a regulation chance at slip and almost run out only for Cameron Green’s throw to miss from mid-on.
The epic partnership between Babar and Shafique, his protege, crossed 200 runs, just the fourth time a third-wicket double century had been notched in the fourth innings in Test history, with the pair coming to the crease with Pakistan teetering at 21 for 2 just after lunch on day four.
But Cummins’ partnership-breaking wicket has restarted Australia’s push for victory although Babar still looms as a considerable stumbling block in what shapes as a gripping finale.
Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth