KARACHI: With Babar Azam in the pavilion after missing out on a double ton, Faheem Ashraf gone for a golden duck and Pakistan seven down, seven Australian players encircled Nauman Ali in catching positions with just over five overs to go as Nathan Lyon approached the popping crease, ready to go for the kill.
The Pakistan tailender took a step forward, leaning his head closer to the ball and defended with the full face of the bat to trigger cheers in the National Stadium stands. Nauman did the same on the next 17 deliveries he faced, the crowd celebrating each time as Pakistan drew closer to saving the second Test here on Wednesday.
At the other end, Mohammad Rizwan, made the most of the close-in field and kept getting boundaries before reaching his century in the penultimate over and finishing Pakistan’s rescue mission by the end of the day. Down and out by the end of the third day after a poor batting show in the first innings, this draw seemed like a win as the three-match series heads to a deciding final game in Lahore next week.
“We didn’t bat in the first innings as we should have but in the second we made an effort and kept the belief that we can save the match,” Babar said in the post-match online press conference as Pakistan finished on 443-7 with Rizwan on 104 not out and Nauman unbeaten without opening his account.
Rizwan and Nauman’s efforts carried equal weight given the situation, but what set it up for them was Babar’s mammoth 196-run contribution. The captain, however, couldn’t go all the way. With nearly 10 overs to go in the day, Babar, after almost five sessions on the crease, succumbed to the challenge Lyon posed off the rough outside the off stump at the Pavilion End.
Leaning forward in an attempt to block, Babar edged one onto his pads as the ball popped in the air for Marnus Labushagne at short-leg to take an easy catch, having hit 21 boundaries and a straight six during his innings. As he walked off with his head bowed, things got worse for Pakistan. The very next delivery saw Faheem edge Lyon to Steve Smith at first slip.
The all-rounder’s dismissal changed the whole complexion of the match as Sajid Khan’s arrival on the crease announced the commencement of Pakistan’s tail, only for the off-spinner to become his Australian counterpart Lyon’s third victim, leaving hosts further vulnerable before Nauman and Rizwan combined to finish the job.
It wasn’t the first time in the day, though, that Pakistan had felt vulnerable, starting it with 314 runs to win off the remaining 90 overs.
As the ball started reversing nearly 24 overs after it was taken on the penultimate day, Australian skipper Pat Cummins introduced himself into the attack and struck right away to break Babar and opener Abdullah Shafique’s 228-run partnership as the latter chased an out-swinger to drive it when he was at 96 for Smith — who dropped him early in the innings a day earlier — to take the chance this time at first slip.
Though Australia looked like emulating their first innings reverse swing show and gave some problems to incoming Fawad Alam, Babar showed how comfortable he was when he negotiated an in-swinging yorker by Cummins before driving him through the covers for four.
Just after Babar brought up his 150 ten overs later, Fawad was undone by an unplayable out-swinger by Cummins, who swung it late after angling it in from around the wicket to find the left-hander’s outside edge for wicket-keeper Alex Carey to take a low catch.
From that point until tea was called, both Babar and Rizwan had close calls. Both survived reviews for lbw calls off Lyon during the period while Babar was dropped twice — by Travis Head and Labushagne at silly point and short-leg respectively — on consecutive balls off leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson.
After the much-needed tea break, Babar and Rizwan returned at the crease with Pakistan needing 196 off 36 overs and the way they started — scoring 20 runs off the next two overs — it looked like they were eyeing a historic win.
However, with 20 overs to go and 131 runs remaining to win, Pakistan’s openers in the shortest format of the game started demonstrating a pragmatic approach, indicating their goal was to see the match drawn.
But after Babar and Faheem’s departure, even the fans weren’t dreaming of a fairytale anymore and cheered every ball Pakistan played for survival.
“The plan was always to try and survive the overs, and even towards the end there were no serious discussions about chasing it,” said Babar, whose 425-ball knock was the best-ever fourth-innings score by a captain, surpassing Michael Atherton’s 185 not out against South Africa in Johannesburg in 1995. “We are looking forward to going one better in Lahore.”
Australia could have been 1-0 up in the series had they held onto the chances throughout the fourth innings. The biggest came in the third-last over, when Usman Khawaja spilled Rizwan on short-cover, looking down on the ground in regret as the Karachi crowd, this time ironically, cheered his name.
“I thought they batted fantastically” Cummins said. “I think we created enough chances, probably just didn’t grab the couple half chances that were presented to us, but a great five days of Test cricket.”
AUSTRALIA (1st Innings) 556-9 declared (Usman Khawaja 160, A. Carey 93, S. Smith 72; Faheem Ashraf 2-55, Sajid Khan 2-167).
PAKISTAN (1st Innings) 148 (Babar Azam 36; M. Starc 3-29)
AUSTRALIA (2nd Innings) 97-2 declared (Usman Khawaja 44)
PAKISTAN (2nd Innings; overnight 192-2):
Abdullah Shafique c Smith b Cummins 96
Imam-ul-Haq lbw b Lyon 1
Azhar Ali lbw b Green 6
Babar Azam c Labuschagne b Lyon 196
Fawad Alam c Carey b Cummins 9
Mohammad Rizwan not out 104
Faheem Ashraf c Smith b Lyon 0
Sajid Khan c Smith b Lyon 9
Nauman Ali not out 0
EXTRAS (B-8, LB-2, NB-5, W-7) 22
TOTAL (for seven wkts; 171.4 overs) 443
DID NOT BAT: Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi
FALL OF WICKETS: 1-2 (Imam), 2-21 (Azhar), 3-249 (Abdullah), 4-277 (Fawad), 5-392 (Babar), 6-392 (Faheem), 7-414 (Sajid).
BOWLING: Starc 21-6-58-0 (nb1, w1), Cummins 26-6-75-2 (nb1), Swepson 53.4-8-156-0 (w4), Lyon 55-20-112-4, Green 15-4-32-1 (nb3, w2), Labuschagne 1-1-0-0.
RESULT: Match drawn
UMPIRES: Aleem Dar and Ahsan Raza (both Pakistan)
TV UMPIRE: Rashid Riaz (Pakistan)
MATCH REFEREE: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka)
Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2022