LAHORE: Australia spectacularly demonstrated on Wednesday why they are world’s top-ranked Test team — which cruise when it really matters. Reverse swing was their primary tool at the Gaddafi Stadium as Pakistan batting wilted in the second half of the final session on day three of the third and final Test.
Reaching 227-3 in their first innings at tea as a solid-looking Babar Azam was joined by Fawad Alam, Pakistan were perhaps not fully prepared for what was coming their way from the right-left pace bowling duo of Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc who shared nine wickets between them.
Right-armer Cummins brilliantly led from the front in denting the hosts’ batting picking up his seventh five-wicket haul — the first against Pakistan — in his 41st Test to halt and quickly end the innings at 268 with the able support of Starc, giving Australia a solid 123-run first innings lead.
And the Australian skipper hoped the turnaround would help the tourists win the Test.
“I thought that we bowled really well. In the first two sessions we just didn’t get the reward, so the message was just hang in there,” Cummins, who claimed three of the last seven Pakistan wickets, stated.
“We have given ourselves a really good opportunity [to win], really in front of the game and hopefully we will bat well [in the second innings] and then take the last ten wickets,” the 28-year-old added.
Veteran left-armer Starc, who had taken just three wickets in the first two drawn Tests at Rawalpindi and Karachi, finally showed his class on Wednesday as the lanky pacer sent four Pakistanis back to the pavilion.
The left-armer later said reverse swing would be the key for Australia if they were to beat Pakistan in the series deciding Test.
“I don’t think this wicket helps the fast bowlers at all,” Starc said. “The wicket started out quite slow and dead and we’ve seen it shoot lower and lower as the days have gone on.
“The key is reverse swing and both teams have used that well. We’ve got to stay patient, it’s a hard slog, and things are going to happen quicker as the game goes on.”
Starting the day at 90-1, Pakistan in a cautious advance reached 159-1 with opener Abdullah Shafique (75) and experienced Azhar Ali (63) at the crease.
Seasoned off-spinner Nathan Lyon (1-95), in a tight and gruelling spell of 30 overs, claimed the first Pakistan wicket on Wednesday when he found the outside edge of Abdullah’s bat after lunch to end the 150-run stand.
Right-handed Abdullah has been in prime form in the series during which the batter scored his maiden Test century in the drawn Test in Rawalpindi before his enduring 96 in Karachi helped Pakistan force a draw while in pursuit of a mountainous 506-run target.
The 22-year-old resisted Australia with yet another solid 228-ball 81 studded with 11 fours before Lyon struck in the fifth over after lunch and successfully overturned umpire Aleem Dar’s not out decision through a TV referral.
Next to go in the post-lunch session was Azhar (78), with the second new ball only seven overs old, as the 37-year-old veteran was dismissed by Cummins who took a brilliant return catch to make it 214-3 for Pakistan. He batted for 337 minutes, striking seven boundaries and a six in his 35th Test half-century.
Starc, who bowled only two overs with the second new ball, returned in the final session to dislodge the off-stump of Fawad Alam (13) and Mohammad Rizwan (1) with Pakistan batters struggling to cope with reverse swing.
Pakistan’s long tail didn’t last long with captain Babar making a 67 off 131 balls with the help of six fours and a six.
Cummins accelerated the collapse by dismissing Sajid Khan, Nauman Ali and Hasan Ali within two overs.
Starc wrapped up Pakistan’s innings by trapping Babar lbw off a delivery which shaped into the skipper and then clean bowled No. 11 batter Naseem Shah off a fast full-pitched delivery.
Right-handed Azhar, in the 94th Test of his career and the first in his hometown of Lahore, became the fifth Pakistan batter to complete 7,000 runs in the five-day format of the game when he reached 74 by sweeping Lyon to deep square leg for a single.
Former Test captains Younis Khan (10,099, 118 Tests), Javed Miandad (8,832, 124), Inzamam-ul-Haq (8,829, 119) and Mohammad Yousuf (7,530, 90) are the other Pakistan batters to score more than 7,000 Test runs.
Azhar was happy to make the individual feat but was dejected he could not complete the job.
“I am happy at the achievement in Lahore but unfortunately I could not carry on,” said the batter after play ended.
“We had a collapse after tea which stranded our chances a little bit in the game but Test cricket is like that, up and down, but hopefully we will turn things around tomorrow.”
The player, however, gave full credit to the Australian bowlers.
“We always knew how good they are, especially Starc when it comes to reverse swing,” Azhar said. “Cummins is a top bowler in the world right now and he exploited the conditions, also featuring low-bounce pitch, very well ... they kept asking questions even to the set batters and unfortunately we were at the receiving end.”
According to Azhar, Pakistan for the Lahore Test picked fast bowler Hasan Ali instead of all-rounder Faheem Ashraf because it was decided that the regular batters would take the responsibility of scoring.
AUSTRALIA (1st Innings) 391 (Khawaja 91, Green 79, Carey 67, Smith 59; Naseem 4-58, Shaheen 4-79)
PAKISTAN (1st innings, overnight 90-1):
Abdullah Shafique c Carey b Lyon 81
Imam-ul-Haq lbw b Cummins 11
Azhar Ali c & b Cummins 78
Babar Azam lbw b Starc 67
Fawad Alam b Starc 13
Mohammad Rizwan b Starc 1
Sajid Khan b Cummins 6
Nauman Ali lbw b Cummins 0
Hasan Ali c Smith b Cummins 0
Shaheen Shah Afridi not out 0
Naseem Shah b Starc 0
EXTRAS (B-5, NB-6) 11
TOTAL: (all out; 116.4 overs) 268
FALL OF WICKETS: 1-20 (Imam), 2-170 (Abdullah), 3-214 (Azhar), 4-248 (Fawad), 5-256 (Rizwan), 6-264 (Sajid), 7-268 (Nauman), 8-268 (Hasan), 9-268 (Babar).
BOWLING: Starc 20.4-6-33-4, Cummins 24-8-56-5 (3nb), Green 14-4-37-0 (2nb), Lyon 40-10-95-1, Swepson 18-2-42-0 (1nb).
AUSTRALIA (2nd Innings):
U. Khawaja not out 7
D. Warner not out 4
TOTAL (for no wicket, 3 overs) 11
YET TO BAT: M. Labuschagne, S. Smith, T. Head, C. Green, A. Carey, P. Cummins, M. Starc, M. Swepson, N. Lyon.
BOWLING: Shaheen 2-0-11-0, Naseem 1-1-0-0.
Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2022