Australia’s chances of escaping a defeat are slim for they have to survive minimum of 90 overs on the final day wicket, with 7 wickets in hand. To force an unlikely win, they must score another 326 runs and their hopes could quickly fade once the overnight not out batsmen, Usman Khawaja (50) and Travis Head (34) are separated. The pair, surrounded by half a dozen crouching fielders, showing good judgement in defence and scoring opportunities, have thus far added 49 runs for the 4th wicket.
The loss of three wickets, all to Mohammad Abbas, within short of space time, was a timely breakthrough for prior to that Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch (49), for the second time in as many days, had laid a foundation for their side. Their opening stand had reached 87 in 29.3 overs of hard fought phase, before Abbas rocked Australian resistance, in a brilliant spell of medium-fast bowling, on a dead surface.
Unlike a conventional Pakistan pacemen, Abbas does not beat the batsmen with his pace, fire or reverse swing. Instead he relies on fuller length, precise line and seam movement, to pin down his victims. No wonder a high proportion of his wickets and claimed bowled, leg-before or caught behind. His seven-ball spell sent back Finch and the Marsh brothers, Shaun and Mitchell, last two without scoring and proved what a class act he is. His comparison with Fazal Mahmood (1952-62) and Mohammad Asif (2005-10), two of the best right-arm medium-fast bowlers produced by Pakistan, can not be dismissed as farfetched.
Modern day captains in international cricket have something in common when it comes to protecting their bowlers. Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed, in view of the workload on his bowlers in the Dubai heat, had decided not to enforce the follow-on on the third day. He was hoping to set Australia a fourth-innings target of 450+. Resuming at 45-3, Imam-ul-Haq (48) and Haris Sohail (39), the two left-handers, killed off any hope of Australia running through the Pakistan batting line-up. After they both perished at 110 just before lunch, Pakistan aimed for quick runs before declaration. With wickets in hand, Asad Shafiq (41) and Babar Azam (28 not out) was given license to bat freely and they obliged with 71 runs in 18.1 overs. Upon Asad’s dismissal, captain Sarfraz closed the innings at 181 for 6, leaving Australia an improbable task of 462 runs to win the match.
With their backs to the wall, Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch walked out to start Australia’s second innings, with an extra burden on their shoulders, in view of the dramatic collapse in the first innings, following their superb 142-run stand. The pair added 87 runs before Finch fell, one short of his second fifty on his Test debut whereas Khawaja battled on to be unbeaten at close of play. All eyes will be on him to lead Australia in its bid to draw the game.
Pakistan -Imam ul-Haq ,Mohammad Hafeez, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed(c)(wk), Bilal Asif, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Abbas, Wahab Riaz
Australia - Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Travis Head, Marnus, Labuschagne, Tim Paine(c)(wk), Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, Jon Holland, Nathan Lyon
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