By our correspondent
KARACHI: Babar Azam (102*) and Abdullah Shafique (71*) shared 171 runs for the third wicket unbroken stand as Pakistan made a super comeback on the penultimate day of their second Test against Australia here at the National Stadium on Tuesday.
When Australia declared their second innings after batting for just 25 minutes on the fourth morning, the stage seemed set for a game of cat and mouse here at the National Stadium.
Pakistan were given a mammoth target of 506 runs to win the second Test. For them, however, it was more a task to survive 172 overs, something which looked beyond their reach after a first innings horror show when they were bowled out for just 148 in 53 overs.
And when opener Imam-ul-Haq and Azhar Ali fell cheaply leaving Pakistan at 21-2 in the 23rd over, the Australians looked perfectly set to finish off the hosts and take a crucial lead ahead of the final Test in Lahore.
But then came the resistance. Skipper Babar Azam hit an unbeaten 102, his sixth Test century and the first since February 2020, and together with opener Abdullah Shafique (71 not out) put on 171 in an unbeaten stand of the third wicket. The stunning turn-around left Pakistan at 192-2 at close, very much alive going into the final day.
It’s still a perilous situation but now Pakistan must be fancying their chances of saving the Test to keep their hopes of winning the three-Test series alive. They can even dream of victory to rewrite Test history as no team has ever achieved such a target.
Pakistan still need 314 from a maximum of 90 overs on the final day. In order to win, they would need to score at 3.49. With eight wickets in hand, it doesn’t seem impossible. But considering that they will be facing a potent Aussie attack on a fifth day’s wicket offering variable bounce, even saving the match would be a heroic achievement.
Pakistan’s longest fourth innings in terms of overs was in the Brisbane Test against Australia in 2016 when they batted for 145 overs but lost by 39 runs while chasing a target of 490.
Babar will remain the vital cog for Pakistan on Wednesday. Unable to really make his presence felt in the series, Babar was finally at his brilliant best when Pakistan needed him the most. While Abdullah was content to survive, Babar exhibited some fluent stroke-making. He hit seven fours to race to 47 by tea. He was in command against both pace and spin, pulling Pat Cummins for two fours over mid-wicket and milking Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Swepson for runs square of the wicket. Pakistan added 86 from 27 overs in the second session. For the first time in this Test, they showed no nerves.
The duo continued to dominate despite some tight bowling from the Aussies, who managed 22 maiden overs during the course of the Pakistani innings which has so far lasted 82 overs.
Babar took the lead role as he hit a series of sweetly-timed shots and finally reached his hundred with a sweep off Swepson. The duo added 88 in the final session. Babar’s 102 has come off 197 balls and includes 12 fours. Abdullah has played 226 balls for his 71 with the help of four boundaries and a six.
Earlier, Australia declared at 97-2 after Shaheen Afridi scalped Marnus Labuschagne for 44 in the 23rd over of Australia’s second innings. Usman Khawaja was unbeaten on 44.
Only once before have the Australians declared both their innings in a Test in Asia. The only other time it happened was in 1986 against India during the famous tied Test in Chennai.
It didn’t start well for Pakistan with Imam, who fell tamely in the first innings, failing again. He struggled during an 18-ball stay and was dismissed by sliding delivery from Lyon for just 1. The left-hander had flourished on a dead Pindi wicket in the first Test where he scored centuries in each innings but was disappointing in both his outings in Karachi.
Azhar Ali, one of the three Pindi centurions, faced 47 balls for his 6 runs and was unlucky to lose his wicket soon after lunch when he was adjudged LBW off medium pacer Cameron Green. He tried to duck a short pitched delivery but it skidded and kept low. Azhar opted against a review but rued it later after replays showed that he had gloved the ball.
Pakistan were 21-2 and with almost 150 overs still to go, they needed a big partnership. Babar and Abdullah had to shoulder the rescue mission.
Abdullah, who hit a ton in Pindi, was lucky to survive twice during his painstaking innings. He was dropped by Steve Smith off Cummins at slip for 20. At 33, he could have been ran out for the second time in this Test while scrambling for a misjudged single but Green’s throw from mid-on missed the stumps. Pakistan will hope that luck continues to favour Abdullah and his team-mates on Wednesday. They will need plenty of it.
Australia won the toss
Australia 1st Innings 556/9d
Pakistan 1st Innings 148 all out
Australia 2nd Innings 97/2d
Pakistan 2nd Innings (Target: 506 runs)
Abdullah Shafique not out 71
Imam-ul-Haq lbw b Lyon 1
Azhar Ali lbw b Green 6
Babar Azam (c) not out 102
Extras: (b 4, lb 2, nb 3, w 3) 12
Total: (82 Ov, RR: 2.34) 192/2
Yet to bat: Fawad Alam, Mohammad Rizwan †, Faheem Ashraf, Nauman Ali, Sajid Khan, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi
Fall: 1-2, 5.5 ov, 2-21, 22.2 ov
Bowling: Mitchell Starc 12-5-29-0, Pat Cummins 13-5-35-0, Mitchell Swepson 27-6-57-0, Nathan Lyon 22-4-50-1, Cameron Green 8-2-15-1
Test Debut: Mitchell Swepson
Umpires: Ahsan Raza, Aleem Dar