Pakistan fightback sets up thrilling series finale after Khawaja hits another ton for Australia

By Sports Desk March 24, 2022

It all comes down to this. After 14 days of Test cricket that has yet to produce a match-winner, Pakistan's home series against Australia will be decided on the final day in Lahore, and it could hardly be any more tantalisingly poised.

Australia opener Usman Khawaja delivered another classy century on Thursday, remarkably his fourth of the calendar year, as Australia posted 227-3 declared to set Pakistan a target of 351 for victory in the third and final Test.

The tourists would have wanted to make inroads into their opponents' top order before the close, but instead Pakistan reached 73 without loss from the 27 overs they faced after Australia's post-tea declaration.

It means Pakistan require a further 278 runs for victory and Australia need 10 wickets on day five at the Gaddafi Stadium, where something surely has to give.

 

Australia's men are unbeaten in their last seven Tests (W4 D3), and Pakistan have not lost any of their last five (W3 D2).

The Australians have been beaten only once by Pakistan in the last nine Tests between the sides, yet Pakistan have just a single defeat in their last 12 Tests at this ground, and that was against Sri Lanka all the way back in March 2002.

After draws in Rawalpindi and Karachi, this match looks ripe to produce a victory for one of the teams, but it could easily go either way.

Australia were 11-0 at the start of play and reached 96 without any loss when Shaheen Shah Afridi bowled David Warner for 51 with a sensationally good delivery. Khawaja kept going and anchored the innings with 104 not out, Marnus Labuschagne weighing in with 36 and Steve Smith passing 8,000 career Test runs in making 17.

Captain Pat Cummins declared early in the late-afternoon session, once the lead passed 350, but Abdullah Shafique (27 not out) and Imam-ul-Haq (42 not out) helped Pakistan to the close without any damage.

Shafique used up a life moments before the close when he edged spinner Labuschagne past the left hand of Smith at first slip, potentially a highly costly miss by the fielder.


Khawaja does it again

Khawaja, who was born in Pakistan, did not play a Test between matches against England in August 2019 and January of this year. It is testament to Australia's resources that they could afford to leave out a batter of his quality. The 35-year-old made 91 in the first innings of this match and surpassed that second time around.

He now has 751 runs in five Tests this year, far and away the most of anyone in Tests. Shafique is second on that list, with 397 runs and counting.

Record for Smith, but dropped catch sours his day

Australia would have ended the day on a high if Smith had clung on to the sharp chance from the penultimate delivery of the day. Shafique drove aggressively at Labuschagne, who drew the edge but saw the ball race away to the boundary rather than stick in Smith's claw.

Smith earlier reached his runs landmark in his 151st Test innings, the fewest of any batsman to have reached 8,000 Test runs.

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    Salt reached a half-century in 19 balls – the third-fastest by an England player in the format – as the tourists levelled up the series at 3-3 in Lahore.

    That set up a decider on Sunday, when Salt will have another chance to underline his credentials to retain his spot at the top of the order at the upcoming T20 World Cup.

    "I'm very grateful for the backing I've got from my team-mates and the management. It's very clear the way they want me to play," the 26-year-old said.

    "The way I play is aggressive and I want to win as many games as possible while I'm in an England shirt. 

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    Salt's destruction of the Pakistan attack came after home captain Babar Azam had hit an unbeaten 87 to set England a target of 170 for victory.

    Babar became the first Pakistan batter to reach 3,000 T20I runs during his half-century, doing so in the absence of the rested Mohammad Rizwan.

    He is the fifth men's player to reach that milestone in the format and the joint-quickest to do so alongside India great Virat Kohli.

    Reflecting on what was ultimately a disappointing day for his side, however, Babar said: "After losing a couple of early wickets, we thought 170 was a good score. 

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    "The way they used the powerplay was the turnaround today. I think the middle-order needs to step up, they need to take responsibility."

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    Pakistan recovered from a slow start that saw them 15-2 at one point to post 169-6 at the Gaddafi Stadium, thanks in large to the brilliant Babar Azam (87 not out).

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    Pakistan were without run machine Rizwan but Babar stepped up with 87 runs off 59 balls, which included three sixes and seven fours.

    Babar surpassed a milestone 3,000 T20I runs in the process, yet it was not enough to steer the hosts to an unassailable series lead.

    England ease to victory

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    Only once before – against New Zealand in November 2019 (6.4 overs in a game reduced by rain to 11 overs) – have England previously reached 100 from seven overs.

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