Babar 99, Sarfraz 81 ensure Australia need a whopping 538 for victory

Stumps Australia 145 all out and 47 for 1 (Finch 24*, Head 17*, Hamza 1-19) need another 491 runs to beat Pakistan 282 all out and 400 for 9 dec (Babar 99, Sarfraz 81, Lyon 4-135 )

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Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq failed to notice that Azhar’s shot failed to reach the boundary, leading to a gift of a run out for Australia

Pakistan moved closer to a series-clinching win in Abu Dhabi today, breaking the back of the Australian bowling attack – and perhaps the spirit of the side – once and for all. On what was a draining day in ferociously hot conditions, Sarfraz Ahmed kept Tim Paine and his men out on the field for all but the last 12 overs. They amassed 400 runs in the process, and set Australia a gargantuan 538 runs to win. There was still time for Mir Hamza to get his first Test wicket, clipping the outside of Shaun Marsh’s off stump with perhaps the best delivery of the match.

It was a day when good news kept coming for Pakistan; not only do they have their foot on Australian throats, but the two men chiefly responsible for it are the pair who most struggled for runs prior to this Test. Babar Azam and Sarfraz put on 133 for the sixth wicket, Babar falling agonisingly short of his first Test hundred, Mitchell Marsh trapping him in front when the 23-year old was on 99.

Had it come, it would have arrived with all the stylishness archetypal to Babar in white-ball cricket. He respected the good balls – on the rare occasions Australia bowled them – and exquisite timing off both feet kept the boundaries flowing. The glorious cut behind point totemic to Babar was repeatedly struck with magnificent sweetness; one off Peter Siddle took him within two runs of the hundred. No one could have argued he didn’t deserve it had he got there.

Sarfraz and Babar rotated the strike as if these were the middle overs of an ODI, and with Australia having pushed the field back, any serious intention to pick up wickets had long been sacrificed at the altar of saving boundaries.

For Sarfraz, too, this Test has been like manna from the heavens. After his career seemed to be meandering aimlessly for the last few months, he appears to have shaken off the negativity and is batting like the man who forced his way into the side in 2014, ending the reign of the Akmals in Pakistan cricket. He scored 81, his second half-century of the match, but it meant yet another occasion this Test where a Pakistan batsman fell short of the three-figure mark.

After tea, the game stalled somewhat strangely; Pakistan weren’t as keen to pursue quick runs as they might have been, while Australia bowled a tight enough line to make run-scoring more challenging. However, it continued to sap the energy from Australia’s reserves; in all, they were out on the field for 120 overs this innings. They will have to bat closer to 200 more to avoid a seemingly certain defeat.

The day, though, will perhaps be remembered for a piece of astoundingly amateur cricket from Pakistan’s two most level heads. Half an hour into it, it appeared Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali’s morning coffee still hadn’t begun to make its impact felt. Azhar edged Peter Siddle through the slips, the ball looking destined for the third-man boundary.

The pair were so sure of the four, that they jogged to the middle of the pitch for a leisurely chat. (It isn’t yet known whether they, like Tim Paine and Nathan Lyon last match, were talking about which Inbetweeners episode they were going to watch that night). But the ball stopped just short of the rope, and Mitchell Starc threw it back to Paine, who effected a swift run-out. All this while, Azhar and Shafiq hadn’t moved an inch from the middle of the pitch, perhaps unwilling to accept how absent-minded they had been. Expect to find it in cricket-blooper videos for decades to come.

At this stage, the lead was under 300, and Australia may have sensed a chance to bowl Pakistan out quickly. But Babar, whose place in the side has been under some scrutiny, played with the maturity he usually limits to white-ball cricket, and alongside him, Shafiq forgot the madness of the run-out. Pakistan’s scoring rate picked up in the last half hour before lunch, and Australia began to get desperate; both reviews were used somewhat frivolously.

But Asad, who had along with Babar steered the game out of competitive waters with a 75-run stand found point off Labuschagne soon after lunch. Once again, Australia may have harboured hopes of running through the lower-middle order, but Pakistan were having none of it.

It seems a long time ago, but the visitors had started the day particularly brightly, with Haris Sohail and Azhar back in the pavilion in a first hour where under 30 runs were scored. But by the time the desert sun finally set on another blistering day in Abu Dhabi, Justin Langer and his men would be forgiven for wondering if that had just been a mirage.

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