Australia will likely win the first Test against Pakistan at The Gabba in Brisbane, but the final act of a one-sided match has dragged out much longer than Steve Smith's men would have liked.
Nearing stumps on day four, Pakistan were 8/382, just 108 runs short of victory and a lot closer than most would have predicted. Batsman Asad Shafiq led the way, notching a quick, aggressive century -- his tenth in his 51st Test. The 30-year-old was 100 not out at stumps.
Earlier, storms forced an extended tea break, with Pakistan chasing an unlikely target of 490 to beat the Aussies. Rain forced players off the field during Sunday's first session at 2.43pm local time but the weather let up and players returned within two hours.
The Aussie team weren't looking as dangerous on day four, failing to take a wicket before tea. Azhar took a ball to the neck that made everyone worry, but the batsman was alright.
But they made up for a slow start in the second session, claiming three wickets. At the dinner break, Australia needed five wickets to finish off Pakistan.
Mitchell Starc was again the pick of the Australian bowlers with three wickets, ably supported by Jackson Bird with three, and Nathan Lyon with two. Josh Hazlewood went wicketless, but made up for it by bowling 35 overs for just 78 runs at an economy rate of 2.22.
Meanwhile, Steve Smith proved he was human. After taking some of the greatest catches you'll ever see this summer, he grassed one.
Special mention to Usman Khawaja who celebrated his 30th birthday at the Gabba. He probably had just one wish, a Test victory. Channel Nine kindly gave Khawaja a classic Coles mud cake -- it's hard to miss that distinctive touch of white icing -- probably bought by the intern 30 minutes before broadcast. But it's the thought that counts.
ON DAY THREE
Australia continued to creep towards victory in the first Test against Pakistan at The Gabba after the visitors crumbled during their second innings, getting bowled all out for 142 on day three.
The Aussies chose against enforcing the follow-on with their minds set on increasing their lead ahead of day four, leaving Pakistan with no option other than to bowl and field towards the inevitable declaration.
Unfortunately openers David Warner and Matt Renshaw were only able to chalk up 12 and 6 runs respectively, however the real magic came from Usman Khawaja and skipper Steve Smith -- as the trend seems to be this summer.
The captain managed to do as he always does, scoring 63 runs off of 70 balls before a nicely worked spinner from Yasir Shah saw him caught. Khawaja followed after making a respectable 74 runs off of 109 balls before a mis-timed pull shot left him walking back to the sheds.
First innings saviour Peter Hanscomb was then left in the centre on 35 with keeper Matthew Wade after Nic Maddison fell with only a boundary to his name and Australia declared at 5/202 with a lead of 489.
At stumps, Pakistan finished at 2/70 and weren't looking all that confident with opener Sami Aslam falling for only 15 runs and Babar Azam getting caught out off a Nathan Lyon spinner for 14 off of 36 balls.
Weather permitting, Azhar Ali and Younis Khan will remain out in the centre as play resumes on day four. Ali's score of 41 looks to be the Pakistanis' only real hope with an uphill, 419-run battle and a seemingly looming defeat ahead of them.
EARLIER ON DAY 2...
Pakistan have crumbled late on the second day of the first Test against Australia at The Gabba in Brisbane. The visitors are 8/97 at stumps, still 332 runs in arrears of Australia's first innings of 429.
Mitchell Starc set the tone in just the fifth over, removing well-credentialled opener Azhar Ali -- who has a Test triple century to his name -- and the rest of the top and middle order followed from there.
Starc and Josh Hazlewood finished with three wickets each, and Jackson Bird played the role of the miserly third seamer to perfection, taking 2/7 off nine overs. Starc and Hazlewood are forming a heck of a combo as summer rolls on. They're not in the Lillee/Thomson or McGrath/Gillespie class yet, but as a duo, they are well on their way.
Starc has a knack of bowling unplayable balls. Hazlewood just nags you to death. Together, they are dynamite, and it looks like we could have a three day Test on our hands here when Pakistan resume on Saturday afternoon.
ON DAY 1...
Hats off to Peter Handscomb. The 25-year-old Victorian has scored his first Test century in just his second Test.
Unfortunately, Handscomb fell for 105 just after the tea break (which is the short break after the first session in a day/night Test). Pakistan was firmly back in the game with Australia 8/380 at the time, and would ultimately have been satisfied with Australia's first innings total of all out for 429, after a much larger tally looked likely.
For the first half of this innings, Handscomb was playing the sort of knock you barely notice, courtesy of Steve Smith's fluid strokemaking. But when the skipper was out for 130, precipitating the fall of thee more quick wickets, Handscomb's innings suddenly took on a different character.
Suddenly he was holding the innings together, pushing Australia onwards towards 400 -- a total which had seemed a mere formality overnight. "He's a street-smart cricketer," said Shane Warne of his fellow Victorian, and judging by Handscomb's performance in Brisbane, you have to agree.
Earlier, Steve Smith was out for 130. The Australian skipper never quite looked settled and fell to paceman Wahab Riaz slashing at a ball outside off-stump. Australia was 4/323 when the captain departed, and fell to 7/354 not long afterwards with the fall of Nic Maddinson, Matthew Wade and Mitchell Starc.
Overall, this was a lovely, controlled innings from Smith, but it was also a lucky one, and an innings which ultimately, he seemed to throw away. It's not often you'd call an innings of 130 "disappointing", but Smith is in such rare form right now, that's more or less the vibe.
On Friday afternoon, as distinct from Thursday afternoon and evening, Smith just seemed to lose his patience a little. It was as though he was 120-something not out after 47 overs of a One Dayer with wickets in hand and big hitters to come, rather than 120-odd on day two of a Test with a double century beckoning and a commanding total to build.
The first loose sign from Smith came when he danced down the wicket to spinner Yasir Shah's first ball of the day. Alas for the visitors, an easy catch at long off was spilled.
Smith had also been dropped by the wicket keeper on Thursday evening. Then there was the one he hit, which was taken by the 'keeper, but which failed to attract an appeal.
Second Test man Nick Maddinson replaced Smith at the crease, and was dropped before he'd scored. That was two spillages in two overs off the bowling of likeable Pakistani spinner Yasir Shah.
"He's looking about as comfortable as James Packer at a Mariah Carey gig," said Jules Schiller on Triple M's new cricket coverage. We'll pay that. Maddinson was out for just 1 shortly afterwards. He's looking a little out of his depth at Test level.
Sadly for Maddinson he is giving Shaun Marsh plenty of incentive to get his finger right for Boxing Day #AUSvPAK— Daniel Brettig (@danbrettig) 16 de dezembro de 2016
All of a sudden, the whole of Australia seemed to have a case of Steve Smith impatience disease, like some sort of invisible chickenpox which had spread through the dressing room.
Matthew Wade and Mitchell Starc both fell cheaply to loose shots, and the innings was being held together by Peter Handscomb, who was doing an excellent impression of a wise old hand.
Josh Hazlewood went for 8, and the Australian tail looked worrying brittle again -- as it had in the first Test against South Africa, before Nathan Lyon and Jackson Bird added an entertaining 49 for the last wicket.
Credit, though, to Pakistan's bowling, especially paceman Wahab Riaz, who has taken a moderate 65 wickets in his previous 21 Tests but who took four wickets in this innings. Mohammad Amir also did well to take four wickets after it looked like his match might be over on Thursday.
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