Australia face a battle to stay in the first Test against Pakistan after the hosts piled on and declared at 476 for four, before bad light saved the tourists from a tough evening in Rawalpindi.
On a day already made emotionally hard by the deaths of Shane Warne and Rod Marsh, Azhar Ali hit 185 for Pakistan while Imam-ul-Haq turned his maiden century into 157. Their innings summed up Australia’s battle, as Pakistan reached their ninth highest score against the tourists as wickets were particularly hard to come by.
For just the 14th time in the history of Test cricket, the first three partnerships all passed 100, with Azhar and Imam’s reaching 208. Australia were then due to face 50 minutes in the evening, before a seven-minute hold-up amid confusion over the light and a slow roller resulted in only one over being bowled, before players were taken off the field with the tourists five without loss in reply. Regardless, Australia need a big day with the bat on Sunday or else find themselves in a fight to hold out for a draw.
It came on a day in which Australia wicketkeeper Alex Carey again found himself in the spotlight, grassing a chance off Mohammad Rizwan on zero before he went on to make an unbeaten 29. With Pakistan pushing towards the declaration, Rizwan got a thick edge trying to cut Nathan Lyon (one for 163) only for the chance to go to ground.
Carey’s glove work had come under question at times during the Ashes this summer, after being picked ahead of Josh Inglis as the successor to Tim Paine. Carey was also involved in a decision not to review an Imam edge behind that was given not out, indicating to Pat Cummins there had been no nick before replays showed otherwise.
That though does not lay solely on the wicket-keeper and the left-hander’s bat had also hit the ground, causing confusion. And even if Australia had pulled the right rein there, it’s unlikely there day would have been made any easier on a pitch with little pace in it.
They finally managed to find some movement and reverse swing, with Cummins (one for 62) tailing one back to finally get Imam lbw after lunch. Reverse swing was always going to be important in Pakistan, and whether the hosts can make the ball move earlier will likely prove crucial on Sunday.
Other than that it appeared at times that Australia’s only reprieve was going to come via the declaration. Marnus Labuschagne helped claim another breakthrough with a run out, catching Babar Azam short on 36 with a direct hit from a one-handed pick-up-and-throw in the ring.
The world’s top-ranked batter then claimed a wicket of his own with the ball late, as Azhar fell trying to reverse-sweep the spinner in a bid to up the ante before close. Azhar’s dismissal meant he fell just 15 runs short of becoming just the eighth man to score two Test double-centuries against Australia.
But he had done more than enough for Pakistan. His patience alongside Imam on the first day-and-a-half ensured Pakistan would have complete control, before scoring 84 runs from his last 100 balls.