Mon, 19 Aug 2019

Babar nears maiden ton as Pakistan's lead approaches 500

18 Oct 2018, 21:42 GMT+10

3:00 AM ET

Tea Pakistan 282 all out and 350 for 5 (Babar 90*, Sarfraz 60*, Lyon 2-130) lead Australia 145 all out by 487 runs

playWATCH - Azhar Ali loses wicket in comical run-outAzhar 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

The positives continue to build for Pakistan. Not only do they lead by 487 runs with almost half the Test still to go, but the participants in the hosts' biggest partnership this innings are the two players who struggled most for runs prior to this Test. Babar Azam and Sarfraz Ahmed had accumulated 105 runs for the sixth-wicket stand by tea, with Australia looking thoroughly defeated and perhaps eagerly awaiting a declaration to end this nightmare in the field.

Babar is closing in on a hundred, his first one in Test cricket, and should it come, it will have arrived with all the stylishness archetypal to his style in white-ball cricket. He respected the good balls - on the rare occasions that Australia bowled them - and exquisite timing off both feet kept the boundaries flowing. Sarfraz and Babar rotated the strike as if these were the middle overs of an ODI, and with Australia having pushed the field back, it appears any serious intention to pick up wickets has 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 if the Akmals in Pakistan cricket. He is unbeaten on 60, his second half-century of the match, and will be sorely tempted to attempt a cathartic century before deciding to put Australia in to bat.

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

Australia had started the day extremely brightly, a dominant first hour seeing less than 30 runs scored, with the two set batsman Haris Sohail and Azhar Ali both back in the pavilion.

The session, though, will be remembered for a piece of astoundingly amateur cricket from Pakistan's two most level heads. Half an hour into the day, it appeared Shafiq and Azhar'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.

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 and Australia began to get desperate; both reviews were used somewhat frivolously.

Where it once appeared Pakistan might be run through, it is now inevitable that when Australia get to bat, it will be via a declaration.

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