Australia 202 and 215 for 3 (Khawaja 82*, Finch 70*) need another 246 runs to beat Pakistan 482 and 181 for 6 dec
For the first time in the match, the script Pakistan appear to have templated every time they play in the UAE isn’t quite going according to plan. On a morning that would normally have been viewed as a formality that confirmed their ascendancy in the series, Usman Khawaja and Travis head showed audacious disregard for the history books, digging in and keeping Pakistan wicketless all session. Khawaja, who finished unbeaten on 50 yesterday, was 18 runs short of a hundred by lunch, with Head becoming the second debutant to score a half-century in this Test.
The pair had a conducive platform to build on; their partnership had aggregated 61 last evening by stumps. They continued in that vein, playing the spinners without any fear, seemingly free of the pressure that would have come with knowing that this partnership would be key. Khawaja continued to employ the reverse sweep faultlessly against Yasir Shah, negating the rough from around the wicket. Head, on the other hand, was more conventional, relying on foot work. Time and again, he came down to the pitch of the ball and guided it through the onside. At other times, he went back deep in his crease, playing late enough to avoid being tricked by the spinners, or any demons that might have suddenly awoken the pitch.
The pitch itself hasn’t quite developed into the minefield it had threatened to become on the third evening; it seems solid enough to keep batsmen fearless. The spinners will be disappointed at the lack of sharp spin they are used to on final-day pitches, but they might still have had a wicket early on in the session. Head missed a sweep off Yasir, as the ball cannoned into his pads. It wasn’t spinning much, and while the umpire adjudged it not out, it seemed extremely close. Pakistan, on their last review, chose not to use it, but replays showed that the ball had pitched in line and was hitting middle stump halfway up. It might be the one misjudgement that brings all their efforts over the past four days to nought.
It isn’t especially flattering for a bowling attack to say a fast bowler was their best on the final morning of a Test in Asia, but, once more, Mohammad Abbas looked likeliest to do damage. A compelling personal battle with Khawaja halfway through the session at times looked destined to end in a wicket, but the batsman had the rub of the green on a number of occasions. The only bowler that troubled an otherwise unflappable Khawaja, Abbas kept finding his outside edge. When the opener began to walk out of his crease to disrupt Abbas, Sarfraz Ahmed began to keep up to the stumps, and Khawaja looked even more troubled. It was one chapter of a battle you suspect isn’t quite done yet.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.