BRISBANE: Pakistan were in a backs-to-the-wall struggle to save the day-night first Test as Australia took a strangle-hold on the third day at the Gabba on Saturday.
At the close, the tourists were hanging in at 70 for two with Azhar Ali not out 41 and 112-Test veteran Younis Khan not off the mark after facing 19 balls. Pakistan trailed by 419 runs.
Pakistan made a much better fist of playing in the tricky twilight session with the pink ball losing just two wickets after their catastrophic seven for 24 in the first innings on the previous evening.
The openers lasted into the 12th over before Starc got Sami Aslam to edge to Matt Renshaw at first slip for 15. Babar Azam fell to spinner Nathan Lyon in the final half-hour when he edged to Steve Smith at slip for 14.
It was slow going but at least the tourists were not shedding wickets in clumps to keep the Australians at bay and still with two long days to play.
“We have had some very good partnerships and we are hopeful of getting some more partnerships,” Pakistan batsman Asad Shafiq said.
“We are taking this game step by step, hour by hour, and we are looking for the good batting opportunities here.”
Australia will be pressing hard on Sunday’s fourth day to win the series opener where they have yet to lose at the Gabba in 27 Tests stretching back to 1988.
“We wanted to have a crack at them at night time,” senior batsman Usman Khawaja said, explaining Australia’s decision not to enforce the follow-on.
“We wanted to try and get a big lead, give our bowlers another little rest, it’s tough for the bowlers to back up in the hot humid conditions.
“We’ve got two days and they need to chase 400-odd, you always want to be in this position, but we’ve got to do a lot of hard work early tomorrow.”
Thwarted by technology
The highest winning run chase in the fourth innings at the Gabba stands at 236 for seven by Australia against the West Indies in 1951.
Pakistan will have to go well beyond the record highest-ever Test run chase of 418 for seven set by the West Indies against Australia in Antigua in 2003.
Skipper Smith chose not to enforce the follow-on after Pakistan were dismissed for 142 in the first session, even though they were 287 runs in front on the first innings.
Instead Australia amassed a formidable lead over the beleaguered tourists to set up a declaration during the dinner break to capitalise on bowling in the final twilight session.
Smith went after the runs and brought up his 19th Test half-century off 59 balls with his eye on a declaration. But he was caught at long-on by Rahat Ali going for a heave off leg-spinner Yasir Shah for 63 off 70 balls with 11 fours.
Khawaja, out cheaply for four in the first innings, cracked 74 off 109 balls before he was splendidly caught by Misbah-ul-Haq off Rahat nearing the dinner break.
Nic Maddinson once again failed and was out for four off just three balls before he was caught off Wahab Riaz.
Both the Australian openers were out before tea. David Warner fell for 12 when he went to hit Mohammad Amir through midwicket only to miscue his pull shot to Wahab Riaz at mid-on, while Matthew Renshaw was caught at second slip off Rahat Ali for six.
Earlier Pakistan’s last two partnerships battled for almost an hour before they were all out for 142.
Wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed top scored with a fighting unbeaten 59 off 64 balls as the tourists added 45 runs to their overnight total 97 for eight.
Sarfraz and Mohammad Amir put on a stubborn 54 runs for the ninth wicket before Amir was adjudicated caught behind off a faint edge, detected by Hot Spot.
Technology again thwarted Pakistan when after repeated replays Rahat Ali was given run out by Warner for four.
Replays showed that Rahat’s bat was millimetres off the ground when the bails were dislodged by Warner’s throw from mid-off.