Against all odds, Australia pulled off one of the grittiest test draws of all time after they were seemingly batted out of the contest early on day four in Dubai. It was a phenomenal outcome for the Aussies to say the least, but for Pakistan it was a huge opportunity missed against a side that was one punch away from hitting the pavement.
A first innings score of 482 on a flat-Dubai wicket left Pakistan in a commanding position as they sent Australia in to bat late on day two. Centuries to Mohammad Hafeez who made his long-awaited return to the test side and Haris Sohail who scored his maiden ton lead the way for Pakistan. Fifties to Imam-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq rounded out a solid first innings total for the home side, the only batsman to miss out was Babar Azam who was oddly positioned down the order at No. 7. On the plus side, it gave Pakistan extreme batting depth, unfortunately his innings came to a premature end just eleven balls into his stint at the crease. Had Azam relished the batting conditions like his fellow teammates did, the total could have easily surpassed the 500-run mark. Veteran quick Peter Siddle was Australia’s best bowler with figures of 3/58, the two-man spin attack however couldn’t really get on top of Pakistan which resulted in various partnerships breaking down the Aussie attack.
Adding insult to injury, after almost two full days out in the field Australia found themselves right back under the sweltering Dubai sun after a monumental batting collapse left the visitors in deep trouble. An 142-run opening stand between Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch was the perfect start to Australia’s first innings, little did they know they were just one wicket away from a batting debacle. After the wicket of Aaron Finch for 62 in his debut test, Australia’s shaky-past came back to haunt them as they were about to experience yet another overseas nightmare. Also in his debut test for his country, 33-year-old off-spinner Bilal Asif brought Australia’s innings crashing down in a matter of overs. While the wicket looked flat and lifeless, Asif made it look anything but that as he dismissed Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne in the space of just seven overs. Seamer Mohammad Abbas finished with figures of 4/29, but it was Bilal Asif who walked away with a stunning six wickets as Australia were toppled for 202 after being 0-142 at one stage.
With a lead of 282 runs, Pakistan had licence to kill in their second innings as Australia was left with plenty of catching up to do. This time around, Australia’s spinners were able to make some early breakthroughs (albeit 50 minutes into the innings) with Jon Holland and Nathan Lyon taking out a good chunk of Pakistan’s top order. The home side regrouped & hit back with some cameo-efforts from Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam who all contributed to Pakistan’s lead of 462 runs as a declaration was made. The match was all set up in favour of Pakistan, they required a further seven wickets with a full days play left in the test and it remained highly unlikely that Australia would see out the final days play despite the flatness of the Dubai pitch.
Australia started the final days play at 3/136 with Usman Khawaja and debutante Travis Head at the crease. Another promising start from Australia’s opening batsmen was short-lived as the Marsh brothers failed to keep up the momentum Finch and Khawaja built out in the middle. You could sense the change in momentum again after the Marsh brothers were both dismissed without scoring, Mohammad Abbas was on the verge of breaking the game wide open after those two quick wickets. After a nine-ball duck in the first innings, South Australia’s Travis Head was out for redemption as his team continued to tread on thin ice. By the end of the fourth days play, Khawaja remained unbeaten on 50 and Head was starting to look comfortable at the crease. From that point onward, the pair teamed up for a 132-run partnership as Australia continued to dig in deep over after over. Handed the new ball, Mohammad Hafeez trapped Travis Head plumb in front for a hard-fought 72. Nine overs later Yasir Shah sent Marnus Labuschagne on his way for 13, all of a sudden Pakistan had a sniff again. Khawaja was continuing to keep his head down and deny Pakistan his wicket, but the wickets were starting to stack up around him and he was running out of long-term partners. The Australian opener reached his century, the seventh of his test career and probably the most important one of his career.
With a session and a half left in the first test at Dubai, skipper Tim Paine walked to the wicket under immense pressure to perform in a final attempt to save the match for Australia. And perform he did, Paine teamed up with the rock-solid Usman Khawaja before his partner fell for a valiant 141 off 302 deliveries which left the door ajar for Pakistan again. A sixth wicket partnership of 79 runs wasn’t so much about the scoreboard contribution, but the balls chewed up (220) as time started to become Pakistan’s worst enemy. The match was on a knife’s edge after Leggy Yasir Shah picked up two quick wickets in the form of Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle, how quickly a game can change. Just two wickets away from victory, Tim Paine gritted his teeth with off-spinner Nathan Lyon at the crease as the pair went into survival mode. Pakistan threw everything they had at Australia, but in the end it wasn’t enough to break a determined Aussie outfit. Visibly exhausted, Paine walked off the Dubai ground with a match-saving 61 not out off 194 deliveries, but it was Usman Khawaja who was heralded Australia’s new hero after scoring 85 in the first innings, and 141 in the second.