Usman Khawaja raised his bat yet again as Australia and Pakistan set up a tantalising final day of the series. Image: cricket.com.au

A Usman Khawaja century was the main headline on Day four as Australia and Pakistan set up a grandstand finish to the series in Lahore.

A Usman Khawaja century was the main headline on Day four as Australia and Pakistan set up a grandstand finish to the series in Lahore.

Australia’s batters showed their intent early on to move the game forward as the tourists looked to set the game up to give them the best chance of victory and taking the series.

Australia batted until just after Tea before the Pakistani openers again started solidly, building a strong platform ahead of the final day.

Here are the moments that mattered from day four in Lahore:

Early jitters for the home side

The first twenty minutes of the fourth day were ragged for the Pakistani bowlers, to say the least.  First David Warner took three boundaries from the second over of the day, bowled by the dangerous Shaheen Shah Afridi as his length, in particular, went seriously awry.

This was compounded by Hasan Ali drawing the edge from Usman Khawaja for Mohammad Rizwan to take the catch.  The only problem is no one noticed or heard the edge, and when there’s no appeal, there’s no wicket.  

Khawaja then rubbed salt into a gaping wound by edging past slip later in the over, gathering four runs in the process to the chagrin of the home captain, bowler, and fielders alike. 

Warner and Khawaja looked to press home their advantage against an attack that looked as though the 123-run first-innings deficit was a bridge too far for it.  First Khawaja took the lead in the run race between him and Warner, and then Warner caught up, but both looked well in front of their Pakistani opponents.

Of misplaced feet and misplaced hopes

As the Australian openers motored to 56 without loss, the impressive youngster Naseem Shah bowled an almost unplayable delivery to Khawaja, displacing his off stump and touching middle on the way through. Sadly it was all for nought as his errant left foot found itself landing a couple of centimetres in front of the popping crease.

It is not the first time that Naseem’s boot has cost him success against the Australians.  His very first Test wicket could have been David Warner two and a half years previously when he was on Test debut at the Gabba. 

Later in the second hour, Warner was spoken to by umpires Aleem Dar and Ahsan Raza for stepping into the protected zone whilst batting out of his ground against the medium pacers.  This was an interesting call as if Warner was encroaching into the protected area of the pitch, one would assume that any batsman that advances down the track to a spinner does the same. 

When ball meets pad…

Khawaja, by this time probably thought that he should ring home during the lunch break to purchase a lottery ticket. The opener was struck on the pad by a Hasan Ali delivery delivered from around the wicket.  Upon being denied their appeal by the umpire, Pakistan captain Babar Azam decided upon the DRS appeal, and although the ball looked a little leg side-ish anyway, Khawaja’s inside edge rendered any further consideration superfluous.

Australia’s openers continued in a relatively untroubled fashion until, with the score on 96, Shaheen Shah Afridi produced a ball that will add to the contenders of balls of the Test match. 

Heading towards middle and off, it tailed slightly away to beat the edge of the defensive Warner blade and cannoned into the off stump with his score 51.

Two balls before lunch, Sajid Khan persuaded a ball to turn sharply and quickly from outside Marnus Labuschagne’s off-stump. Only just missing it by a matter of milimetres.

Did it clip the front pad as it was thrust forward without a stroke being played?  The video alone proved inconclusive, which for the second time today begged the question: why was there no appeal?

Batsmen assume total control. As you were then…

The first hour of the middle session rather mirrored the rest of this strangely fascinating series in that a wicket seemed as far away as Tipperary.  Khawaja, who at the moment looks like he will finish batting when he chooses, not the bowlers, also looked capable of scoring more freely on this slow surface more easily than anyone else on offer.  

Marnus Labuschagne did what Marnus Labuschagne does.  It doesn’t always look according to the textbook, and it’s frequently less aesthetically pleasing than his state captain and teammate Khawaja at the other end, but you can’t doubt its effectiveness.  He just keeps plundering runs.

As the lead neared 250, thoughts turned to when Pat Cummins would declare.  It would seem to be a balancing act between what sort of lead he would need, against what time he would need to bowl Pakistan out. 

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Marnus perishes as Australia up the ante

In the middle of the middle session, Khawaja and Labuschagne started to up the ante, looking for boundaries as time became of the essence and not to be wasted.

Reverse sweeps were utilised, and flashing footwork became the order of the day to nullify any potential threat that the spinners offered.  Nauman Ali and Sajid Khan looked rather ineffective on a wicket where, although the occasional ball scuttled through with rather less height and a bit more speed than would normally be expected, there was little in the way of assistance for them.

That was until Marnus Labuschagne attempted to hit Nauman into the bleachers and didn’t quite make the distance. Holing out to deep forward square leg where fellow spinner Sajid completed a comfortable catch.  Labuschagne won’t be happy about tossing away another start, having got to 36, but will at least be comforted in knowing he sacrificed his wicket in the chase for a declaration.

The milestones keep coming as tea approaches

Steve Smith once more cemented his name in the pantheon of the truly great test match batsmen, not only of modern days but of all time, whilst Usman Khawaja continued to cricket watchers shake their heads at why he was ever left out of this test team.

Smith needed seven runs to get to a test career tally of 8,000 in several innings fewer than any batter in history.  This he duly achieved by forcing Hasan Ali to the cover boundary with the timing and assuredness that we have come to accept from this quirky and fine player.

Then, with three balls remaining before tea, Khawaja faced Nauman with his score on 98.  He aimed a back-cut at a ball which, for not the first time, was somewhat shorter than was ideal, whereupon Hasan duly misfielded to allow the second run that gave Khawaja his hundred. His second of the series and fourth of 2022.

It’s happy hour again, until Postman Pat calls a halt

Khawaja and Smith emerged for the evening session intent on a good time rather than a long time, as a declaration loomed.  Smith especially looked in an aggressive frame of mind, looking for runs wherever they could be found against the impressive Naseem Shah and the increasingly negative Nauman Ali.

Sadly the attacking intent got Smith nowhere as he only added five runs after the final break.  In the process of doing so, he skied a rather optimistic switch hit too long-off where Azhar Ali dropped what he should not have, and then edged a push outside off stump so thinly that he was unaware whether he had or had not.  The failed review hardly cost his team at this late stage.

Travis Head then came in and walloped Nauman for six over mid-wicket and four through point, and the captain that always delivers declared the innings closed at 3/237, a lead of 350.  

This dangles Pakistan a tempting enough carrot to keep them interested.

Plenty of work for the video man but, no wickets

Imam-ul-Haq and Abdullah Shafique came out to begin the chase for 351 runs knowing that when the ball is newer and harder, then batting tends to be easier in the Gaddafi Stadium cauldron.  In the early going, they rarely looked troubled, but there were a couple of moments when the Australians looked as though they were watching a different contest to the rest of us.

Nathan Lyon struck Imam in the eighth over having just wellied a full toss down the ground for four, with the contact of the ball on pad looking suspiciously like it was outside the line of the off-stump.  Cummins chose to review, and the line became irrelevant and the review burned when it was found that Imam had met the ball with a sizeable chunk of wood before the pad was impacted.

Then in the sixteenth over, keeper Alex Carey managed to convince umpire Ahsan and everyone else on the field that Shafique had edged the ball through to him from the bowling of Lyon. It soon became obvious, once Shafique had decided that a review was in order, that he had not. The gap between bat and ball was spacious.

Smith shells yet another in the shadows of Stumps

Captain Cummins shocked most onlookers when he threw the ball to Marnus Labuschagne for what would become the last over of the day. But when Marnus is in the game, something usually happens.

One could imagine Abdullah Shafique thinking, “oh no… anyone but him”.  Sure enough, with his fourth ball of the over, he attempted a risky drive that missed the bottom edge by a cat’s whisker, not that keeper Carey was able to collect the ball anyhow.  

The following ball was edged to the normally safe hands of Smith the slipper, who got his weight transfer all wrong and dropped what he would normally have taken. Rubbing salt into the wounds with the ball trickling away to the boundary for four.

Pakistan’s openers, therefore, begin tomorrow’s play with 73 runs on the board, and all four possible results in play as we enter the final day of the series.

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