Barring one innings which is looking like a significant anomaly, this series has been a never-ending toil for bowlers. The question now is whether either side can find the 20 wickets to give them a chance of breaking the deadlock to take the decider.
Australia know there was a golden opportunity in Karachi that they were unable to take – denied by one of the great match-saving innings from Babar Azam – but are also talking positively about having come to Asia for the first time since 2018 and not had the batting problems which have hindered other tours.
Pakistan will be buoyed by having rallied for the draw last week. The first three days of the second Test had suggested a team struggling with the pressure of playing at home, but when a captain produces a performance on the scale of Babar’s it can inspire. Pakistan can channel that. They can channel a result that will have felt like a victory. And Australia will just have to cope. They have to cope with what seemed like certain victory becoming what must feel like an actual loss.
It may well come down to who starts strongest in Lahore. While batting first will be the obvious route, Australia will be doubly desperate to do so having come off 172 overs in the field. Again, there will be much interest in the surface on a ground that hasn’t hosted a Test since 2009. But Karachi was a reminder that looks can be deceiving with that pitch never quite becoming the challenge that had appeared likely.
If, as expected, the surface is flat, it will be a big ask for the bowlers on both sides. Pakistan have never looked like running through the Australia line-up and some of Babar’s tactics in the field have become defensive quite early. The visitors might have thought they had broken the back of Pakistan’s batting with the first-innings display in Karachi only to be proved emphatically otherwise. At least most of Australia’s Test attack know that after this week they can put their feet up – only Cameron Green is part of the upcoming one-day series.
(last five matches, most recent first)
Travis Head will want to do better having come into the series on the back of a blockbuster Ashes•AFP/Getty Images
In the spotlight
Shaheen Shah Afridi has bowled much better than a return of four wickets at 51.00 would suggest. Only one of those wickets – Marnus Labuschagne in the first innings at Rawalpindi – has come when a match was anything like in the balance. But with a little more fortune he could have made the impact Mitchell Starc did with that spell of reverse swing on the third day in Karachi. He has it in him to be the bowler who can break open a game if conditions allow.Two innings does not prove much, but Travis Head probably feels he hasn’t made the most of his opportunities so far. Having come into the tour on the back of his Player of the Series performance in the Ashes he has scores of 8 and 23 while others have filled their boots. In Rawalpindi he edged a cut against Nauman Ali then in Karachi was lbw to an umpire’s call against Sajid Khan having looked confident on the second day. A score here would be timely ahead of more subcontinental tours to come.
An unchanged side would appear the likely route for Pakistan unless they look to shake up the spin attack with a debut for legspinner Zahid Mahmood in place of either Nauman Ali or Sajid Khan
Pakistan (probable) 1 Abdullah Shafique, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Babar Azam (capt), 5 Fawad Alam, 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 7 Faheem Ashraf, 8 Nauman Ali, 9 Sajid Khan, 10 Hasan Ali, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Pat Cummins confirmed an unchanged XI which means Josh Hazlewood again misses out with two spinners retained.
Australia 1 David Warner, 2 Usman Khawaja, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Cameron Green, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Pat Cummins (capt), 10 Mitchell Swepson, 11 Nathan Lyon
Pitch and conditions
Cummins said that the pitch looked similar to the previous two and the same type of game would likely unfold. The weather is forecast to be hot and dry.
Stats and trivia
Australia’s previous Test at Lahore was in 1994 when Pakistan secured the draw which took the series.
Azhar Ali needs 74 runs to reach 7000 in Tests; Steven Smith needs 66 to reach 8000 – he has two innings left to become the fastest to the milestone.
This series currently has the third-highest batting average (55.30) and third-highest bowling strike-rate (128.7) for any with a minimum of two matches.
“I’ve been really happy with how everyone has gone about their own work, the tactics, think it’s just a matter of taking those chances. Wickets are at a premium in this series so you can’t afford to drop too many chances.”
Australia captain Pat Cummins
“Looks like the same pitch but I feel it will give turn. It has small cracks from where spinners can get help and patches are formed. But you can’t tell 100% because conditions are different. But whatever it is our spinners are ready for it and will fight.”
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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