Recent Match Report – Australia vs Pakistan 1st Test 2023/24

Innings Australia 487 and 233 for 5 dec (Khawaja 90, Marsh 63*, Shahzad 3-26) set Pakistan 271 (Imam 62, Shafique 42, Lyon 3-66) 450 runs to win

Opener Usman Khawaja fell short of his century as Australia declared early in the second session of day four with a lead of 449 runs in the first Test against Pakistan at the Optus Stadium. Khawaja was dismissed for 90 about half an hour after lunch. He faced 190 balls in a brave innings, having overcome a painful blow to his arm to anchor Australia with allrounder Mitchell Marsh, who was unbeaten on 63 from 68 balls.

With the surface deteriorating, proving particularly difficult for batters combating deliveries rearing but also creeping low, Pakistan face a daunting task to avoid a 15th straight Test defeat in Australia.

After lunch, with Australia eyeing a declaration, Marsh put the foot down and smashed quick Shaheen Shah Afridi for a boundary to cover to reach his second half-century on his first Test match on his home ground. The runs flowed at a speed not seen previously in the innings, but the batters were still troubled by the occasional hostile delivery. Marsh was hit on the helmet from a Khurram Shahzad delivery that spat off the surface.
While debutants Shahzad and Aamer Jamal impressed throughout, Afridi struggled, and bowled mostly at a sedate pace in the early 130kph. It was a disappointing performance for him, having been elevated as vice-captain ahead of the Test, with much burden on him to lead an inexperienced attack. He did dismiss Khawaja, but finished with match figures of 2 for 172 from 45.2 overs.

With the field spread more reminiscent of the shorter formats, the game changed markedly compared to a fiery opening session. Australia had resumed on 84 for 2, as Khawaja and Steven Smith hoped to build on their overnight 79-run partnership, having survived a punishing short-ball assault late on day three.

Smith needed medical attention just before stumps on day three after an Afridi delivery whacked into his forearm. There was particular intrigue over how the pitch would behave as quicks Afridi and Shahzad concentrated on a short of a length. Shahzad continued his impressive debut after trapping Smith lbw for 45. But Smith immediately reviewed and gestured that he thought the ball was going down the leg side. The DRS upheld the decision by the slimmest of margins, with ball tracking confirming the ball would have clipped the bails.

Smith trudged off the ground desolate as Shahzad claimed his third wicket of the innings, having also, late on day three, roughed up Marnus Labuschagne, who had a fitness scare after being hit on his little finger. But a scan cleared Labuschagne of injury.

On Smith’s dismissal, Travis Head, as expected, counterattacked and started with a fantastic straight drive to the boundary off Afridi. But the cavalier approach proved particularly risky on this surface and against accurate bowling from a Pakistan attack that improved significantly from a disappointing performance earlier in the match. Head had a couple of close shaves before hitting Jamal straight to cover.

Jamal, who took six wickets in Australia’s first innings, was on a roll, and thought he had Marsh caught behind on the first delivery. But DRS upheld the not-out decision, with the ball brushing Marsh’s forearm. The fireworks in the over continued when Jamal, bowling from around the wicket, had Khawaja lbw with a delivery that crept low. But the review showed the impact was just outside the line as Khawaja shouldered on.

Khawaja was soon in agony after copping a short-length delivery from Jamal on his arm. It was reminiscent of the blows taken by Labuschagne and Smith, but Khawaja continued after receiving medical attention.

Meanwhile, having made 90 in Australia’s first innings, Marsh batted confidently and took a liking to spinner Salman Ali Agha with a six down the ground. But facing pace bowling continued to be tough, with Marsh hit on the helmet by another ferocious short delivery from Jamal. Marsh continued, but was lucky to still be at the crease when skipper Shan Masood dropped a straightforward chance at mid-off when he was on 23.

Khawaja battled away and reached his half-century in a dogged performance, having come into the match under the spotlight after not being allowed to wear shoes which expressed humanitarian views. He missed his century, but helped put Australia on course for victory.

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth

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