Recent Match Report – Australia vs Pakistan 3rd Test 2023/24

Pakistan 313 and 68 for 7 (Ayub 33, Babar 23, Hazlewood 4-9) lead Australia 299 (Labuschagne 60, Marsh 54, Jamal 6-69) by 82 runs

Babar Azam fell late on day three to complete a frustrating series, as Pakistan crumbled in their second innings with Australia closing in on a victory at the SCG. Pakistan’s hopes of setting Australia a challenging total nosedived when quick Josh Hazlewood claimed Saud Shakeel, nightwatcher Sajid Khan and Salman Agha in the penultimate over of the day’s play.
A rampant Hazlewood finished with 4 for 9 from five overs as Pakistan reached stumps in ruins at 68 for 7 with a lead of only 82 runs. Mohammad Rizwan and Aamer Jamal, who had both struck half-centuries in Pakistan’s first innings, were at the crease.

Pakistan’s late collapse has eroded their hopes of snapping a 16-Test losing streak in Australia, but the surface is playing tricks with rough patches causing variable bounce and sharp spin.

In a manic final session, Pakistan gained a slim first-innings lead of 14 runs after Jamal crashed through Australia’s lower order. But the visitors made a disastrous start to their second innings when opener Adbullah Shafique was clean bowled by a gem of a delivery from quick Mitchell Starc in the first over. After an impressive start to the series, Shafique fell away and finished with a pair, but could do little against a Starc delivery that swung in late and rattled the stumps.

Pakistan slid further in the next over when captain Shan Masood nicked off for a golden duck in a loose shot off Hazlewood. The pressure was on debutant Saim Ayub, who had endured a tough initiation to Test cricket with a second-ball duck in the first innings, and two dropped catches when Australia were batting.

Aamer Jamal finished with a six-wicket haul•Getty Images

But Ayub’s nerves eased when he pounced on width from Starc, including a remarkable upper cut for six to showcase his innate aggression. His confidence grew, and he treated quick Pat Cummins with disdain by clobbering his first delivery over mid-on in an audacious stroke. He then settled alongside Babar, who had only previously averaged 20.6 in the series and been dismissed by Cummins on three occasions.

They built a 57-run partnership until Ayub, on 33, succumbed to Nathan Lyon and was trapped on the pads in a decision that failed to be overturned on review. Thus, Pakistan desperately needed Babar to survive through to stumps, but on 23 he could only outside edge part-timer Travis Head, as Alex Carey claimed an agile catch.
Earlier in the day, Australia had recovered well after their first innings fell away in a flash. They appeared to be inching towards a valuable lead when the in-form Mitchell Marsh scored his fourth half-century of the series, and combined with Carey in a partnership of 84 runs. Marsh capitalised after being dropped by Ayub on 7, and counterattacked against the second new ball.

Carey had entered the summer under pressure after being dropped early in Australia’s title run at the World Cup, but a crucial second-innings half-century in the Boxing Day Test had provided him with a much-needed boost. He continued his momentum with several spectacular strokes through his favoured off side, as the partnership raced past a half-century stand.

Alex Carey and Mitchell Marsh added 84 for the sixth wicket•Getty Images

But Carey was bowled by Sajid for 38 on the stroke of tea to trigger a stunning collapse of 5 for 10. Marsh fell on 54 in the second over after the tea interval when he mistimed Jamal to mid-off, and two balls later, Cummins was out lbw after missing a full toss in a decision overturned by DRS. Jamal claimed his second five-wicket haul when he dismissed Lyon, before also removing Hazlewood for a duck to finish with 6 for 69 from 21.4 overs.

But in a topsy-turvy day’s play, Australia had threatened to gain control when Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith overcame a short-ball barrage in a 79-run third-wicket partnership, only to fall before lunch.

Jamal sought a short-ball approach as he continued on from his plan against the batters before play had stopped on day two. With the slips taken out and a slew of fielders on the leg side, Jamal bent his back and bowled a lively spell but was thwarted. Smith, who has struggled for some time against short-pitched bowling, did have a narrow escape when he almost hit to short midwicket.

Looking to shrug off a lean 2023, where he averaged 35 in Test cricket, Labuschagne was patient but assured, and reached his half-century with a superb pull shot as he dealt with seamer Hasan Ali’s modest pace with ease.

Pakistan reverted their tactics when left-arm quick Mir Hamza re-entered the attack, as the off side was filled with catchers. The change of plan worked when Smith, on 38, hit straight to cover and looked in disbelief at the pitch before trudging off. In the next over, Salman clean bowled Labuschagne for 60 with a spectacular delivery that spun sharply off the rough.

But by stumps, Australia’s bid for a series sweep remained on track, with the stage perfectly set for retiring opener David Warner to enjoy a fairytale farewell on day four, even as the third day of the traditional New Year’s Test was dedicated to Australia great Glenn McGrath’s late wife Jane, who had died of breast cancer in 2008.

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth

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