Match Report:


Australia build big lead as Perth pitch plays tricks

The home side fought through a probing final session against a fired-up Pakistan pace attack

Australia v Pakistan | First Test | Day 3

Nathan Lyon might have narrowly missed his moment of history as his wait for a 500th Test wicket continues, but Pakistan will have to rewrite records of their own if they are to snatch victory in the opening NRMA Insurance Test.

In the face of relentless Australia bowling and despite the early loss of David Warner (0) and Marnus Labuschagne (2) in their second innings, the hosts ended day three 2-84 and 300 runs ahead which ensures Pakistan will require their highest successful run chase here if they are to win.

Indeed, the only time Pakistan have recorded a Test win on these shores batting fourth came at the SCG in 1976-77 when set a cursory victory target of 32 which they achieved for the loss of two wickets.

After surrendering their final nine wickets for 138 in barely 50 overs today, handing Australia a 216-run lead heading into the game's second phase, it's likely they will require a score closer to the (ultimately unsuccessful) 450 they posted at the Gabba four years ago if they are to push for victory.

While Lyon (3-66 from 24 overs) proved his team's most successful as Pakistan succumbed for 271, it was the often unplayable but similarly unlucky pace battery of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood that proved most problematic on a lively surface that is beginning to play some tricks.

Starc inswinger sends Sarfaraz's stump cartwheeling

Lyon looked likely to join the exclusive club of 500 Test wicket-takers (currently numbering seven) when he claimed his 499th late in Pakistan's innings with only last man Shaheen Shah Afridi standing between him and immortality.

But despite sending down eight deliveries at Pakistan's number 11, he was unable to prise out the final scalp and it was part-time tweaker Travis Head who claimed that honour to ensure Lyon enters the second innings under a weight of expectation.

His prospects will be further enhanced by the nature of the Perth pitch which, in addition to sporting small divots from day one use and providing frustration for fast bowlers due to concerns over their footholds, is starting to show signs of cracking.

That was glaringly evident when Labuschagne copped a stinging blow near the little finger on his right hand during his half-hour stay at the crease, having been pinned by a ball from seamer Khurram Shahzad that jagged back appreciably off the surface.

Marnus Labuschagne receives treatment after being hit on the hand // Getty

And Australia's unbeaten pair Usman Khawaja (34no) and Steve Smith (43no) endured a torrid final hour against a sustained bouncer barrage from left-arm quick Shaheen Shah Afridi, with the latter struck a couple of brutal whacks on the left arm in the shadows of stumps.

Steve Smith after being hit on the forearm late on day three // Getty

Warner also fell victim to a delivery that bounced more than he expected when, less than 48 hours after completing a near-flawless 164, he top-edged an attempted leg-side flick to record a five-ball duck.

If Australia's bowlers land the ball in threatening areas as often as they managed in Pakistan's first innings, the lead their batters have already built might very well suffice.

Lyon closes in on milestone with Carey's clean hands

As it was, the signs of Pakistan's batting frailties became evident from the first delivery of day three.

Opener Imam-ul-Haq tucked Cummins' opening offering on to the leg side and startled his batting partner Khurram Shahzad by calling for a tight single as Head hared in from square leg to field.

Had the Australian's shy at the striker's end stumps been on target, the nightwatchman would have been run out without facing a ball in the bright sunlight but, as events transpired, Cummins rattled his stumps two deliveries later and the day's die was cast.

Imam duly reached a half-century (from 161 balls faced), but it was recently replaced skipper Babar Azam batting at the other end who loomed as the decisive figure with Pakistan still more than 300 runs in arrears.

Babar had averaged 78 across three Tests when the teams last met in Pakistan, and a tick above 50 on his previous visit to Australia in 2019-20, and despite being held scoreless from the first 12 deliveries he faced today he provided a pointed reminder of the threat he posed when he finally got off the mark.

A typically textbook front-foot square drive off Cummins brought a boundary, but there remained sufficient assistance in the three-day-old deck for Australia's seamers to keep their quarry contained.

Having survived a searching examination from the big three quicks and the introduction of Lyon's spin, Babar surprisingly succumbed to fifth bowling option Mitchell Marsh who took the ex-skipper's edge with a glorious away swinger to the howling approval of his home crowd.

The sense of theatre was enhanced because Marsh claimed the breakthrough – albeit clasped in the fingertips of Alex Carey's keeping gloves – with the fifth ball of his first over of the day.

Marsh continues dream home Test with huge scalp of Babar

The loss of their batting talisman ensured the burden fell upon Imam, who then threw away his ultra-cautious hand through a rush of impetuosity.

After batting more than five and a half hours and soaking up 198 balls to score 62, the opener charged at a flighted delivery from Lyon that bit on the well-grassed surface and spun past his outside edge to be gathered by Carey who completed a sharp stumping.

When keeper Sarfaraz Ahmed lost his off stump to a spearing Starc inswinger, Pakistan's middle-order had folded for the addition of 14 runs in less than five overs.

With the second new ball due immediately after lunch, the job was not about to get any more straightforward for the tourists despite their decision to stack their line-up with batting talent for this series opener.

The replacement ball brought a change of fortune for Hazlewood who had somehow remained wicketless to that point, but collected his first with a well-executed plan against rising Pakistan batting talent Saud Shakeel.

The left-hander, who entered this Test with an average of 87.5 from the first 13 innings of his nascent career, had appeared largely untroubled in reaching 28 from 43 balls despite the clatter of wickets at the other end.

However, a discussion between Australia's on-field leaders saw Hazlewood unleash a pin-point short ball aimed at Shakeel's throat which he could only fend to Warner running back from first slip.

Hazlewood on Perth pitch, Lyon's role and Aussie plans

Pakistan might have been in greater strife had the lbw decision given against allrounder Salman Ali Agha (on 10) not been overturned on the batter's review, with technology deciding Cummins' in-dipping delivery would have missed leg stump.

But when Australia's skipper coaxed Fakeem Ashraf into a mistimed pull stroke that was neatly plucked by Khawaja diving forward at square leg, the spin pair mopped up to set the stage for Lyon to reach his rare milestone in Pakistan's second innings.

NRMA Insurance Test series v Pakistan

First Test: December 14-18, Perth Stadium (1.20pm AEDT)

Second Test: December 26-30, MCG (10.30am AEDT)

Third Test: January 3-7, SCG (10.30am AEDT)

Australia squad: (first Test only) Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Lance Morris, Steve Smith, Mitch Starc, David Warner

Pakistan squad: Shan Masood (c), Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Khurram Shahzad, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel and Shaheen Shah Afridi