Domain Test Series v Pakistan
Rain halts Australia's charge with victory in sight
Wet weather forces early end to day three but not before Australia picked up three wickets with clean-sweep on the cards
Andrew Ramsey at Adelaide Oval
1 December 2019, 11:30 PM AEST
A rare and remarkable century from tailender Yasir Shah might have warmed Pakistan's hearts on another bleak day, but it will take an even more remarkable turn of events to prevent Australia completing a 2-0 Domain Test Series win on Monday.
When rain ended day three an hour before stumps were scheduled, Pakistan were 3-39 in their second innings and still 248 runs in arrears having been forced to follow on after they were bowled out for 302 earlier in the day.
It's a position even more grim than Adelaide's slightly improved weather forecast for Monday, given the damage once again inflicted on the visitors' top-order by Australia's rampant quicks.
A series of heavy rain squalls swept the ground during the evening session, the first of them arriving just as luckless Pakistan captain Azhar Ali faced up to Mitchell Starc, and sliced a low catch that was brilliantly snared by Steve Smith at second slip.
Starc's breakthrough came after he had collected 6-66 in Pakistan's first innings, the second-best figures of his Test career (his best being 6-50 against Sri Lanka at Galle in 2016) and further enhancing his claims to being the game's foremost pink-ball strike bowler.
In his sixth day-night Test, Starc has 33 wickets at 20.42 with the prospect of more tomorrow, provided the soreness he appeared to suffer in his right ankle does not worsen overnight.
When play started at 1.30pm this afternoon, it seemed the factor most likely to slow Australia's charge to a series clean sweep would be the rain showers that were forecast to sweep the ground throughout the afternoon and evening.
However, it was an occurrence less likely than winter weather on the first day of summer – a card-carrying tail-end batter with a Test career average of 12 when his innings started – who proved the day's predominant element.
Despite his exalted position in Test cricket history, as the bowler to claim 200 wickets in least time, Yasir had endured a wretched first two days when he conceded 197 runs without making a breakthrough.
But afforded a couple of let-offs by the unintended generosity of Australia's fielders, the 33-year-old – who has been known to open the batting in T20 cricket but habitually resides at number eight or nine in Tests – seized his moment.
Yasir might have been stumped from the bowling of Nathan Lyon when 35, having advanced well beyond his crease only to be beaten by a delivery that spun and bounced so sharply keeper Tim Paine was unable to lay glove as it fizzed past his left shoulder.
And he should have been removed for 43 when he slapped a return catch to Marnus Labuschagne that was so routine, the part-time spinner was surely pondering how he might celebrate before the ball was safe in his grip.
Soon after that spilled chance, Yasir lost his specialist batting partner Babar Azam heartbreakingly near to his own historic century, but found sturdy support from unlikely sources even further down the order.
Upon reaching his maiden century, in anxious circumstances when he half-heartedly chipped a ball from Josh Hazlewood beyond the outstretched fingertips of Pat Cummins at mid-on, he unfurled a celebration as gloriously unrehearsed as his 258-minute innings.
Upon completing the career-changing single, Yasir gathered to launch himself into a David Warner-style leap only to take a large chunk from the Adelaide turf which meant he took to the air with the grace and surety of a dromedary.
He then punched the air, brandished his bat like Excalibur, and dropped to his knees to plant a ceremonial kiss and offer a prayer to the arena where he had created a remarkable cricket memory – without taking a single wicket.
On paper, the 289-run first innings lead that Australia pocketed on the first innings suggests they retained the total dominance gained from the moment Warner took guard last Friday to launch his historic triple-century.
In reality, however, there were lengthy stanzas this afternoon when Pakistan not only looked to wrest control, but became so comfortable that batters never-before renowned for making runs were collecting personal bests by the bucket-load.
After resuming at 6-96 and almost 500 runs adrift, most among the crowd of 17,000 that huddled against the numbing cold and gusty winds in garb more often seen at Adelaide Oval's weekly winter AFL fixtures expected Australia's bowlers were one wicket away from wrapping up the innings.
That wicket was Babar Azam, the eye-catching 25-year-old who played a lone hand in Brisbane a week earlier scoring 104.
And if he was to repeat that effort, it would require some serious stonewalling from the tailenders who were left to lend the support that other specialist batters had proved unable or unwilling to muster.
Yasir showed he was up for that challenge when he and Babar survived the opening hour, in which the leg-spinner scored only two runs fewer than his more accomplished partner.
The pair then celebrated a 100-run partnership that was reached from 185 balls, and for the second successive Test Yasir had surpassed his highest Test score (prior to his 42 in Brisbane last week that benchmark was 38 not out).
Babar was also eyeing history, as only the fourth visiting player after West Indies opener Chris Gayle, England captain Alastair Cook and India skipper Virat Kohli to post centuries in consecutive Test innings in Australia.
But having stroked his way with barely a false step to 97, and with his teammates gathered boundary-side in expectation of a rare moment of celebration amid an otherwise abject tour, Babar tried to reach his milestone with a flashing drive against Starc and edged a catch to Paine.
When next man in Shaheen Shah Afridi was pinned palpably lbw by a near-yorker, and the lbw decision he challenged appeared even more obviously out under DRS scrutiny, Pakistan were on the precipice at 8-194 and still almost 300 in arrears.
That was when Yasir, aided by resolute number 10 Mohammad Abbas whose previous-best Test score was 11, thumbed his nose at the world's best pace bowling attack and wrote himself into history.
Assessing that his luck was in, courtesy of the couple of chances he was gifted before reaching 50, Yasir combined stout defence with the occasional flourish against part-time spinners Labuschagne and Steve Smith to reach 90 when the second new-ball was taken.
While that might have quickened the pulse of Yasir, it did little to hasten his or Abbas's demise and the penultimate pair put on a further 27 runs – by which time Yasir had reached and rightly celebrated his century – before the breakthrough was made.
Even in the aftermath of Abbas's removal, caught at gully trying to evade a skidding bouncer from Cummins, Yasir refused to throw away his hand, although he was moved to throw the bat a couple of times as Australia's frustration grew.
Top-edged pull shots and miscued sweeps routinely fell wide of exasperated fielders, and Yasir was granted another reprieve on 107 when he squeezed a looping catch at shoulder-height to Labuschagne at short-leg only for the usually sure-handed fielder to turf it.
That chance was also created by Lyon, who finished the innings wicketless but did claim the decisive catch when Yasir slogged Cummins to deep mid-wicket having taken his total to a barely believable 113.
No sooner had he accepted the well-wishes of several Australia players as he departed the field to applause far warmer than Adelaide's bitter weather, than it became clear Pakistan would be batting again.
And given the track record of his top-order teammates, would likely be padded-up once more before stumps were pulled.
Australia XI: David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c & wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
Pakistan XI: Shan Masood, Imam-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali (c), Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Yasir Shah, Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Afridi, Musa Khan
Domain Test Series v Pakistan
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner
Pakistan squad: Azhar Ali (c), Abid Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Imran Khan Snr, Iftikhar Ahmed, Kashif Bhatti, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Musa Khan, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Yasir Shah.
First Test: Australia won by an innings and five runs.