Kaneria spins Pakistan into command
The Sydney Cricket Ground museum has among its many artefacts the shirt Danish Kaneria wore during his seven-wicket haul against the Australians five years ago. The curator may have to clear further hanging space should Kaneria's four-wicket collection at the SCG on Tuesday prove the catalyst for a Pakistan victory 15 years in the making.
Not since 1995 have Pakistan defeated Australia in the Test arena, and the efforts of Kaneria and Umar Gul on the third day have them perfectly poised to end their 10-match losing streak and keep alive the current three-match series. The Australians, who looked in ominous batting form after Shane Watson and Phillip Hughes posted a century opening stand, were exposed over the final two sessions on Tuesday to close at a perilous 8 for 286, holding an overall lead of 80 runs.
Pakistan might have been further advanced down the path to victory had Kamran Akmal, the tourists' embattled wicketkeeper, not dropped Michael Hussey three times off the bowling of Kaneria. Hussey went onto post an unbeaten 73 as wickets fell around him to keep alive Australia's faint hopes of becoming just the sixth side in Test history to post a victory after trailing by 200-plus on the first innings.
If not for the contributions of Hussey and Watson, the latter of whom was dismissed in the nineties for the third time in four matches, Australia might already be packing their bags for Hobart. The loss of five middle order wickets for just 40 runs on a decent batting surface served as further evidence of a soft underbelly and Pakistan, ranked a lowly sixth on the ICC Test ladder, exploited Australia's frailties with an efficiency somewhere short of clinical.
Kaneria proved the principal architect of Australia's demise over 33 punishing overs. His haul of 4 for 117 exacted a harsh physical toll - he was carried from the field late in the day with what appeared to be leg cramps - though not before he had accounted for Phillip Hughes, Marcus North, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson. Kaneria commenced proceedings by ending Australia's 105-run opening stand with the wicket of Hughes to a sharp return catch. He returned to remove North and Johnson with wrong-uns both batsmen failed to pick, and trapped Haddin lbw to a delivery that survived a video challenge.
His efforts were complemented by those of Gul, who showed up the selectors' decision to omit him from the first Test with the prize scalps of Watson and Ricky Ponting to go with the lower order wicket of Nathan Hauritz. Unerring in line and testing in length, Gul hardly allowed the Australian batsmen a moment of respite and was rewarded with the prize wicket of Watson who, to that point, had threatened to take the game away from the tourists.
Watson was the beneficiary of a number of reprieves, commencing with Kaneria's dropped catch over the fine-leg boundary that took him past the 1000-run mark in Test cricket. He might also have been run out on the stroke of lunch, only for Kamran Akmal to neglect to remove the bails while he was well short of his ground. It has been a tour to forget for the Pakistani gloveman.
Gifted an extra life, Watson adopted an aggressive mindset at the crease and peppered the boundaries with a series of authoritative drives and pull strokes. He bookended Sami's first over after lunch with a pulled six and cut four, and proceeded to punish Pakistan's tactic of bowling wide of off-stump to 7-2 field settings by blasting anything short between midwicket and long-on.
A more circumspect Hughes headed to the lunch break unbeaten on 31 from 71 deliveries, but his resistance ended early in the second session when a return catch was brilliantly reeled in by Kaneria. Ponting continued his forgettable outing at the SCG by chasing the second ball of Gul's second spell and edging to Faisal Iqbal in the slips, and Watson's bid for back-to-back centuries was terminated when he attempted to cut Gul too close to his body on 97. The collapse had begun.
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo