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1st Test, Rawalpindi, March 04 - 08, 2022, Australia tour of Pakistan
476/4d & 252/0

Match drawn

Player Of The Match
157 & 111*

Smith and Labuschagne miss hundreds as Test heads towards stalemate

Pakistan's bowlers plugged away on a docile surface with Shaheen Shah Afridi causing some problems

Shaheen Shah Afridi celebrates in trademark fashion after dismissing Marnus Labuschagne  •  AFP/Getty Images

Shaheen Shah Afridi celebrates in trademark fashion after dismissing Marnus Labuschagne  •  AFP/Getty Images

Australia 449 for 7 (Khawaja 97, Labuschagne 90, Smith 78, Warner 68, Nauman 4-107) trail Pakistan 476 for 4 dec by 27 runs
Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith frustratingly missed out on centuries, but Australia continued their strong batting response against a toiling Pakistan during a truncated day four as the first Test moved closer to an inevitable draw on a flat Rawalpindi pitch.
In reply to Pakistan's massive first innings of 476 for 4, Australia reached stumps at 449 for 7 with Mitchell Starc on 12 not out and skipper Pat Cummins unbeaten on 4 to trail by just 27 runs amid this ongoing stalemate.
An under-pressure Australia mustered an impressive batting effort even though their top-order missed out on centuries in the first series between the teams in Pakistan since 1998. Labuschagne (90) and Smith (78) - along with Usman Khawaja (97) and David Warner (68) on day three - left hundreds on the table amid barren conditions for bowlers.
Even though they missed out, it was the first time Australia's top four had all made half-centuries in an overseas Test since 2008 in Delhi. In-form No.5 Travis Head, who showcased outrageous aggression during the Ashes, was the first batter in the match unable to reach double figures after making just 8.
After a patchy performance on day three, Pakistan bowled with more discipline led by quick Shaheen Shah Afridi, who lifted their sagging spirits with the key wicket of Labuschagne in the middle session amid speeds nudging 145kph/90mph. He continued to bend his back just before stumps, unleashing menacing yorkers to no avail as the sting came out of the contest.
An energetic Shaheen, the standout quick in the match, had 1 for 80 off 28 overs in an encouraging display for a shorthanded Pakistan attack.
Shaheen aside, much like Australia's workmanlike bowlers during the opening two days, Pakistan's attack has not been able to penetrate consistently on a pitch set for criticism unless something miraculous is conjured on the final day.
In batting-friendly conditions, as he held together Australia's inexperienced middle-order, Smith was on a mission eyeing just his second ton in his last 16 Tests. He wound back the clock with unwavering concentration in a bid to end Australia's century jinx in the innings.
Smith, who averaged 30 in the Ashes, had sucked the life out of Pakistan who resorted to quick Naseem Shah bowling relentless short-pitched deliveries after tea. Underlining their helplessness, left-arm spinner Nauman Ali bowled a negative line outside leg stump, but the defensive ploy did the trick.
Play was sleepwalking until No. 6 Cameron Green, who had displayed great maturity in his first Test innings away from home, was lured by Nauman into a sweep shot only to top edge to short fine leg. It ended a watchful 48 off 109 balls from the emerging allrounder who helped steady Australia after a couple of wickets in the middle session.
In a shock, as he seemed a dead set certainty to cross triple figures, Smith gloved an attempted sweep off Nauman to end his 196-ball vigil and continue his century drought. The vice-captain was livid and muttered to himself in disgust as he trudged off the field.
But Smith's dismissal didn't spark the match into life although Alex Carey - coming off a troubled performance behind the stumps - fell for 19 just before bad light ended play three overs before scheduled stumps.
Even though the ground was bathed in sunshine, the morning session was wiped out after heavy rain overnight lashed Rawalpindi causing wet patches on the field, including on one of the bowlers' run-ups, reducing the day's play to a scheduled 67 overs.
Pakistan were hoping the sedate pitch may have spiced up after a lengthy stint under cover but it was much the same on resumption with spinners Nauman and Sajid Khan unable to conjure much excitement.
Combining for their sixth Test century partnership, Labuschagne and Smith were set for the long haul as Australia eyed reeling in Pakistan's big first innings total. Labuschagne, who looked in sublime touch late on day three, added 21 runs to his overnight total before falling short of a ton in just his seventh Test away from Australia.
In what proved to be arguably the best passage of the day's play, Shaheen was engaged in an absorbing battle with the bubble-gum chewing Labuschagne who ruthlessly picked off boundaries. But Shaheen had the last laugh when he enticed a loose drive from around the wicket, forcing Labuschagne into edging to a diving Abdullah Shafique at first slip.
In a recurring theme for the tourists, Labuschagne couldn't quite believe he had missed out on a century but Australia did enough to move towards parity and inch this historic series-opener towards the predictability of a stale draw.

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth