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Taufeeq half-century sets up intriguing final day

Opener Taufeeq Umar continued Pakistan's fight-back in the opening Test against Australia on Sunday, leaving the game hanging in the balance when heavy rains forced the abandonment of the second consecutive evening session.

Pakistan, set a difficult 316-run target to win this game, go into the final day needing 137 more for a remarkable victory. Australia's frustrated bowlers need seven more wickets on a pitch that has held up well, generally favouring the batsmen but also offering some assistance to the bowlers, especially the spinners.

The left-handed Taufeeq, playing in only his seventh Test match, scored a patient and chanceless 88 from 172 balls, his third Test fifty that saw him compile crucial partnerships with fellow opener Imran Nazir (40) and Younis Khan along the way.

Whether he will become the long-term replacement for veteran Saeed Anwar, who has spent the past few days playing indoors for a Rest of the World XI at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, only time will tell.

Certainly his innings today suggested the necessary ingredients for international success - natural talent and sound judgment that helped him mix flamboyant strokes - 64 of his runs came in boundaries - with studied defence.

Had he survived till the close, Pakistan would have held a clear advantage, but his dismissal shortly before the tea interval, brilliantly caught by Mark Waugh at second slip after slashing at a wide half volley from Brett Lee, breathed fresh life into an Australian side that had become increasingly despondent during the afternoon.

Leg-spinner Shane Warne, on the verge of his sixth Test 10-for after claiming a brace of wickets today, probably now holds the key for Australia, although skipper Steve Waugh also has a second new ball up his sleeve, due in another 19 overs.

Warne took the first wicket of the day, ending a 91-run opening stand between Nazir and Taufeeq, an unexpected bonus for a Pakistan side that has become accustomed to top-order failures in recent times, with their openers adding 50 or more in only three of their last 21 innings.

The pair started cautiously in the morning as both Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie bowled tight, penetrative first spells, beating the bat frequently. If Mark Waugh, normally a superb slip fielder, had clung onto a regulation chance off Nazir at second slip, the duo could have swung the game decisively towards Australia.

Australia will also rue a missed stumping when Nazir had made 25, and the openers scored more freely after having seen off the new ball. Taufeeq, playing with the spin, was particularly impressive against Warne, slog-sweeping through mid-wicket and using his feet to loft straight down the ground.

Warne benefited in part from a Lee bouncer that cracked into Nazir's helmet, forcing the 20-year-old onto the floor and apparently breaking his focus. Two balls later he essayed a violent drive and was caught at mid-off for 40.

The Pakistan innings then lost momentum as Abdur Razzaq, normally renowned for his ferocious one-day hitting, struggled to adapt to the demands of batting at number three. The all-rounder was driven into a strokeless shell, scoring just four runs in 52 balls during a laborious 25-run partnership that spanned 100 deliveries.

Razzaq was eventually trapped lbw by Warne when umpire Steve Bucknor adjudged that a straight leg-break hit pad before bat as Razzaq stretched forward defensively.

Younis, who scored a fluent 58 in the first innings, raised the tempo of the innings with boundaries off both Warne and Mark Waugh. He finished the day unbeaten on 32, knowing he needs to take responsibility tomorrow when the abrasive Australians try to unsettle his inexperienced middle-order colleagues.