It will go down as one of the game’s great match-saving efforts but Pakistan’s final-day batting heroes revealed they were pushing for an even unlikelier heist not long before the epic climax to the Karachi Test.
Captain Babar Azam led the great escape, batting for 137.2 of the 171.4 overs Australia sent down in the hosts’ fourth innings, as he posted a career best 196 from 425 balls in a 10-hour stint.
His 228-run stand with breakout star Adbullah Shafique (96 off 305) and then the late impetus provided by Mohammad Rizwan (104no from 177) meant a miracle victory was possible when the required rate dropped below five-and-half runs an over in the final session with six Pakistan wickets in hand.
Chasing down the 506 set by visiting skipper Pat Cummins would have been the greatest run chase in Test history.
Those lofty hopes were dashed when Nathan Lyon dismissed Babar and allrounder Faheem Ashraf in consecutive balls, leaving the hosts to hold on for a tense draw.
“We did plan to go for a chase but we just kept discussing to keep it going according to the situation,” Rizwan told the host broadcaster.
Babar added: “This innings holds a lot of meaning for me, because the team needed it.
“We were realistic about the chase. We wanted to bat normally until tea, and then if we found ourselves in a situation where we could go for the chase, we were good.
“But we lost wickets, unfortunately, so we didn’t really think of the chase. We needed to save the game. If I’d stayed for longer we might have tried to chase it.”
Hanging on the draw nonetheless marked a remarkable achievement for Pakistan, whose 1,030-ball fourth innings was the longest any team has batted to save a Test since five-day Tests were introduced.
Babar is regarded as one of the world’s best batters across all formats but the right-hander had not made a Test century in over two years.
His innings underpinned the marathon Pakistan batting effort that came after they were rolled for just 148 inside 53 overs on day three.
“I just asked the team to forget the past and focus on the next target,” said Babar.
“We have quite a mixed team with youngsters and seniors, we just tried to give our batsmen confidence, Abdullah Shafique played an outstanding innings and then we also saw Mohammad Rizwan stand out with another brilliant performance.
“… All me and Rizwan kept discussing was ‘What is the situation demanding, and how will the new batsman settle?’ But I had faith in my tail-enders. “
The resistance shown by the 22-year-old Shafique bodes well for Pakistan and highlights why they handed the talented right-hander a Test debut last year despite having just three first-class matches to his name.
Having scored his maiden international century in Rawalpindi against the Aussies, Shafique now averages 73.16 from seven Test innings.
Pakistan could overtake Australia on the World Test Championship standings with a win in the series finale in Lahore next week, with Rizwan suggesting their efforts in Karachi will provide a major confidence boost.
“(Batting) five sessions in a Test match against a world-class team like Australia is no joke,” said the wicketkeeper. “This match is definitely a benchmark for our team to rise above.”
Qantas Tour of Pakistan 2022
Pakistan squad: Babar Azam (c), Mohammad Rizwan (vc), Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Fawad Alam, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Naseem Shah, Nauman Ali, Sajid Khan, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Zahid Mahmood.
Australia Test squad: Pat Cummins (c), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc , Mark Steketee, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner. On standby: Sean Abbott, Brendan Doggett, Nic Maddinson, Matthew Renshaw
First Test: Match drawn
March 12-16: Match drawn
March 21-25: Third Test, Lahore
Australia ODI and T20 squad: Aaron Finch (c), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Ben McDermott, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa
March 29: First ODI, Rawalpindi
March 31: Second ODI, Rawalpindi
April 2: Third ODI, Rawalpindi
April 5: Only T20I, Rawalpindi
All matches to be broadcast in Australia on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports