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Lahore Test: Khawaja continues monumental series with another century

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LAHORE: Australian opener Usman Khawaja capped a series for the ages in his country of birth with another century, as Australia’s lead passed 300 runs at tea break on day four of third Test against Pakistan.

In the last over before tea, Khawaja notched his 12th Test century – and second in the series – to trigger jubilant celebrations. Australia reached 227 for 3 in their second innings and an overall lead of 350 runs with Khawaja 104 not out and Travis Head unbeaten on 11.

Remade opener Khawaja has now scored fourth tons in nine innings since being recalled in January and been the dominant batter in this series as he approaches 500 runs.

Just before tea, in more celebrations for Australia, Smith smoked a boundary to become the quickest to 8000 Test runs in his 151th innings – one faster than Sri Lanka great Kumar Sangakkara.

Leading by 220 runs at lunch with nine wickets in hand, there was an expectation Australia would put the foot down in a bid to force an early declaration. As has been the case throughout the series, runs were hard to muster against the older ball although Australia didn’t particularly look in any great hurry.

With wickets hard to come by for Pakistan, dashing their hopes of a fightback, a stalemate ensued for much of the second session with attention turning to when Australia captain Pat Cummins would declare on a slow Lahore surface offering reverse-swing and occasional turn.

Marnus Labuschagne, who had made two ducks twice in his last three innings, avoided a pair with a reverse sweep off Sajid Khan and was fortunate to survive on 11 when he top-edged to a leaping Nauman Ali, who fumbled the chance.

Pakistan turned to Naseem Shah, who had been sparingly used and held back for the older ball, and the young quick produced reverse swing and sheer speed but was unable to provide a burst of inspiration like he memorably conjured on day two.

After a sedate first hour, Labuschagne decided to accelerate and attacked left-arm spinner Nauman but it eventually proved his downfall on 36 when he holed out to deep midwicket. It finished a relatively lean series for No.1 Test ranked batter Labuschagne, who averaged 34 and remained without a Test century away from Australia.

Khawaja then decided to take up the role of aggressor with three boundaries off quick Hasan Ali to inch towards his century. He had received luck on 31 after being bowled by a pearler only for Naseem to have overstepped.

After a disastrous final hour on day three, where they collapsed to lose 7 for 20, Pakistan hoped to regroup quickly but their bid for a comeback in this see-saw of a match has fallen flat. They’ve only taken one wicket in each session on day four with David Warner falling for 51 before lunch.

Foreshadowing their woes, Warner played and missed at a good length delivery from Hasan in the sixth over only for replays later to confirm a thin edge. A hapless Pakistan was left to rue not appealing as Hasan could only grin when he saw the replay.

They finally received a spark when Shaheen Shah Afridi unleashed a spectacular delivery to uproot Warner’s off stump in an unplayable ball much like his counterparts Cummins and Mitchell Starc produced late on day three.

In a nod to the firecracker, a sporting Warner shook Afridi’s hand on his way off to continue the friendly fire between the combatants after engaging in a good-natured standoff to end day three, which culminated in a hilarious image that has since gone viral.

A vintage Warner was in an aggressive mood, smashing Afridi for three early boundaries, as Australia scored briskly at over four runs an over before Pakistan pulled back the rate through Naseem’s sustained accuracy.

It wasn’t all pleasantries with Warner left animated when the umpires appeared to insinuate that he was walking onto the pitch after deliveries but once again the veteran batter seemed to diffuse a tense situation with a smile.

Australia’s jovial mood has continued through a dominant day four although Cummins has a tricky decision to make on when to declare.

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