Pakistan has begun its record chase of 351 in promising fashion, defying Australia to move to 0-73 ahead of the final day in the deciding third Test.
After Usman Khawaja’s fourth century of 2022, Pat Cummins brought Australia’s innings to a close at 3-227 early in the final session on day four in Lahore.
The bold declaration on Thursday left Australia with 120 overs to bowl out Pakistan and claim the Benaud-Qadir Trophy, after the hosts survived for 172 overs to force a draw in the second Test.
But gritty openers Imam-ul-Haq (42 not out) and Abdullah Shafique (27 not out) have given Pakistan a fighting chance of pulling off its biggest run chase on home soil and securing a 1-0 series win.
If Pakistan is successful, it would comfortably top the 1994 team’s effort in chasing down 314 against Mark Taylor’s Australia in Karachi.
Continuing Steve Smith’s horror series in the field, an edge flew past him in slips in the final over of the day off Marnus Labuschagne’s leg-spin bowling.
Despite Pakistan finishing strongly, the day belonged to Khawaja as the reborn opener continued his extraordinary form since being recalled to the Australian team three months ago,
The 35-year-old brought up the 12th Test ton of his career, adding to his 160 in the last Test in Karachi and his dual Ashes tons at the SCG in January.
Khawaja has now racked up 751 runs this year at an average of more than 125 in just five Tests.
Whatever the outcome in this Test, Khawaja, who was born in Pakistan, will surely be named player of the series after hitting 496 runs at 165.33.
Travis Head joined Khawaja for a brief cameo after Smith’s dismissal for 17, smashing 11 in just seven balls before Cummins’ declaration.
After David Warner’s dismissal for 51 just before lunch, Khawaja combined for a 65-run stand with Labuschagne (36).
The No.3, who was out for a duck in the first innings, fell to spinner Nauman Ali, bringing Smith to the crease.
The former Australia captain passed 8000 Test runs late in the session – the fastest man to achieve the feat in terms of innings, topping Sri Lanka legend Kumar Sangakarra.
Australia grabbed ascendancy late on Wednesday by storming through Pakistan’s lower order as the hosts lost 7-20 in a dramatic collapse to be all out for 268.
Khawaja and Warner continued the momentum started by quicks Cummins and Mitchell Starc by approaching their second innings with an attacking intent.
The pair fell four runs short of their second century partnership of the series, with Warner adding another 50 to the 68 he hit in Rawalpindi.
The left-handers had to endure some tense moments during the first session after they both survived major scares when they should have been out.
Despite Pakistan’s bright start, Australia will take confidence out of having been able to make light work of the hosts batters from No.5 down in the first innings.