Aussies come clean: ‘We took our foot off their throat’
AUSTRALIA have admitted taking their "foot off the throat" and allowing Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed to perform an inspiring rescue mission with a potentially busted arm.
Sarfraz was already on 90 when he copped a brutal blow just below his left elbow from Mitchell Starc, requiring immediate treatment.
But even though he fell six runs short of his century, the skipper battled through extraordinary pain to pull off a scintillating diving catch down the leg-side and remove marathon man Usman Khawaja in a crucial wicket that left Australia in trouble at 2-20 at stumps on what was a pulsating opening to the series-decider.
Pakistan's 20-minute counterpunch at the death was a major momentum reversal after Pakistan were at one point reeling at 5-57, and despite an impressive recovery, still only made it to a total of 282, significantly short of the Abu Dhabi average first innings score of 402.
Australia still trail by 262 with Khawaja - fresh from one of the great Test centuries - back in the shed, but in a potentially major turning point in the match, Sarfraz has revealed he could be in doubt to play on when the action resumes on day two.
Sarfraz came into the post-match press conference with his left arm in a heavy bandage compressed with ice after coach Mickey Arthur just finished an animated discussion with umpire Richard Illingworth about getting substitute wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan on standby to sub in.
The Pakistan skipper admits there is too much swelling for medical staff to properly assess the damage, but it only made his catch to remove Khawaja all the more remarkable.
"The arm is not moving properly," said Sarfraz, whose rear-guard 94 off just 127 balls was the longest innings played without a leave in over two years of Test cricket.
"At the moment the swelling is too much, I'll get icing tonight so hopefully it's getting better tomorrow."
For Khawaja and Australia, being strangled down the leg-side by Mohammad Abbas (2-9) with only seven overs to negotiate before stumps was an untimely follow-up to his match-saving masterclass in the previous Test.
Nightwatchman Peter Siddle was then trapped lbw on the last ball of the day, leaving Aaron Finch and Shaun Marsh with a mountain to climb on day two to get Australia back on the rails.
But Khawaja said the real opportunity was missed in the field, when a softening in attitude allowed Sarfraz and opener Fakhar Zaman (94) off the leash to post a rapid 147-run partnership that tempered the impact had by Nathan Lyon (4-78) and Marnus Labuschagne (3-45).
"If I'm being brutally honest I think we took our foot off their throat a little bit and they fought back," said a frustrated Lyon.
"If you look at that middle session, and even the 10 minutes before lunch, I think we may have sat back and thought 'it'll just happen'. But it's Test cricket for a reason.
"You play an international you're playing against some of the best guys in the world and they're not just going to roll over. It's a good little learning curve for … a young Australian cricket side.
"You can never take your foot off the throat in Test cricket. There's always someone who is going to put up a fight.
"I thought Sarfraz and Fakhar on debut played a brilliant little partnership there in the middle and put the pressure back on us."
Lyon said Australia's batting order had to let go of the 20 minutes of damage at the end and approach the innings with positive intent.
"They outplayed us the last 20 minutes, but now it's about us going out there next morning and winning the first ball, first hour, first session and just doing the basics better than what we have in the past.
"Obviously it's not ideal to lose two wickets with 20 minutes to go."
Lyon took four wickets in six balls in a remarkable spell that took him to fourth on Australia's all-time wicket-taking list and left Pakistan in chaos after winning the toss.
Labuschagne was Australia's energizer bunny and was involved in everything all day, taking one of the great short-leg catches off Mitchell Starc (2-37) and having a massive impact with the ball as he beat the bat relentlessly on his way to a three-wicket haul.
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