Australia earns back some respect with incredible draw

Australia’s new-look side secured a place in the history books on Thursday, warding off Pakistan to play out an extraordinary draw in Dubai. Heading into the final day with just seven wickets to play, Australia, led first by Usman Khawaja and Travis Head, then Tim Paine, and finally Nathan Lyon, made it to the end of the days play with just two wickets in hand, in the process scoring the seventh highest 4th innings total in a draw in the history of Test cricket.

Australia ended the day at 8/362, exactly 100 runs short of the target, after a monster 139.5 overs. It was their longest ever fourth innings in all of Asia, and the second highest fourth-innings score ever by a visiting team in Asia. 

The incredible draw seemed a virtual impossibility by early on day three. After Pakistan batted first and made 482 off 164.2 overs, Australia managed to bat through to the 52nd over before losing their first wicket thanks to impressive half-centuries from eventual hero Usman Khawaja, and Test debutant Aaron Finch. Things went dramatically wrong from there though, with Australia losing their last nine wickets for just 42 runs to be bowled out for just 202, 180 short of their opponent’s first innings total. After the first two days suggested a typically dormant Dubai pitch, the start of the third served to highlight the frailty of the adapted batting lineup they are currently working with.

Pakistan arguably took a little too long to set the fourth innings total of 462, but leaving a day and a half to bowl out an extremely shaky batting lineup didn’t seem likely to cause too many problems. And though Finch and Khawaja once again started well, when three wickets fell within two overs and the score stuck on 87, it didn’t appear as though it would.

Debutant Travis Head and Khawaja managed to make it through to the end of the fourth days play, but at 3/136 heading into the final days play they were still up against it. Head was still a debutant, fellow debutant Marnus Labuschagne was to follow, while Tim Paine - who has performed admirably since being admitted as captain but is still a long way off many past Australian wicketkeepers in terms of batting ability - came next. After that, the tail, albeit a relatively good one, would be exposed.

But Head had made it to 70* and Khawaja 82* by lunch, and suddenly the draw was a distinct possibility. Until, that is, Head was caught LBW with the first new ball delivery in just the second over after lunch. Labuschagne followed a few overs later for 13, and though Khawaja had made his century and was looking brilliant, Australia were in serious trouble with still around 50 overs to go.

Gradually, however, things turned back into Australia’s favour, with their captain and prodigally talented top order batsmen making it through first to tea, and then to drinks in the final session, needing to hold off Pakistan for just another hour and fifteen minutes. 

In what was rapidly becoming a Test to remember though, there were more twists to come. Khawaja fell third ball after drinks for a brilliant 141 off 302 balls, battling the sweltering Middle Eastern heat for nearly nine hours on the way. Two overs later, Starc fell, and in the same over Siddle was removed. Suddenly, after turning a seemingly inescapable situation into a likely escapable one, things were once again looking dire.

Paine and Lyon, along with Jon Holland if required, had still a little over 11 overs to see out. And despite a couple of inevitably frightening moments, they did it, Lyon facing 34 balls for 5 runs and Paine ending up unbeaten on 61 off 195 balls in a heroic captains innings. 

The effort was filled with impressive performances. Khawaja, who has for many years been recognised for his high level of talent, but equally maligned despite boasting relatively impressive test statistic, was a deserved man of the match. The draw would have barely stood a chance without his mammoth nine hour innings, and combined with his four hour near-century in the first innings, saw him spend roughly 4.75 days out of the 5-day Test match standing in the sweltering heat.

First-gamer Travis Head was sensational in his 197 ball 72, providing Khawaja with a much-needed partnership after Aaron Finch and the Marsh brothers departed in alarmingly rapid succession on day four. And Tim Paine, who has deservedly earned himself a whole lot of respect for the way he has handled himself since taking over the captaincy, showed he is more than just a nice guy with an innings filled with grit, character, and talent. 

Nathan Lyon too, who bowled 52 overs in the first innings and just under 26 in the third, deserves recognition. The ideal lower order batsman, those who have seen him at the crease before wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see him negotiate those nerve-wracking 34 deliveries with relative ease, given his propensity to act as a thorn in the side of the opposition at the end of Australian innings.

Australian cricket has seemingly been tumbling down a hill filled with hazards since the ball-tampering scandal which occurred earlier this year in South Africa. Seemingly everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong, and the result was a team which looked, on paper, significantly worse than the side they fielded throughout their previous Test tour. 

And for much of this Test, it appeared that it would play itself out in the way that many expected. Until, that is, a number of heroes emerged, contributing to a fourth innings that will be remembered for a long time. The Australian cricket team may have lost a lot of respect over the past eight months, but with this most recent effort, they earned a good slice of it back.