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Usman Khawaja

Resilient Khawaja steers Australia to record-breaking draw

Pak v Aus, 1st Test Day 5, Report

Usman Khawaja's seventh century in Test cricket, and his first in Asia, was an awe-inspiring innings for Australia to clinch a draw against Pakistan in the Dubai Test.

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The visitors, who seemed down and out at 136/3 in pursuit of a 464-run target after Day 4, made an astonishing comeback to hold Pakistan to a draw in the first match of the two-Test series. The total they finished with – 362/8 – is also the highest fourth innings tally accumulated by any team at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

While Khawaja was the architect of the effort, debutant Travis Head (175-ball 72) and captain Tim Paine (194-ball 61*) supported him well with two crucial half-centuries. 

Khawaja and Head dug deep on the fifth morning, building on their 49-run stand from the fourth day. The duo frustrated Pakistan's bowlers, who became hapless victims of the duo's grit and resistance. 

Khawaja, in particular, looked the epitome of focus, as he notched up his first century against the hosts. A terrific battle ensued between the left-hander and Mohammad Abbas, whose scalps from the previous day included Aaron Finch and the Marsh brothers – Shaun and Mitchell. The pacer missed the outside edge of Khawaja's willow multiple times earlier in the day, and continued to be Pakistan's best chance of clinching a wicket in the first session. 

The opener did not give in to the relentless pressure, though, and applied himself to frustrating Pakistan in their adopted fortress. His reverse sweep helped him deal with their lead spinning option – Yasir Shah – with relative ease. His resilience, coupled with Head's composure, was enough to keep the hosts wicketless till lunch. 

Head's half-century was extremely important in the context of the game, as it gave Australia a respite after losing three wickets with the score on 87.

His was a calm and structured innings laced with orthodox shots, as he played the perfect second fiddle to Khawaja's tireless application. The debutant was dismissed by Mohammed Hafeez in the second over after lunch, trapped LBW by an off-break that slid in after pitching as Pakistan grabbed the new ball at the first opportunity. 

Khawaja continued to fight, though, and brought up his hundred six overs after the dismissal. It was an emotional moment for the batsman and Australian fans in the stands, which was evident from his leap of joy and their teary applause after he scaled his Everest. 

Khawaja put up a 33-run stand with Marnus Labuschagne, who walked into the middle after the dismissal of Head, his fellow debutant. The youngster was undone by a straight delivery from Shah, who claimed his first scalp of the match after 52 overs of toil.

The leg-spinner cannot be held accountable for Pakistan's initial failure to break through with spin, though, as the surface in Dubai was a lot firmer than expected on a fifth day. While it wasn't exactly conducive to the batsmen, it didn't turn into a minefield either.

The hosts decided against taking a review for a close LBW call to dismiss Head early on – a decision that proved to be costly, as the replay showed that the ball pitched in line, and would have gone to hit the middle stump.

Another chance came their way soon after Khawaja's hundred, with an opportunity to run him out with a direct hit from mid-on. Babar Azam missed the wicket, however, squandering Pakistan's chance to reclaim their ascendancy in the game. 

Labuschagne was replaced by his skipper, who saw through the remainder of the session with Khawaja. Australia trudged to 291/5 at tea – an impressive effort, considering the highest successful fourth-innings chase in Dubai stands at a meagre 137. 

Paine stitched a 79-run partnership with the centurion and at one point, it seemed like the duo would see Australia through. Shah, however, soon claimed his moment of glory, dismissing Khawaja with a well-disguised googly in the 126th over. The batsman went for a decision referral but had to walk back after getting three reds off it. Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle followed soon, scoring just one run between them. 

Paine stayed put and notched up his fifth Test fifty in the process. He got an irrepressible partner in Nathan Lyon, who played out 34 deliveries for his unbeaten innings of five and ensured the visitors did not succumb to a loss. Both the batsmen survived close calls in the last couple of overs, but refused to throw in the towel to take Australia past the finish line. 

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