Pakistan leg-spinner Danish Kaneria produced a magnificent spell of 4/117 as his side looked set to trounce Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground and draw level in the series after the embarrassment at Melbourne.
When stumps were drawn on day three, the home side were struggling at 286 for the loss of 8 wickets, a lead of a mere 80 runs. Michael Hussey was holding fort for the Australians on 73, but it is a clear case of the Aussies requiring a miracle to escape defeat from such a precarious position.
It was not all that bad at the start for the home side. After wrapping up the Pakistani innings for 333, openers Shane Watson and Phillip Hughes were involved in an impressive century opening stand. But what followed was nothing short of catastrophic. Kaneria was responsible for separating the Australian openers after 105 runs were added.
He sent back Hughes by taking a neat return catch. Further, he added Marcus North to his kitty with one that turned the other way and had North looking south. Kaneria’s next victim, Mitchell Johnson, too had little clue about Kaneria’s wrong ‘un. The left-handed all-rounder was beaten all ends up and clean bowled. Finally, the leggie trapped the dangerous Brad Haddin plumb in front of the wickets, a decision even the referral by the batsman could not change.
While Kaneria’s spell capped a perfect day for the visitors, one cannot forget the contribution of pacer Umar Gul, who was no less effective. Gul has always had the knack of picking up major wickets even whilst conceding runs and he proved his mettle on a day when Pakistan needed him to fire. He dismissed Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting cheaply, having him edge one to slip.
More importantly, he cut short Watson’s fighting effort three short of a hundred. Watson, who was aiming for back to back hundreds, fell going for a cut just too close to his body and was out in the 90s for the third time in four games. Pakistan weren’t complaining though as Watson’s dismissal put them right on top. Gul carried on the good work, adding the scalp of Nathan Hauritz as Pakistan looked set to upset the Australian applecart.
Amazingly, Pakistan find themselves in a winning situation despite some horrendous work in the field. The game could well have been over on the third day had the visiting side fielded sanely. Watson was dropped by Kaneria near the fine-leg boundary. Further, he was all but run out as play approached lunch. For some reason, Kamran Akmal refused to remove the bails when the batsman was not in his crease. Akmal’s poor day turned worse as he put down Michael Hussey three times, and that too off Kaneria’s bowling.
It seems that the New Year has definitely turned around Pakistan’s fortunes. All they must do now is finish off the Aussie innings early on the fourth day and march their way towards victory.
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