HEADINGLEY // Pakistan are 40 runs away from ending their 15-year wait for a Test victory against Australia after closing the third day of the second Test on 140 for three. In Salman Butt's first match as captain, Pakistan confidently set about chasing down a potentially tricky victory target of 180 thanks to a nerveless 110-run stand between Imran Farhat and Azhar Ali for the second wicket.
And while Farhat fell just before the close for 67 and Umar Amin followed for a duck, Pakistan were still on course to inflict a first defeat on Australia since they lost the Ashes decider at The Oval last August. Australia had earlier been bowled out for 349, compiled thanks mainly to Michael Clarke and 21-year-old all-rounder Steve Smith who both hit 77, to set up a teasing chase. The target was just four more than Pakistan failed to run down when they suffered a humiliating defeat in Sydney earlier this year, after Australia had been bowled out for 127 batting first.
The similarities between that match and this had the potential to unnerve a young Pakistan side after Australia recovered from being bowled out for just 88 - their lowest total in 26 years - on the opening morning. But Farhat, who was dropped on four, and Azhar steadied the nerves and blunted an Australian attack as they rattled along at more than four runs an over to guide their team within sight of a rare success.
Doug Bollinger bowled Farhat late in the day and then had Amin caught behind. The Australians may have fancied their chances when Butt was caught by Clarke off Ben Hilfenhaus with the score on 27, but they never managed to assert any pressure thereafter. Australia had given themselves a chance of victory after their tail again wagged, led by a blazing maiden Test half-century by Smith, as their last five wickets added 185.
The 21-year-old all-rounder's enterprising innings of 77 from 100 balls gave Australia a hope of an unlikely win after teenage seamer Mohammad Aamer was again the pick of the Pakistan attack with figures of four for 86, including three crucial wickets in the first hour. Australia had started the day 34 runs behind with captain Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke at the crease but Aamer removed three batsmen before they got into the black. The 18-year-old claimed the crucial wicket of Ponting in just the third over the day when the skipper flashed at a wide delivery to offer a simple catch to wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal for 66. Mike Hussey quickly followed for eight when Umar Akmal held on diving forward at second slip before Aamer continued Marcus North's poor series with the bat when he chopped on for a duck after defending too far away from his body.
Clarke stood firm with a piercing cover drive off Aamer before he brought up his half-century, from 99 balls, with a nudge for two to square leg. His stand with Paine, who had driven impressively on a couple of occasions, had added 53 before Clarke was out from Asif's first ball after lunch. Paine had looked good in making 33 but he punched a Danish Kaneria long-hop to Azhar Ali at short cover. Pakistan then took the new ball as they looked to clean up the tail but Smith, who was happy to continue to play his shots, kept the scoreboard ticking over.
The leg-spinner took the lead beyond 100 with a punishing pull stroke in front of square, although he lost partner Mitchell Johnson soon after when Asif pinned him lbw for 12. Smith's swirl of shots were highlighted by some brutal hitting through the leg side, but his resistance was finally ended when Umar Gul bowled him. "It was good to get in amongst the runs," Smith said. "I was lucky enough to hit a few over the fence, but we've got to believe in ourselves, bowl well tomorrow and hopefully come out and take a few wickets." * PA
Australia 88 & (2nd innings, overnight 136-2): S Watson b Umar Amin 24 S Katich b Mohammad Aamer 11 R Ponting c Kamran Akmal b Mohammad Aamer 66 M Clarke c Kamran Akmal b Mohammad Asif 77 M Hussey c Umar Akmal b Mohammad Aamer 8 M North b Mohammad Aamer 0 T Paine c Azhar Ali b Danish Kaneria 33 S Smith b Umar Gul 77 M Johnson lbw b Mohammad Asif 12 B Hilfenhaus c Umar Akmal b Danish Kaneria 17 D Bollinger not out 0 Extras (b 4, w 2, lb 10, nb 8) 24 Total (all out; 95.3 overs) 349 Fall of wickets: 1-15, 2-55, 3-144, 4-158, 5-164, 6-217, 7-246, 8-283, 9-320 Bowling: Mohammad Aamer 27-6-86-4, Mohammad Asif 26-4-83-2, Umar Gul 15.3-1-80-1 (5nb), Umar Amin 6-1-12-1 (2w), Danish Kaneria 21-2-74-2 (3nb) Pakistan 258 & (2nd innings): Imran Farhat b Bollinger 67 Salman Butt c Clarke b Hilfenhaus 13 Azhar Ali not out 47 Umar Amin c Paine b Bollinger 0 Umar Akmal not out 2 Extras: (6lb, 5nb) 11 Total (for 3 wickets, 37 overs) 140 Fall of wickets: 1-27, 2-137, 3-137. Bowling: Doug Bollinger 8-1-37-2 (3nb), Ben Hilfenhaus 6-1-16-1 (1nb), Mitchell Johnson 9-1-39-0 (1nb), Shane Watson 5-1-18-0, Steven Smith 9-2-24-0.