Australia up against it as Pakistan turn the screw in crucial Test

Sarfraz Ahmed plays a shot during his knock of 81 in the UAE capital. (AFP)
Updated 18 October 2018
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Australia up against it as Pakistan turn the screw in crucial Test

  • Baggy Greens staring defeat in the face after hosts set tourists 538 for win.
  • Sarfraz Ahmed in the runs again with 81.

ABU DHABI: Pakistan grabbed an early wicket after Babar Azam struck a fluent 99 to edge closer to claiming a series victory over Australia in the second Test at Abu Dhabi.
Azam narrowly missed out on a hundred after an aggressive innings, while skipper Sarfraz Ahmed followed up his first-innings 94 with 81 as Pakistan declared their second innings at 400 for nine, setting a daunting 538-run target for the tourists.
By the close on the third day, Pakistan had Shaun Marsh dismissed for four — bowled by left-arm paceman Mir Hamza for his first Test wicket — to boost their chances of victory after Australia clung on for a thrilling draw in the first Test in Dubai last week.
Aaron Finch (24) and Travis Head (17) were at the crease with Australia, who are 47 for one and need another 491 for an unlikely win or to bat out two full days on a weary and spinning Sheikh Zayed Stadium pitch.
No team has ever chased more than 418 for seven to win a Test, made by the West Indies against Australia at Antigua in 2003.
Pakistan piled on the runs with Azam, Sarfraz and Azhar Ali — who was the casualty of a bizarre run out — all making half-centuries to build on the hosts’ 137-run first-innings lead.
But none of them could go on to score a ton, with Azam falling agonizingly close to his maiden hundred, trapped leg-before by medium pacer Mitchell Marsh.
“Of course, missing a hundred is disappointing but such things are part and parcel of the game,” said Azam. “I am happy that Sarfraz and I built a partnership and have taken our team to a winning position.”
Azam, who hit three sixes and six fours, improved on his previous best Test score of 90 not out he made in New Zealand two years ago.
He and Sarfraz added 135 runs for the sixth wicket to end any hopes Australia had of a fightback after taking the second new ball at 273-5.
Sarfaz struck five fours and a six and delayed the declaration in hope of a century, but fell leg-before to leg-spinner Marnus Labuschagne who finished with two for 74.
But the pick of the bowlers was off-spinner Nathan Lyon who followed his first-innings four wickets with three for 135 in a marathon 43-over vigil.
After a dull opening period, the embarrassing dismissal of Azhar brought the day to life. The batsman edged a Peter Siddle delivery toward the third-man boundary and, thinking the ball had crossed the rope, halted in the middle of the pitch to talk to fellow batsman Asad Shafiq.
But Mitchell Starc picked up the ball less than a yard from the boundary and threw it back to wicketkeeper Tim Paine, who ran Azhar out, leaving the Pakistani duo — who have combined experience of 130 Tests and over 9,000 runs — stranded and looking bewildered.
Azhar fell for a well-played 64, including four boundaries.
“It was funny to say the least,” said Azhar. “I thought it had crossed the boundary and even when the throw came to Paine I did not realize the danger. It was only when I was got out that I came to know of the mistake.
“My eldest son (Ibtisam) is going to ask about it in the funniest possible way, I imagine.”
Pakistan had earlier lost Haris Sohail for 17, stumped by Paine off Nathan Lyon after resuming at 144 for two.
The teams will play three Twenty20 internationals after the Tests, with the first in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.


Premier League set to use VAR from next season

Updated 15 November 2018
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Premier League set to use VAR from next season

LONDON: The Premier League is set to use the Video Assistant Referee system from next season after clubs “agreed in principle” to the move on Thursday.
During a meeting attended by key members of all 20 Premier League clubs, officials were presented with an update on the non-live VAR trials taking place.
They were also given “key learnings” from VAR’s use in the FA Cup and League Cup this season.
VAR was used at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where 335 incidents were checked by VAR officials, and is already underway in some other European leagues.
A formal Premier League request will now be made to the International Football Association Board and FIFA, the world governing body.
A statement from the Premier League said its testing program would continue for the rest of the season, “with a continued emphasis on those Saturday afternoons which have several matches being played concurrently.”
How VAR decisions are communicated to fans in the stadium will be addressed, with the development of a “clear protocol” to be established.
In April, Premier League clubs voted against the introduction of VAR for the 2018-19 season.
But there have been growing calls from managers and players for VAR to be introduced into the English top-flight for several years.
On Saturday, Southampton forward Charlie Austin called for VAR after he was denied a goal for offside against Watford, a decision he called a “joke.”
Also last weekend, Slavisa Jokanovic, since sacked as Fulham manager, was furious after Aleksandar Mitrovic was denied a goal by a controversial offside decision, with Liverpool going straight down the other end to take the lead.
VAR is used to check goals, penalties — both awarded and not, direct red cards and cases of mistaken identity when a player is wrongly booked or sent off.
The referee has the information relayed through his earpiece by the VAR team.
For some incidents, he can review the footage on a pitch-side television monitor before deciding whether to change his initial call.