Usman Khawaja reinforced his growing reputation as Australia’s most reliable batter as Steve Smith’s century drought continued on day one of the third Test against Pakistan in Lahore.
Khawaja continued his recent purple patch to anchor Australia’s first innings of the series decider but fell short of a century when he was dismissed via a spectacular catch from Pakistani captain Babar Azam on 91.
His innings was the bedrock of Australia’s day one total of 5-232.
Smith also looked on track for triple figures but was dismissed soon after the tea break for 59. In a rare sight in international cricket, Smith walked on an lbw dismissal before umpire Ahsan Raza had even had the chance to point skyward to send him on his way.
The pair put on a third-wicket partnership of 138 runs after Australia had slumped to 2-8 in the third over when David Warner (seven) and Marnus Labuschagne (0) fell within the space of three balls to left-arm paceman Shaheen Afridi.
Khawaja (31) and Smith (28) guided Australia to 2-70 at lunch but they were lucky to survive until the break.
Khawaja was on 12 when he edged spinner Nauman Ali to first slip – only for the ball to sneak under the fingertips of Azam and through his legs.
Then next ball, Nauman dropped a sharp caught and bowled opportunity when Smith was on 19 and the scoreboard read 2-44.The missed chances proved costly, with Khawaja and Smith settling after that to guide Australia safely to lunch and then through the next session before Smith fell soon after tea.
Smith has now scored just one century in his past 27 Test innings with his most recent triple-figure score 14 innings ago, his hundred against India at the SCG at the start of 2021.
The only longer spell on his resume without a ton was the first 22 innings of his career when he was primarily selected as a leg-spinner.
Smith was trapped plumb by an in-swinger from young paceman Naseem Shah.
Khawaja continued on towards what looked like another century after his monumental 160 in the second Test at Karachi.
However, he nicked Sajid Khan nine runs short of his ton and Azam snared a brilliant one-handed catch diving away to his right, just above the ground.
Travis Head departed for 26, also falling victim to Naseem Shah, nicking off to Mohammed Rizwan to leave Australia 5-206.
Alex Carey (8 not out) and Cameron Green (20 not out) safely negotiated the final overs of the day against the second new ball to help Australia get back into the fight.
Khawaja has amassed 392 runs for the series, the most by any player, at 130.67, and has passed 50 in five of his eight innings since his recall for the fourth Test of the Ashes series at the SCG.
Earlier, Australia won the toss and elected to bat on what was initially expected to be a docile pitch.
But it was carnage early as both Warner and Labuschagne fell victim to a chatty Afridi.
Warner was trapped lbw to a ball that would have gone on to hit leg stump.
And two balls later, Labuschagne was sent packing when he edged through to the wicketkeeper.
Smith was in the zone as he set about launching the rescue mission, with his steely concentration only broken when he expressed displeasure at the roving ‘buggy cam’ distracting him.
Khawaja opened up approaching lunch by whacking Ali for six.
Australia named the same XI from the drawn second Test, but former Test wicketkeeper Brad Haddin was surprised the visitors weren’t more aggressive on the selection front.
Haddin said he would have included Ashton Agar in the XI to form a three-pronged spin attack alongside Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Swepson.
“I would have left Travis Head out for example … and would have played Ashton Agar,” Haddin told Fox Sports.
“Runs haven’t been a problem and wickets have been a premium, so … we could have moved (Alex) Carey up the order, and Agar’s there ready to go.”
Pakistan made one change, omitting all-rounder Faheem Ashraf for 19-year-old paceman Naseem Shah.