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Khawaja leads strong fightback but stumbles just short of century


“It’s not the ideal feeling, but you take the good with the bad,” Khawaja said after play.

“Cricket is a funny game. You bat so well for 97 and then you get out and you come back into the change room and it probably feels worse than getting a 20.

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“I would have loved a hundred in Rawalpindi, near where I grew up in Islamabad. I know Mum and Dad were watching back home [in Australia] and my wife too, who is pregnant with our second child. I think it would have brought a lot of joy. To put it in perspective, I wasn’t even in the Australian team a few months ago. I’m very grateful to be here.”

In his first innings on Pakistan soil, Khawaja played beautifully and edged towards his milestone thanks to a flurry of drives and shots square of the wicket.

Three decades ago, the left-hander played with other Pakistani kids in this neighbourhood at the old Rawalpindi Stadium.

When his family returned to Pakistan in the early 1990s, after emigrating to Australia when their young boy was four and a half, Khawaja spent another four weeks from sunrise to sunset hitting balls with any kid who wanted to play.

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As Khawaja trudged off Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, he looked deflated, but once the frustration subsides he will be proud of an innings warmly received by local fans. He is an extremely popular figure here.

It was, however, an innings with some luck. Khawaja was dropped twice, first on 22 in the gully by Fawad Alam, who hasn’t batted or bowled in all three days, before a tough chance was put down by Mohammad Rizwan behind the stumps as the Australian reverse-swept on 69.

Earlier, Khawaja and Warner crunched their first century stand in Test cricket as Australia’s quest to haul in Pakistan’s mammoth total began favourably in an intense first session.

Australia began day three trailing Pakistan by 471 runs after Imam-ul-Haq (157) and Azhar Ali (185) registered big hundreds on Saturday. Everything will need to go right for them on day four.

“If we can bat well and keep scoring runs and give ourselves an opportunity, maybe [we can force a result],” Khawaja said. “But you can’t get too far ahead of yourself, especially on the subcontinent.

“The wicket has definitely degraded. You can see cracks out there now. It’s hard to know what it will be like in the next two days.”

A day-three mission to try and get back in the game started superbly for Australia as Warner and Khawaja chalked up a 156-run stand in just over 40 overs.

Resuming at 0-5, the childhood mates began with excellent intent.

Khawaja’s first examination at the crease in Pakistan was promising as he drove with confidence and connected with cross-bat shots, even if he didn’t have his eye on one that still went for four.

Any nerves were extinguished early as Australia raced to 0-40 from 10.4 overs before back-to-back boundaries from Khawaja.

The pair wore vests on a cool Rawalpindi day, but warmer temperatures will greet the Australians in next week’s Karachi Test.

Pakistan’s two precocious pacemen, Naseem Shah and Shaheen Shah Afridi, bowled fast but leaked too many runs for their liking. Australia’s fast bowlers struggled to make breakthroughs and their Pakistan counterparts weren’t much better.

Warner and Naseem engaged in a lively head-to-head battle, with the 19-year-old right-armer hitting Warner a couple of times on the body.

Instead of snarling back at Naseem, Warner killed the youngster with kindness by smiling and patting him on the back.

Warner pounced on anything wide and looked destined to register Test ton No.6 against Pakistan before off-spinner Sajid Khan got one to stay low and crash into the 35-year-old’s stumps.

It was the second-highest opening partnership by an Australian pair in Pakistan, behind Michael Slater and Mark Taylor’s 176 in the 1994 Rawalpindi Test.

After an Ashes series where Australia’s highest opening partnership was 57 from nine innings, it was certainly the perfect start.

Pakistan’s bowlers leaked 4.18 runs in the first session as Australia went to lunch at 0-138 but with so much time already lost, the short odds suggest it’ll be 0-0 heading to Karachi.

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