Nathan Lyon fever hit the Gabba on Saturday night, when Pakistan finished at 2-70 after Australia set a historically impossible target of 490 in the day-night Test.
When Australian captain Steve Smith declared at 5-202 during the dinner break, the Pakistanis were confronted with what would be a world-record chase.
But the tourists rallied, negotiating 26 tricky overs for the loss of only one wicket and looked set to reach stumps with nine wickets in hand and renewed confidence. That would have been further boosted by predictions of rain on day four.
But Lyon, adopted as a cult hero this week by the Gabba faithful, stepped up to remove the well-set Babar Azam.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) December 17, 2016
Lyon found a rhythm, relentlessly landing the ball in the footmarks outside off stump, and managed to remove Azam with a delivery that skidded on, edged to a jubilant Smith at first slip.
“He bowled nicely tonight … a bit of turn and a bit of bounce,” Smith said on the Nine Network.
“The bowlers did pretty well tonight.
“It would have been nice to have one or two more but I thought we worked hard.”
— Neroli Meadows (@Neroli_M_FOX) December 17, 2016
Azam was also full of praise for Lyon, admitting he will become more potent the longer the contest drags on.
“He bowled a good spell and especially on a fourth innings, the ball will do a bit more turning,” he said.
“He bowled really well … he gets some more bounce.”
Sami Aslam, out edging to Mitchell Starc, was the other batsman to be dismissed.
Lyon, playing his 61st Test, is the most experienced member of Australia’s new-look XI but, in Brisbane, had been on the cusp of being dropped for the first time since the 2013 Ashes.
— Damien Fleming (@bowlologist) December 17, 2016
The Gabba crowd showed a good deal more support for Lyon than selectors, with the offspinner earning applause every time he touched the ball.
“Queensland’s new favourite son … we love it. It’s good fun. It’s nice to see the crowd get amongst it,” Usman Khawaja said.
“Hopefully he can take a few wickets tomorrow and get the crowd up again.
“He’s been bowling well for a while now.”
If Azhar Ali and Younis Khan continue their stubborn resistance on Sunday, it will force Australia to earn a win.
But history points to Pakistan being unable to salvage anything from the first Test.
The highest successful run chase to win a Test is the West Indies’ 7-418 in 2003. At the Gabba, it is Australia’s 7-236 in 1951.
The visitors will need to bat through about 216 overs to draw the Test. No side has managed to do that in Australia.
Pakistan’s highest fourth-innings total in Australia is 336, which they achieved in 1990 in a MCG loss.
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) December 17, 2016
Earlier on Saturday, Smith opted against enforcing the follow-on.
“I always wanted to bowl in the night,” he said. “That was the plan from the start of the day.”
Australia rolled Pakistan for 142, a total that followed their collapse of 7-24 late on day two.
The hosts slipped to 2-24 after both openers fell cheaply. Smith wasn’t worried, scoring freely in a knock of 63.
Smith, who top-scored in his side’s first innings of 429, failed to make it two hundreds in a Test – one of few milestones the gifted right-hander was yet to tick off.
The skipper sacrificed his wicket in the search for quick runs, as Khawaja did on 74.