Australia could suffer "world record loss" to Pakistan
PAKISTAN'S rousing surge towards a possible world record victory in the first Test has left Australia sweating bullets at the Gabba.
A rare case of the dropsies for Steve Smith has Pakistan in uncharted territory and with a chance to pull off the greatest win in the history of the game, although the Australian captain did have the final say, nabbing Wahab Riaz at second slip on the fourth last ball of a memorable final session to give the Aussies the upper hand overall.
Unlikely hero Jackson Bird made two key breakthroughs to bring the home side to within just two wickets of victory on the final day, but only if they can find a way to recompose themselves and release the pressure valve that threatened to strangle them.
What was supposed to be the latest smooth step in the regeneration of Australian cricket suddenly turned into fright night for Smith, as the first of two drops from the normally safe as houses skipper started a scoreboard slide that has Pakistan 108 runs away from smashing the record for the highest run-chase of all time.
Palms were well and truly sweating in the shadows of stumps when Smith grassed his second chance to gift Pakistan's danger man Asad Shafiq a life and ensure he will return to the crease this morning on the high of his life after bringing up an extraordinary unbeaten 100 in the last over of an incredible day.
No team in Test cricket has ever chased more than 418 to win, but Pakistan's epic pursuit of 490 is yet to die, with the plucky visitors to resume on 8-382.
Smith's drops were costly but perhaps his biggest error in judgment was to request an extra half-hour of play - with Pakistan adding 51 in the extra eight overs that took the finishing time to 10.10pm local.
In the final session - albeit extended - Pakistan added 179 runs to show bundles more fight than Australia showed in the UAE back in 2014 when they found themselves in trouble.
"The wicket in the last over really hurt," said Pakistan opener Azhar Ali, who made 71.
"Obviously it still would have been a big task. It looks a bit bigger now with only two wickets in hand. But still, Asad is there so we have hopes that if he carries on and Yasah Shah and Rahat Ali can bat with him we can actually get close at least."
Umpires had started practising their golf swings in the field, before Bird (3-94) nicked off Riaz in the final over to have Australia breathing a sigh of relief.
Ali admits there were raised eyebrows in the dressing room when the umpires elected to extend the match by an extra half-hour, given the amount of work Pakistan had done under lights already.
But boosted by the extraordinary knock from Asad - who broke Gary Sobers' record for the most centuries (10) ever at No.6 - Pakistan have momentum and confidence regardless of the final result.
"Before we started today the discussion was to back ourselves and back our ability to score runs in these conditions," said Ali.
"Everyone played with a lot of determination and skills."
Tensions erupted following a heated war of words between Mohammad Amir and Mitchell Starc, as the controversial Pakistani bowler's fighting 54-run ninth-wicket stand with Shafiq had Australia feeling the Brisbane heat like never before.
After Starc fired down a 152km full toss at Amir, the Pakistani firebrand returned serve with a verbal spray, prompting the Aussie spearhead to stare down his opponent and ask menacingly, "did you have something to say?"
But Amir wasn't done yet, telling the big left-armer where to go and prompting Starc to then implore to the umpire that he wasn't the one swearing.
Amir averaged 12 coming into this Test, but he reached 48 off 63 - his highest Test score - before Bird finally sent him packing to leave Pakistan at 7-312.
Two Sundays ago Smith took a spectacular one-handed grab in the one-dayer against New Zealand that was lauded one of the greatest catches of all time.
In the third ODI at the MCG, there was another superman special taken by the Aussie captain at second slip.
But last night Smith's golden hands let him down and the ramifications of his declaration decision started to hit home.
His first drop came off the bowling of Josh Hazlewood shortly after the dinner break, and although it stunted Australia's progress, Sarfraz Ahmed soon had his stumps knocked over by Starc for 24.
However, Smith's second drop - this time off Starc - still hangs ominously over him.
By Smith's lofty standards it was a regulation catch to his right, and as he failed to regather, the skipper's head went straight to ground.
Things didn't get any better after the umpire's controversially decided to usher in another half-hour's play, with Smith throwing away a review for a suspect lbw referral against Riaz off Hazlewood's bowling.