MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A rampaging David Warner smashed a run-a-ball century to fire Australia to 278 for two and wrest back the momentum from Pakistan after Azhar Ali’s unbeaten double hundred buoyed the touring side on day three of the second test on Wednesday.
Warner’s exhilarating 144 anchored a 198-run partnership with Usman Khawaja at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, as Australia slashed the deficit to 165 runs after Pakistan’s first innings declaration of 443-9 after lunch.
Khawaja was unbeaten on 95 at stumps, with captain Steve Smith on 10 not out and Australia holding genuine hope of forcing a result despite the rain interruptions that blighted the opening two days.
Warner’s furious counter-attack sapped the morale from the tourists, who had also glimpsed a chance of a series-levelling victory following gritty opener Azhar’s brilliant knock of 205.
More galling for Pakistan was that Warner was reprieved on 81 when he was bowled by a no ball from Wahab Riaz.
“We’re in a good position now, our aim was to take the scoreboard out of the equation and just bat,” said Warner after a hot and sunny afternoon of work.
“We can’t control the weather but we just want to bat as big as we can.”
Paceman Wahab had a dreadfully wayward day, sending down 10 no balls, including a hat-trick of overstepped marks in the over of Warner’s non-dismissal.
It was a golden day, however, for opposing openers Warner and Azhar and both raced by a number of milestones.
Azhar’s double hundred was the highest innings by a Pakistan player in Australia and only three runs shy of Viv Richards’ 1984 record for touring batsmen at the MCG.
He also became his nation’s first to surpass 200 twice in a calendar year, having scored an unbeaten 302 against West Indies in Dubai in October.
For Warner, his 17th century was his first at the MCG, completing a sweep of tons at Australia’s six state venues while ending a rare slump in form with the red ball.
The pugnacious left-hander also galloped past 5,000 test runs, joining the likes of Don Bradman, Ricky Ponting and the Chappell brothers.
He reached his hundred with a streaky inside edge that raced to the fine leg boundary and did his customary leap and fist-pump in the air as the crowd of 25,393 roared.
After hammering another six fours, Warner feathered an edge off Wahab, confirmed as caught behind by the third umpire after captain Misbah-ul-Haq asked for a review.
It was a far better review than the first demanded by Mohammad Amir in the opening overs when Warner was on two.
Warner played and missed an Amir delivery but the paceman cajoled his captain into seeking a caught behind decision and the TV footage showed plenty of daylight between bat and ball.
Warner’s eventual dismissal did little to halt Australia’s charge, however, with Khawaja racing into the 90s and combining with captain Smith in an unbroken 34-run stand.
Warner and Khawaja’s assault threatened to overshadow Azhar’s epic 364-ball knock, a triumph of patience and determination in the face of a string of rain delays and a quality bowling attack.
Having spent more than nine-and-a-half hours at the crease, clattering 20 boundaries, Azhar tucked away two runs off paceman Mitchell Starc to bring up the 200 and gave a running jump for joy before ripping off his helmet.
“It certainly is a big achievement,” 31-year-old Azhar, who was given a standing ovation by the crowd, told reporters.
“It’s a big, big tour for our team. So I was very focused and really wanted to get there.”
Editing by Nick Mulvenney/John O'Brien