Australia have softened the blow from a disappointing day in the second Test against Pakistan with one of the most remarkable catches of the series.
The tourists ended day three on 1/47 after Pakistan extended their advantage with a dominant batting display.
The home side set the Aussies a mammoth 538-run target after declaring at 9/400 with more than two full days remaining.
While things didn’t go exactly to plan for Australia in the field, the visitors could still lay claim to one of the more astonishing moments of an incident-filled day.
Pakistan were 6/390 when Nathan Lyon lofted a delivery towards the pads of Bilal Asif, which the Pakistani got a thick outside edge to.
The ball went crashing into wicketkeeper Tim Paine’s pads before ricocheting up and over his head.
The Australian captain had no idea where the ball had ended up but fortunately for him, Travis Head showed lightning reflexes to snaffle the catch from silly-mid-on.
In bizarre scenes earlier on day three, Azhar convened mid-pitch with Asad Shafiq after an edge to Peter Siddle which flew past gully towards the boundary.
But the ball stopped short of the rope and Mitchell Starc retrieved the ball to wicketkeeper Tim Paine, who removed the bails with an oblivious Azhar stranded well short of his crease.
It mattered little in the end with Babar Azam (99) and Sarfraz Ahmed (81) adding to Australia’s pain as Pakistan set a mammoth target of 538.
But it was still unfortunate timing for Azhar.
His 10-year-old son – the eldest of three – had flown in from the UK where he attends boarding school just in time to witness his father’s brain fade.
“They’re going to speak about it for years,” Azhar said with a grin.
“Whenever I say something to them they are going to come back to me about this run out.
“There is no explanation about it. You shouldn’t be not watching the ball for long.
“It was one of those things where neither Asad or I had sight of it … when Tim Paine started to run towards the stumps then I thought there was a little bit something funny about it.”
Aussies with mountain to climb to save Test
Aaron Finch (24 not out) and Head (17 not out) will resume on Friday with Australia needing a miracle to avoid a crushing defeat.
No Test side in history has ever successfully chased a fourth-innings target greater than 418.
Shaun Marsh (four) lasted just six balls before being clean-bowled by debutant Mir Hamza, capping off a terrible series for the 35-year-old.
Left-arm paceman Hamza’s maiden Test wicket was a peach, angling away from the left-hander and clipping off stump.
But pressure is mounting on Marsh ahead of the home summer, having now gone 12 innings at Test level without a score of note.
Serious questions will linger about how Australia managed to end up so far behind the game after an inspired Lyon spell left Pakistan reeling at 5-57 in the first innings.
Australia’s bowlers failed to press their advantage after Lyon’s brilliance, and the 145 put on in reply was their fourth-lowest first innings total in Asia.