Pakistan almost pulled off a world-record run chase at the Gabba three years ago but after nearly two days in the field the margin is destined to be wider this time. They are 3-64 in their second innings, trailing by 276 runs after Australia’s total reached 580.
Their hopes of surviving a final-hour onslaught were dashed when Starc took care of captain Azhar Ali and Haris Sohail cheaply, and Cummins furthered the damage by removing first-innings rock Asad Shafiq.
Shan Masood (27 not out) and Babar Azam (20 not out) are the unbeaten Pakistani batsmen with a mountain ahead of them.
That was is no small part thanks to Labuschagne. The Queenslander won hearts and minds with his heroic performance in England this year, demonstrating his mettle from the moment he walked into the eye of the Jofra Archer storm at Lord’s as a concussion sub and copped a nasty bouncer in the face after Steve Smith had been felled. He would go on to be a central figure in Australia’s retention of the Ashes with a series of crucial visits beyond 50 but there was one lingering gap in the resume.
That void has been filled straight away this summer and fittingly in the city his family made their home after relocating from South Africa when he was 10. It was also at the Gabba where he famously took a blinder at short leg when called on as a sub fielder in a Test against India in 2014.
“There were definitely times out there where I was like, ‘just let me get there’,” he said. “My career so far has been a bit peculiar, to be honest. I took a catch, a wicket and run out before I got a run. There was a time there in Dubai [where he made his debut against Pakistan last year] where I didn’t think I was going to make a Test run.
“I think the way it’s all happened really is quite peculiar … you know concussion sub, come in and took a catch as a 12th man, the strange things just keep on piling up on each other. The way it’s all unfolded is definitely not the way I pictured it in my mind.”
Resuming on 55, Labuschagne lost David Warner for 154 after the first hour, with 16-year-old Naseem Shah, who bowled only four overs for the day, celebrating a first Test wicket he thought he’d had the day before when the opener fell victim to some intelligent bowling well beyond the teenager’s years.
Soon after, Labuschagne was given out lbw to Yasir Shah, on 93, but the immediacy with which he called for a review of umpire Richard Illingworth’s decision suggested he was confident the ball had hit bat. He was right, with television official Michael Gough confirming an inside edge.
Three balls later the indefatigable Yasir claimed an even greater prize when Steve Smith’s swing and a miss on only four made spectators rub their eyes to make sure of what they had seen. There was no mistake: a floater from the leg-spinner that hardly turned took out Smith’s off stump.
It made little difference for a rampant Australia. This was Labuschagne’s occasion and he brought up his hundred 30 minutes before lunch with an edge through a loaded slips cordon. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t registered with one of the sweetly struck drives that littered his fine innings as he pumped his fists in celebration.
Matthew Wade looked on track to become the third Australian century-maker of the innings before exiting for 60, while Travis Head was the one member of the top six not to cash in, departing for 24.
Labuschagne, meanwhile, powered on, a double century on the horizon. That wasn’t to be and his spooning of Shaheen Afridi to Babar at gully was uncharacteristic of a superb performance that announced him emphatically to any Australians who hadn’t sat up and watched his deeds in England.
The Pakistani players ran in to shake his hand, as they had with Warner the previous day, gracious in impending defeat.
Chris Barrett is Sports Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.