ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s marathon batting defense in the drawn second Test match against Australia has raised the hopes of head coach Saqlain Mushtaq ahead of the series decider.

The third Test starts Monday in Lahore.

“Defending over 1,000 balls was something very special,” Saqlain said. “Lots of people were thinking it was impossible, but all the players and support staff in the dressing room had a firm belief that we are not going to give this game to Australia.”

Australia was a clear favourite to go 1-0 up in the three-match series after it set Pakistan a huge target of 506 in a minimum 172 overs at Karachi’s National Stadium under hot conditions.

But captain Babar Azam played an epic knock of 196 off 425 balls in more than 10 hours while Abdullah Shafique (96) and Mohammad Rizwan (104 not out) also batted for long periods to deny Australia victory.

Pakistan finished at 443-7, falling short by 63 runs in what would have been a world-record chase.

“It will be unfair if I single out one player who stood out,” Saqlain said. “The whole team needs to be praised for showing such a character against the world No. 1 team, here on the back of a 4-0 Ashes win at home.”

Australia had dominated for three days at Karachi with the reverse swing of Mitchell Starc. Pakistan was bowled out for 148 and conceded a massive 408-run first-innings lead after the visitors had declared at 556-9.

Babar stood firm against the pace of Starc and Pat Cummins in the second innings and also kept the two spinners — Nathan Lyon and debutant leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson — at bay for more than five sessions of impeccable and patient batting.

Babar shared a double-century stand with Shafique and then his century partnership with Rizwan took the game deep into the last session.

Despite losing Babar with 12 overs remaining, Rizwan saw off the tricky spin of Lyon and Swepson with No. 9 batter Nauman Ali remaining unbeaten on 0 while confidently facing 18 balls. Rizwan later called Nauman’s scoreless innings as good as his century.

“It (Rizwan’s comments) sums up the feelings of the entire team,” Saqlain said. “The aim was to fight for the team.”

Australia’s first tour to Pakistan since 1998 started off with a tame drawn the first Test at Rawalpindi where the Pindi Cricket Stadium was rated as “below average” by the ICC.

Saqlain said the epic draw had increased the confidence of Pakistan to surprise Australia.

“Before this series, our mission was to beat Australia and win the series,” Saqlain said. “It’s not that we are just saying it, we will try our best and produce a result in our favor in Lahore.”

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