Australia complete series sweep; beat Pakistan by 220 runs

Australia's Josh Hazlewood, right, appeals for the wicket of Pakistan's Babar Azam, left, who is given out lbw during their cricket test match in Sydney, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

SYDNEY (AP) Australia capped its return to the dominance and confidence of old by beating Pakistan by 220 runs at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday, completing a 3-0 test series sweep.

It was Australia’s first series victory since February last year, and emphatically reversed the course of a summer that began with a home series defeat by South Africa which triggered an overhaul of the lineup.

”It was pretty tough times to be honest,” captain Steve Smith said. ”You lose your first two tests of an Australian summer and you are not in a good place.

”It wasn’t great times but I’m really proud of the way the guys have come in and turned it around since then.”

Two of the young batsmen brought into the lineup made a quick transition to the test arena. Peter Handscomb scored 344 runs for the series at an average of 114.7, including two centuries, and 20-year-old opener Matt Renshaw top scored in this test with 184 before being withdrawn with concussion.

Spinner Steve O’Keefe took three wickets on Saturday for his best test figures of 3-53, with seamer Josh Hazelwood also taking three in the second innings.

Australia needed nine wickets on the last day and started strongly by removing Pakistan’s form batsman Azhar Ali in the first over. Wickets fell regularly as Australia bowled Pakistan out just before tea.

Hazelwood (3-29) took the last wicket of Imran Khan to spark celebrations of a dominant series performance against a team that had briefly been ranked No.1 during 2016.

”We’ve scored big runs in every game, every first innings,” said Smith, who was named player of the series after centuries in the first two tests and a half century in the second innings here. ”We’ve been able to build pressure with the ball, hit good areas and we’ve caught well this series which has been a big focus of ours. It’s been a pretty good series for us”.

David Warner was voted player of the match for scoring a century in the first session on day one – the first batsman to achieve that feat in Australia. Warner also hit a 23-ball half-century in the second innings, the second fastest 50 in test history, as Australia chased quick runs ahead of a declaration.

”I don’t think Davy Warner knows any other way and he set the tone for us straight up in the first and second innings,” Smith said. ”There is not really any plans to go out there and score quickly.

”We also know that we have to dig in at times and get through difficult periods and that’s something this team has done pretty well over the last four test matches.”

Resuming at 55-1 Saturday, it took just six balls for Australia to make the first breakthrough with Hazelwood taken a simple return catch to remove Azhar for 11.

It was a disappointing finish for Azhar, who was Pakistan’s most consistent performer in the series, scoring 406 runs at 80.2; the highest aggregate by a Pakistan batsman in a test tour in Australia.

Hazelwood struck again in his third over, trapping Babar Azam (9) lbw as Australia looked to repeat its final day performance from the second test in Melbourne, where it skittled Pakistan for 163.

Younis Khan came to the crease needing 36 runs to become the first Pakistan player to score 10,000 test runs after an unbeaten 175 in the first innings.

Younis could only manage 13, though, before Nathan Lyon (2-100) teased him into a false stroke which was caught by Hazelwood at mid-on. Younis received a warm send-off from the sparse-SCG crowd of 11,000 in what is likely his final test in Australia.

Night watchman Yasir Shah made a dogged 13 from 91 balls but eventually was out caught by substitute fielder Jackson Bird off O’Keefe to reduce Pakistan to 96-5, still half an hour before lunch.

Asad Shafiq made 30 before he played on to his own stumps off Mitchell Starc (1-57) shortly after lunch.

Misbah-ul-Haq made 38, his highest score of a poor series, before lofting a catch to Lyon off O’Keefe in what seems likely to be the 42-year-old’s final test innings.

With momentum fully in Australia’s favor, Sarfraz Ahmed batted defiantly before he ran out of partners and finished unbeaten on 72.

”Our bowling is always our strength but in this series I was a bit disappointed that we couldn’t take 20 wickets in any of the tests,” Misbah said. ”That’s why we were so behind in every game.”