After a couple of day night Tests, it is back to traditional time in Australia as Steve Smith’s men host Pakistan for the second Test at the vast Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), better known as the Boxing Day Test. The Boxing Day Test at MCG is one occasion that has often brought out the best of the hosts in the past. And so, they will be looking forward to put up another efficient performance to seal the series following the Gabba win. Pakistan, meanwhile, would believe they did enough in the first Test to put Australia under pressure towards the end.
The biggest worry for Australia going into Melbourne would be the amount of workload their pacers put in on the last day at Brisbane. What was supposed to be an easy win turned into a near nightmare for them courtesy Asad Shafiq and the Pakistani lower order. Yet, Australia have not decided to give any one of them a break. After all, there has been a few days’ rest for them following the first Test. And so, all-rounder Hilton Cartwright will have to await his opportunity for a while longer. Nic Maddinson has also been retained despite recent poor efforts.
It will be interesting to see how the trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Jackson Bird respond to the challenge at hand. Starc bowled 38 overs in the second innings, Hazlewood went wicketless in 42 while Bird managed three in 33. That’s a lot of bowling in the fourth innings of a Test, and ample of demonstration of how they were made to fight. Even offie Nathan Lyon sent down one short of 30 overs. The MCG though will offer swing and bounce to pacers, and that should encourage the Aussie faster men for sure. It was here that Starc blew away Kiwis in last year’s World Cup final.
Although, in the end, Pakistan lost the Test by only 39 runs, the fact is that they were dominated for the first four days, primarily because they struggled with both bat and ball. Of all players, their skipper Misbah-ul-Haq was the one who looked most out of sorts. And that is something Pakistan cannot afford at Melbourne. Misbah is the man the team depends on heavily for inspiration, and when he struggles, the vibes definitely pass on to the team. The visitors would be happy to see Younis Khan getting some runs. And, of course, enough has been said about Asad Shafiq’s understated brilliance.
The problem with Pakistan’s bowling at Gabba was that there was too much of sameness to it. In Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali, they went in with three left-armers, with Yasir Shah as the spinning option. Aamir and Wahab were excellent in phases, but overall Aussie weren’t really troubled as they got used to the bowling style after a while. There is thus a decent chance of Imran Khan being brought in for Rahat Ali as he can offer a right-hand pace option. The bowling consistency and fielding will need to pick up though.
--By A Cricket Analyst