Recent Match Report – Australia vs Pakistan 2nd Test 2023/24

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Stumps Australia 187 for 3 (Labuschagne 44*, Khawaja 42, Head 9*, Salman 1-5) vs Pakistan

Marnus Labuschagne survived a thorough examination from a new-look Pakistan pace attack on a tough MCG surface as Australia finished a truncated opening day strongly in the Boxing Day Test.

As had been forecast, bad weather gripped Melbourne in the afternoon with play stopped for almost three hours before restarting late in the day. Only 66 overs were bowled all day, but Australia lost just one wicket in the final session to move into a favourable position.

Labuschagne and Steven Smith thwarted Pakistan after the resumption as batting appeared to get easier in sunny conditions. They added 46 off 147 balls to frustrate Pakistan until Smith was caught behind off Aamer Jamal, with replays confirming a faint edge after it was originally deemed not out and Pakistan reviewed.

Smith had moments earlier been given out lbw after being trapped by Shaheen Shah Afridi, but the decision was overturned on review.

It deprived Afridi of his first wicket in the match on the back of figures of 2 for 172 in the series-opener. Like in Perth, Afridi struggled for top pace – it has been a bane for him in recent times.

Labuschagne, who entered averaging a modest 35 this year, was made to work and by stumps had closed in on his half-century having faced 120 deliveries.

Travis Head finished on 9 not out having survived a nervous moment in the last over when he edged offspinner Salman Agha but captain Shan Masood couldn’t hold on to a tough chance.

After Pakistan copped a 360-run pummelling in the first Test on a spicy surface in Perth, their rejigged pace attack fought back from a wayward opening session with Afridi and recalled seamer Hasan Ali mustering an inspired spell after lunch in gloomy conditions.

Hasan justified his selection and was rewarded by having opener Usman Khawaja caught at second slip for 42 with a delivery that zipped off the wicket.

He bowled in sync with Afridi, who threatened by bowling across right-hand batters Labuschagne and Smith and he occasionally made the ball jump off the pitch.

Their sustained bowling on a good length forced Labuschagne and Smith to be in survival mode. With black clouds hanging over the ground, Labuschagne was clearly displeased about play continuing despite the light towers being switched on.

But rain finally fell to give Australia respite, who only scored 24 runs in 15 overs after lunch.

Hasan was one of three changes for Pakistan, who opted to again field an all-out pace attack with left-armer Mir Hamza also selected. They replaced injured seamer Khurram Shahzad and allrounder Faheem Ashraf, who was dropped, while offspinner Sajid Khan was overlooked. Mohammad Rizwan returned as wicketkeeper and took the place of Sarfaraz Ahmed, who had been contentiously preferred in Perth.

Australia named an unchanged line-up as they looked to wrap up the series and claim a 16th straight victory on home soil over Pakistan.

Masood had no hesitation to bowl with the MCG in recent Test matches having heavily favoured pace bowling. Australia captain Pat Cummins said he also would have bowled first on a pitch with six to seven millimetres of grass.

Pakistan needed early inroads for a confidence boost, but they started disastrously when opener David Warner was given a life on two after a horrific dropped catch at first slip by Abdullah Shafique. Afridi bowled a gem of a delivery on a length that moved away to catch the edge of a tentative Warner only for Shafique to drop a simple chance that went slowly to his left.

Pakistan’s spirit dropped despite an encouraging new-ball spell from Hamza. Having taken just two wickets in three previous Test matches, Hamza didn’t bowl quickly but impressed by nipping the ball both ways, including bowling several menacing late inswinging yorkers.

But Pakistan’s bowlers weren’t able to consistently hit the right areas as Khawaja and Warner built a 90-run partnership.

Much like the build-up in Perth, Khawaja came into the match under the microscope after the ICC denied his application to display a logo to raise awareness of humanitarian issues.

But he battled calmly as Australia closed in on a wicketless opening session for the second straight Test match until Warner fell to Salman in the last over before lunch.

In the penultimate match of his illustrious Test career, Warner on 38 drove loosely to be caught at slip and Pakistan continued their momentum after the break.

A crowd of 62,000 fans attended the biggest date of the Australian cricket summer in a figure that surpassed the entire attendance over four days for the rebranded Perth Test.

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth

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