Australia are strong and settled as they aim to close out a memorable year with victory
Although the surface was challenging by the time Pakistan began their second innings, they were able to quickly lose control of the situation on the fourth day in Perth, after just holding their own, to some extent, during the previous three days.
They arrived in Melbourne with some bruises and bumps, but at least they had a little more time to gather their thoughts. They have played two days of cricket at Junction Oval, which may or may not make a big difference. They have also lost two players to illness and injury.
Pakistan’s biggest problem seems to be collecting 20 wickets with what appears to be a very flimsy assault, despite their collapse in the second innings last week. Despite Australia’s unrelenting onslaught, if the top order can maintain the starts they received in the first innings in Perth, they can at least have a chance of accumulating a total.
There’s hardly a hint of worry on the home side, and even the conversation concerning David Warner has quieted down following his 164. Currently, farewells are the main focus instead of whether or not he deserves them.
Things are going well, although there are some concerns about Marnus Labuschagne’s season average of 35 and if Alex Carey can regain the batting form that led to his first century at this time last year. The MCG fans won’t even be able to support Scott Boland since everything is so stable.
Finally, and not very encouragingly for Pakistan, during their most recent Test match at the MCG, they scored 443 runs, while Australia amassed 624 runs (Warner 144 off 143 balls) to win by an innings.
Marnus Labuschagne and Babar Azam
By Marnus Labuschagne’s lofty standards, this year has been slender with an average of 35. He made a compact 16 runs in the first innings in Perth before being out of the game. In the second, he was given a severe working over that included a stinging blow to the hand before he top-edged a short ball. His test average was 59.05 at this time last year and is currently 52.15. Without a doubt, he will turn things around, and Boxing Day at the MCG, a venue where he hasn’t had much success, might be the beginning.
Pakistan was doing fairly well in Perth, as they were 181 for 3 in the first innings. Next, Babar Azam overtook Mitchell Marsh, leaving Carey to barely hang on to the opportunity. Pakistan went out of the match after losing seven wickets for ninety. The fantastic delivery from Pat Cummins in the second innings was beyond Babar’s control, but Pakistan needs him to rediscover the form that carried him to scores of 104 and 97 during the previous trip four years ago. According to Waqar Younis, “he’s still in his shell, not really playing his natural way,” on ESPN’s Around The Wicket program. “Good players, you have to find a way, even though I know the bowlers are too good and difficult to get on top of.”
With the exception of any injuries sustained during a late Christmas supper, Australia will remain unaltered. Boland, the hometown hero who averages 13.80 at the MCG, will not be included.
Australia 1 David Warner, 2 Usman Khawaja, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Mitchell Marsh 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Pat Cummins (capt), 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Josh Hazlewood
Pakistan has selected a 12-man team; the toss will determine the final playing eleven. Sarfaraz Ahmed is replaced as wicketkeeper by Muhammad Rizwan. Due to a rib fracture, Khurram Shahzad is unable to participate in the tour, while Faheem Ashraf has been benched. Thus, Hasan Ali, Mir Hamza, and Sajid Khan will all play twice. Sajid is probably going to be included unless Agha Salman and four quicks seem to have a stronger pitch.
Pakistan 1 Abdullah Shafique, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Shan Masood (capt), 4 Babar Azam, 5 Saud Shakeel, 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 7 Agha Salman, 8 Hasan Ali/Mir Hamza, 9 Sajid Khan, 10 Aamer Jamal, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Pitch and conditions
Matt Page, the groundskeeper, has guaranteed a fast-moving, well-grassed surface with bounce, albeit the latter two characteristics might not match Perth standards. For batters at the MCG in recent seasons, life has been difficult. However, the grass on this surface is less thatchy and only has 6-7 mm, as opposed to 10 mm or more on prior Boxing Days. Due to the persistent rain on Christmas Eve and Day, the pitch has been covered since December 24. The first two days of the forecast are likely to see more precipitation than the second, but after that things should get better. But in Melbourne, things may happen very rapidly.