Melbourne: A double-century from Azhar Ali. Pakistan batting until after lunch on day three. No fewer than 141 overs lost to rain. Fifteen wickets in four days on a surface more concrete than pitch. Australia won the Boxing Day Test. Yep, really. In a conjuring act to rival those of Sydney 2010 and Adelaide 2006, Steven Smith’s men produced a Test and series victory from seemingly nowhere. Nowhere that is, apart from Pakistan’s unrivalled propensity for either triumph or disaster, with little in between.
This, we had been told, was a sturdier Pakistan, capable of fighting a match out in the manner they did at the Gabba after a horrid start. This was also the Pakistan side that had ascended to No. 1 in the world earlier in the year. But their descent from the summit has been just as rapid as Australia’s: both sides know what it is like to lose five consecutive Tests from the moment they reached the top of the ICC’s rankings. From the opening moments of the day, Pakistan had looked a team worried about defeat, Australia a team alert to the prospect of victory. After Smith and Mitchell Starc supercharged their scoring rate so effectively as to post the highest ever Test total in Melbourne, a pair of early wickets either side of lunch gave the hosts a glimmer. It was exploited brilliantly by Nathan Lyon, who in the space of a single spell unseated Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq. Under extreme pressure to hold his spot entering the final day, Lyon’s response was emphatic, but not enough to cause Smith to keep him on after the tea break: he is not the first Australian spin bowler to struggle to retain the full confidence of his captain.
That being the case, the final blows were struck by the seamers. Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird and Starc all found deliveries incisive enough to cut through the tail, much to the delight of a final day crowd that swelled the total attendance to 142,188, a figure as admirable in the rain-affected circumstances as Australia’s charge to victory. Much of Pakistan’s early bowling and fielding had been lacklustre when placed under pressure by Smith and Starc, personified by Sohail Khan’s wretched drop of Starc at long-off. Sohail finished with three wickets but was one of four expensive bowlers, none able to contain even with the help of Misbah’s often defensive fields.
So quickly did Smith and Starc score that the home captain had the luxury of declaring before the interval, meaning the visiting openers were compelled to survive two bursts of the new ball either side of lunch. Agencies
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