Bat dominated ball on day three of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG. The imbalance frustrated Australia at first as Azhar Ali and Sohail Khan made hay, but David Warner and Usman Khawaja replied with aplomb to alleviate any anxieties in the home viewing area and leave a draw the most likely outcome on an increasingly friendly pitch.
Four hundred and eleven runs were harvested by the two sides for a mere five wickets. Azhar contributed 205, becoming the first Pakistani batsman to pass 200 twice in a single calendar year. He was just three short of Viv Richards’ 32-year-old record for the highest Test score by a visiting Test batsman in Melbourne when his team declared on 9 for 443.
Sohail targeted Nathan Lyon in particular, sending four mighty sixes into the crowd at the northern end of the ground. Josh Hazlewood bowled manfully for 3 for 50 from 32.3 precise and persistent overs, but Lyon’s expense was a source of discomfort for the Australians given the lack of an allrounder in the side.
Having spent six consecutive days in the field, across two Tests, Warner’s response was belligerent if fortunate. Edges were frequent, and he was also bowled by a reverse swinging Wahab Riaz no-ball when on 81. An inside edge for four brought him his first century in almost a year, which he celebrated with his customary, sponsor-friendly leap that belied his poor form in the lead up to this Test.
Khawaja’s innings of 95 was calmer, barely making a false move after he replaced Matt Renshaw at the crease. Renshaw, an impressively patient figure at the crease in his three Tests so far, swung presumptuously at Yasir Shah’s well-flighted delivery and heard his off stump tilt back. But the legspinner was unable to follow up with bowling of sufficient discipline, and some of Misbah-ul-Haq’s fields also caused observers to wonder.
The flow of runs continued more or less unabated in an extended final session, Warner motoring along at around a run a ball to eat into Pakistan’s advantage. He scored plenty of his runs through the point and gully regions, and, after recording his 17th Test ton, sent a towering six down the ground off Yasir.
Wahab’s spell of reverse swing should have resulted in Warner’s dismissal short of a century, but his repeated no-balls for overstepping always seemed likely to end in tears at some stage. It was not the first time he had reprieved a batsman this year – doing likewise for Johnny Bairstow during Pakistan’s drawn series in England.
The wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed had earlier caused widespread mirth when wasting a referral on a ball that beat Warner’s bat by almost a foot, but he redeemed himself close to stumps by successfully reviewing Ian Gould’s not out verdict on a tickle down the leg side by the opener. Warner partly gave himself away by walking halfway off before the decision was reached, ending an entertaining 144 and bringing his captain Steven Smith to the crease.
The start of play was delayed by more than half an hour on an overcast and sultry day due to the lightest of showers that hovered over the MCG. When it did eventually resume, Azhar and Amir commenced with intent to build Pakistan’s tally before getting the Australians in to bat. Amir made it as far as 29 before feathering Mitchell Starc down the leg side to wicketkeeper Matthew Wade.
Light rain returned after an hour’s play, but when the covers were removed Sohail launched into the bowling with rare venom swinging for the fences repeatedly, regardless of the fielders placed in the deep. No fewer than 88 runs were taken off the 10 overs leading to the lunch, including 15 from Starc’s final over of the session.
On resumption, Sohail was narrowly run out, before Azhar completed his double-hundred with a nudge behind square leg. Wahab’s dismissal, also Hazlewood’s 100th’s Test wicket, brought Misbah-ul-Haq’s closure of the innings. Australia replied with verve, but another bleak forecast for day four would not fill either side with optimism.