Rain ends play after Bird's double strike

26 December 2016

Pakistan close at 4-142 after bad weather washes out final session on day one at MCG

Australia v Pakistan Tests, Second Test


Much like the weather bureau briefing that dominates the Sydney-Hobart regatta’s pre-race planning, the sage warning from the MCG curator clearly found an attentive audience.

David Sandurski had warned that his pitch, baked longer than a seasonal turkey on a blistering Test eve, would offer cheer to the pace bowlers on the opening morning but would get progressively more friendly for batters.

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So when Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq nominated correctly at the coin toss, he knew – upon opting to bat first – that it was the first few hours of play that brought with them the greatest peril.

And as such, Pakistan’s brains trust set their team a goal of being 60 runs for the loss of a solitary wicket come the lunch break, at which point their decision would be vindicated and their game strategy on track.

D1: First session, Australia v Pakistan

The fact they came within a single Josh Hazlewood delivery of achieving that outcome would suggest a far more fruitful day than the end of day (albeit a day badly hampered by rain that set in shortly before tea and did not abate) score of 4-142 reveals.

The delivery in question was the ball from Hazlewood that held its line, perhaps even decked slightly away from right-hander Babar Azam and was snared low to the right of second slipper Steve Smith.

The Australia captain’s second catch of the session, having clung to a far more straightforward chance off opener Sami Aslam from the third ball of Nathan Lyon’s opening over.

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A moment that was pre-ordained to trigger something special, of a far-less match-defining nature.

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“Up until the last ball before lunch I was really happy, I thought if 1-60 we were in a really good position at lunch time,” Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur said at the conclusion of a day foreshortened to 50.4 overs.

“We knew batting first at the MCG … the first two hours you give away to the bowling team.

“So we set up for that and we thought at 1-60 we were in a very good place, but then obviously losing Babar took us to 2-60 which probably meant it was Australia’s session.”

If the morning session marginally edged towards the home team, then the briefer one that followed was undeniably Australia’s.

D1: Second Session, Australia v Pakistan

When seamer Jackson Bird got rid of Pakistan’s senior middle-order pair Younus Khan and Misbah in the midst of a highly impressive spell that was the day’s most influential, if not the most economical.

Bird darted a ball back into Younus, who had earlier survived an lbw shout against Hazlewood that was given out on field but overturned on review for missing leg stump, and rattled the 39-year-old's stumps.

Bird's seed takes care of Younis

He then got another delivery to jag sufficiently into Misbah to force an inside edge on to the skipper’s thigh pad, and have the ball hang in the air sufficiently for Nic Maddinson at short leg to lurch forward and pluck a deft catch in his left claw.

It was yet another failure for the increasingly out-of-sorts Misbah, who at 42 years of age might be fast arriving at his international cricket use-by date having reached 20 only once in his past six Test innings.

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And it left Pakistan well short of their pre-game aspirations at 4-125, a total to which they added a further 17 before the rain set in with Arthur conceding they have work ahead of them when the Test resumes half an hour early (10am) tomorrow to try and make up some of the 40 overs lost to rain.

On the least productive Boxing Day since 2001 when several bouts of rain saw just 40 overs bowled, in which South Africa laboured even more so than Pakistan today to reach 3-89 under leaden skies and biting cold.

“I think the wicket was tough,” Arthur said tonight. “It was really tough to bat on for a period, if you got the ball in the right area there was just enough there for the bowlers.

“We’re comfortable that will continue, and when you win the toss and bat you always rationalise that decision against what could happen in the fourth innings.

“We think that in the fourth innings that it will be tough to score, history says it is, and we can set ourselves straighter fields and hopefully our leg-spinner (Yasir Shah) comes more and more into the game.

“That’s what we hope but we’ve still got a hell of a lot of work to do in getting some runs and then bowling very well when we get first crack with the ball.”

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Meg Lanning Steve Smith