Match Preview – Australia vs Pakistan, Pakistan in Australia 2023/24, 2nd Test


Big Picture: Pakistan search for inspiration

All we want for Christmas is a contest, right? Well, Pakistan will hope for a miracle. If they topple Australia at the MCG it would come close to that.

After just about holding their own, to a degree, across the first three days in Perth, things unravelled quickly on the fourth, albeit the surface was tricky by the time Pakistan started their second innings.

So they came to Melbourne somewhat battered and bruised, but at least had a slightly longer gap to collect their thoughts. They have played two days of cricket – whether that time at Junction Oval will make any significant difference is debatable – and have also lost two players to injury and illness.

Despite Pakistan’s second innings collapse last week, their biggest challenge appears taking 20 wickets with what looks a fairly threadbare attack. If the top order can build on the starts they got in the first innings in Perth they can at least have hope of building a total, although Australia’s attack is relentless.

There is barely a flicker of concern around the home side, and even the talk around David Warner has diminished after his 164. Now it’s all about the farewell, rather than whether he deserves it.

When Marnus Labuschagne averaging 35 for the year is perhaps an area of concern, or whether Alex Carey can recapture the batting touch that brought him a maiden century this time last year, things are tracking nicely. Things are so stable that the MCG crowd won’t even be able to cheer on Scott Boland.

Form guide

(last five matches, most recent first)
Australia WLDLW
Pakistan LWWLL

In the spotlight: Marnus Labuschagne and Babar Azam

It’s been a lean year by Marnus Labuschagne‘s high standards with an average of 35. In Perth, he was lbw in the first innings having moved compactly to 16. He was given a working over in the second, including a painful blow on the hand, before top-edging a short ball. This time last year his Test average was 59.05 and now it’s 52.15. He will, no doubt, turn things around and Boxing Day at the MCG – a ground where he hasn’t had a huge amount of success – could be where it starts.

At 181 for 3 in the first innings in Perth, Pakistan were making a good fist of it. Then Babar Azam edged Mitchell Marsh to Carey who just clung on to the chance. Pakistan lost seven wickets for 90 and the game was done. There was nothing Babar could do about the wonderful delivery from Pat Cummins in the second innings, but Pakistan need him to find the groove that brought scores of 104 and 97 on the tour four years ago. “He’s still in his shell, not really playing his natural way,” Waqar Younis told ESPN’s Around The Wicket show. “I know the bowlers are too good, it’s hard to get on top of them, but you have to find a way, good players do that.”

Team news: Australia unchanged…

Barring any late Christmas-dinner related injuries, Australia will be unchanged which means no place for hometown hero Boland who averages 13.80 at the MCG.

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 have named a squad of 12 and will make a final decision on the XI at the toss. Mohammad Rizwan replaces Sarfaraz Ahmed as wicketkeeper. Khurram Shahzad has been ruled out of the tour with a rib fracture and Faheem Ashraf has been dropped. That means two of Hasan Ali, Mir Hamza and Sajid Khan will play. Sajid appears likely to be included unless the pitch looks better for four quicks and Agha Salman.

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

The groundsman, Matt Page, has promised a well-grassed surface with pace and bounce – although the latter two factors may not reach Perth levels. Life has been tricky for batters at the MCG in recent seasons. But this pitch only has 6-7mm of grass compared to 10mm plus on previous Boxing Days and is less thatchy. The pitch has been under the covers since December 24 due to relentless rain on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The forecast is not ideal with a high chance of more showers on the first day more on the second, but an improvement after that. However, things can change quickly in Melbourne.

Stats and trivia

  • Travis Head needs 42 runs to reach 3000 in Tests

  • Saud Shakeel needs 73 runs to reach 1000 – he has currently batted 15 times, and the record for Pakistan to that landmark is 20 innings by Saeed Ahmed
  • Quotes

    “It looks really good, fair bit of grass, probably a fair bit harder and not as green as last year, knowing it was potentially going to be under covers today and for a little bit tomorrow maybe, so we’ll see how it plays but it looks like a really good wicket.” Australia captain Pat Cummins on the MCG pitch.

    “It was hard out there in Perth. But I still feel there were some positives that probably we didn’t do back when we were here in 2019. We don’t want to force people to play a certain way. But we’ve sort of outlined certain things that we want to do better.” Pakistan captain Shan Masood on the style of cricket Pakistan want to play in Melbourne.

    Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo


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