Recent Match Report – Australia vs Pakistan 2nd Test 2023/24

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Lunch Australia 318 (Labuschagne 63, Jamal 3-64) vs Pakistan

Pakistan’s quicks engineered a fightback on a challenging MCG surface in a chaotic morning session on day two as Australia were bowled out for 318 in the Boxing Day Test.

Conjuring swing and movement from the tricky surface, Pakistan’s new-look attack chipped away with regular wickets and were backed by a much better fielding effort.

They managed to halt Australia after Marnus Labuschagne and Mitchell Marsh threatened to take the game away. But Australia will still feel like they have posted a decent first innings total on a surface helpful for pace bowling.

Play started 30 minutes early after only 66 overs were bowled on a rain-interrupted day one. Resuming at 187 for 3, with sunshine emerging from thick cloud covering, Australia looked to build a formidable total after finishing the opening day strongly.

Pakistan, meanwhile, had hoped for early inroads in a bid to restrict Australia to around 250, but that goal faded due to ragged bowling.

Justifying his recall, veteran seamer Hasan Ali impressed on day one with 1 for 28 from 14 overs but started loosely and was carved twice through the off-side by Travis Head in typically belligerent style.

While Head predictably looked to counterattack, Labuschagne continued on from his watchful batting in tough conditions on day one. Having entered the match averaging just 35 in Test cricket this year, marked by troubles outside the off stump, Labuschagne looked far more assured as he navigated the surface.

He was intent on leaving good length deliveries alone, while picking off runs through the leg-side when the bowling strayed.

Labuschagne reached his half-century with a boundary through midwicket as Australia moved into a position of strength. Pakistan desperately needed a wicket and spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi snapped out of his funk with a full and wide delivery that enticed a thick edge from Head and was well caught by Salman Agha at second slip.

Marsh’s confidence was immediately obvious after he skipped down the wicket to dismissively smash left-arm quick Mir Hamza over mid-off for a boundary. His infectious energy livened the game and chaos ensued when Hasan had him dismissed off consecutive deliveries only for Marsh to successfully review on both occasions.

On the first delivery Marsh was given out lbw only to be saved by a faint inside edge having not reviewed immediately and then he was adjudged caught behind by umpire Joel Wilson before the DRS clearly showed there was no bat involved.

Marsh received mock applause from the crowd when he defended the next delivery before rediscovering his rhythm by smashing offspinner Salman for a straight six.

Pakistan appeared to be playing a waiting game before the second new ball, but fired-up quick Aamer Jamal stepped up. He had Labuschagne caught at first slip, where Abdullah Shafique clutched the ball tightly in a relief having dropped a sitter to reprieve opener David Warner early on day one.

Pakistan’s new ball bowling has been generally lacklustre through the series so far, but they summoned fire after taking the second new ball.

Afridi nicked off wicketkeeper Alex Carey, with Mohammad Rizwan holding a spectacular catch, as he and Hamza resorted to the occasional short delivery – a tactic lacking for much of the innings. Afridi thundered one such delivery into the helmet of Marsh, who had been whacked a couple of times on the treacherous Optus Stadium surface in the first Test.

He continued batting after receiving medical attention as Mitchell Starc joined Richie Benaud, Shane Warne and Mitchell Johnson as the only Australian players to have made 2000 Test runs and taken 200 wickets.

But Starc shortly after fell to Hamza, who added another with the key wicket of Marsh for 41. It was reward for a recalled Hazma, who had impressed throughout the innings by nipping the ball both ways.

Australia’s tail added some handy runs to push their total past 300 as the match remained well poised.

While the first session was played in sunshine, Melbourne’s fickle weather may again intervene with rain and potential thunderstorms forecast later in the day.

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth

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