Australia v Pakistan Second Test
Monday December 26, 10:30am AEDT
Australia will be looking to secure the series with victory over Pakistan in the traditional Boxing Day test at the MCG.
The Aussies overcame a stirring comeback from the visitors in Brisbane to register a tense 39-run win and go up 1-0 in the series. Batting first at the Gabba, centuries to Steve Smith (130) and Peter Handscomb (105), along with an impressive 71 from blossoming opener Matt Renshaw gave the hosts a strong foothold in the match as they posted a first innings score of 429.
They then rammed home their advantage by knocking over Pakistan for a paltry 142, with quicks Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Jackson Bird each claiming three wickets apiece, before Smith chose not to enforce the follow on, allowing the skipper to rack up another half-century (63) as they set Pakistan an imposing target of 490.
Few expected the Pakistanis to get so close but they gave Australia an almighty scare as they racked up a valiant 450 before eventually succumbing off the back of another sustained effort from Starc (4/119).
Twin failures (1 and 4) to Nic Maddinson has placed further pressure on the talented left-hander’s spot in the side, with unheralded youngster Hilton Cartwright drafted into the squad in one of the more obscure inclusions in recent memory after the selectors responded to captain Smith’s overtures for an all-rounder to bolster the team’s bowling options.
One player who is not in any danger of losing his place in the side, but will nevertheless be looking for a big score, is vice-captain David Warner, who despite showing prolific form in other formats, has scored just two centuries in his last 17 test innings’. A win here would guarantee Australian an eighth-straight series win against Pakistan at home.
As is so often the case with Pakistan we saw the wide range of their capabilities with a dismal first innings with the bat countered by a near world-record chase in the second innings. However they will also look back on their efforts in the field in the first innings where several missed chances abetted the Australians in building what was ultimately a match-winning total.
Had the visitors been more clinical with their catching then the figures of leg-spinner Yasir Shah (2/129) would have looked more complementary, but as it was it was left to pacemen Mohammad Amir (4/97) and Wahab Riaz (4/89) to do most of the damage. A punchy unbeaten 59 to ‘keeper-batsman Sarfraz Ahmed was the lone highlight from Pakistan’s first effort with the bat, with the next highest score just 22.
That was in stark contrast to the Pakistani’s second dig where only one batsman was dismissed in single figures as each seemed to come to grips with the pink ball and bouncier surface in Brisbane. A brilliant 137 to Asad Shafiq headlined the record chase with the middle-order maestro dragging Pakistan to within a realistic margin of the massive target, only to fall agonisingly short. However the chase was kick-started by a patient 71 to opener Azhar Ali, while the experienced Younis Khan shrugged off a first-ball duck in the first innings to register a typically elegant 65.
Perhaps the most surprising element of Pakistan’s endeavours with the bat were the runs that flowed from the tail with Amir (48), Wahab (30) and Yasir (33) all defying the Australian attack for long periods. At number eleven Rahat Ali didn’t get the same opportunity to contribute, however it is his output with the ball which has his place under threat with Imran Khan and Sohail Khan waiting in the wings.
Melbourne Cricket Ground
The MCG has been a bat-first venue in recent tests with the last two first innings scores coming in at 3/551 and 530, although in saying that the side fielding first has lost only two of the past six tests in Melbourne. There seems little chance of Australian skipper Smith letting up on his relentless form, as he has scored 473 at the incredible average of 94.60 at the MCG.
- Australia have now won their last ten tests at home against Pakistan.
- Australia have won 14 of their past 17 tests at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
- Pakistan have lost their last four tests.
- Pakistan have also lost five of their past six tests away from home.
- Steve Smith has averaged 91.75 in the first innings of his last 11 tests.
Australia has retained favouritism for the second test, however the market is slightly more wary of their chances after Pakistan’s admirable comeback in Brisbane. The visitors’ obdurate effort with the bat has brought the draw back into play which is just about on par with Pakistan’s own chances of claiming victory.
The big question leading into the Boxing Day test is whether Pakistan will be buoyed or deflated by their mammoth effort in the second innings at the Gabba. As it stands Australia dominated the match for the most part, have an incredibly dominant record at home against the opposition and indeed a particularly fruitful history at the ground.
However they also looked a frayed outfit during Pakistan’s second innings and were it not for the visitors’ profligacy in the field they may have found themselves behind in the game earlier so again I cannot be backing them at such a short price.
The draw is certainly worth consideration given the lack of penetration shown by an Australian bowling outfit which will be weary from their efforts at the Gabba, while there is also the prospect of some inclement weather playing its part in Melbourne.
However neither side has played out a lot of draws lately and for all of the patience and grit shown by the away side, a Pakistan victory still shaped as a far more likely outcome than a draw on day five in Brisbane so we can neither support nor oppose the draw.
That brings us back to the original quandary of how Pakistan will back-up from the Gabba. Will they be the side that started by creating lots of chances with the ball and finished with unprecedented application with the bat? Or will they be the bumbling outfit that put down a series of those chances and batted without confidence or purpose in the first innings? Of course if we knew that we’d be well ahead of the game, but ascertaining the level of expected performance from Pakistan is certainly one of the more difficult things to predict!
Essentially it comes down to whether they are value at the current odds but given that shaky first innings effort and their deplorable record Down Under I can’t quite justify siding with them at the current price.
That means that we leave the Match Odds market to one side and instead focus on the superlative form of Australian skipper Steve Smith. In his last eleven tests Smith has struck 1,118 runs at an average of 74.53, with four hundreds and six fifties. In that time Smith has top-scored four times, including twice in the last three tests.
The captain has also saved his best efforts for the first innings where he has amassed 734 runs at an average of 91.75, while his average of 84.60 at the MCG is even better. Criticism of Smith’s tactics at the Gabba is only likely to intensify his focus and with his main competition in Warner somewhat out-of-sorts I’ll be backing the Aussies’ baby-faced assassin to continue his hot streak and top-score for the hosts again.
BACK – Steve Smith Top Australia 1st Innings Bat at 3.75 or better for 1 unit.