Pat Cummins has returned to his lethal best with the ball at the MCG, helping deny Pakistan a rare day of Test dominance in Australia.
After a score of 124 for one, Pakistan lost it late on the second day when the Australian captain made two appearances in as many overs to dismiss opener Abdullah Shafique (62) and batsman Babar Azam (1) and carry the Boxing Day momentum to increase Check.
The fall of Shafique and Babar in quick succession spelled trouble for Pakistan as they fell to 194 for six at stumps, still trailing Australia by 124, in a disappointing end to an otherwise promising day for the tourists.
Recalled wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan (29 not out) and fast bowler Aamir Jamal, unbeaten in two matches, will return to action for Pakistan at crease on Thursday.
Pakistan picked up the points from the first two sessions but now need something special to avoid losing a 16th consecutive Test in Australia and going down 2-0 in the Benaud-Qadir series.
Cummins (three for 37) held a stunning return catch to get rid of Shafique, while Babar lost his wicket after receiving an unplayable delivery that hit the seam and severed the top of middle stump.
Nathan Lyon (two for 48) put Australia in a dominant position after dismissing Pakistan captain Shan Masood (54), who took an easy catch to Mitch Marsh.
Three hours were lost to rain on Tuesday as Australia climbed to 187 for three hours at stumps, making it a forgettable opening day for the traditional holiday blockbuster. But both teams upped the ante on Wednesday as 13 wickets fell and the batters showed an aggression they had lacked on day one.
Australia lost seven wickets for 131 in the first session and were dismissed for 318 by lunch. Marnus Labuschagne scored his fourth Test half of 2023 but Australia’s number 3 couldn’t go much further as Jamal (three for 64) took the coveted wicket for 63.
Pakistan did without 52 extra players – the second largest contributor to Australia’s total – and produced a largely improved performance on the field after the 360-run win in Perth.
All-rounder Mitchell Marsh had previously threatened to banish his MCG demons. It is the 32-year-old’s first Boxing Day Test since he was mercilessly booed by the MCG crowd in 2018 after taking the place of Victorian batsman Peter Handscomb.
As a mark of respect from the MCG crowd, Marsh was greeted with huge cheers as he walked out to bat on Wednesday. Late in the day, Marsh was celebrated by a loud portion of the crowd who chanted “We love bison.” He outlasted Pakistan pacer Hasan Ali twice in a row (two for 61) while hitting 41 balls.
The Australian was awarded lbw by referee Joel Wilson, with Marsh taking his time to challenge the decision. But to everyone’s surprise, including the batsman, a faint inside edge appeared at the hotspot.
On the next delivery, Wilson gave out Marsh again after a frantic appeal from Ali, caught behind. But this time the Australian knew for sure that he hadn’t hit the ball and the decision was overturned.
Labuschagne was the only Australian batsman to pass the 50 mark, with Usman Khawaja (42), Marsh and Warner (38) all making significant starts without progressing.
During Mitchell Starc’s brief nine-innings stint, the new most expensive recruit in the Indian Premier League became only the fourth Australian – after Richie Benaud, Shane Warne and Mitchell Johnson – to record 2,000 runs and 200 wickets in Tests.