When you are looking to topple the world champions on their home turf, the moons must align. Nothing can go wrong, but it did, again, for the Pakistanis, says KEN PIESSE.
Everyone’s new favorite Mitchell Marsh changed another Test match at the MCG on the third day, scoring a brilliant near century, after he should have been out at 20.
Just as occurred in the opening minutes of the Test on Boxing Day, slipsman Abdullah Shafique was the butter fingered offender, grassing a regulation catch which flew at easy pace and height just to his right. His hands were like bricks and the ball flicked onto the knee of an unaware Salman at second slip and onto the grass.
If his miss of David Warner on Day 1 was a soda, this was a lemonade. Dead easy. ‘It’s the pivotal moment in the game for Pakistan,’ said Pakistani pace great Wasim Akram on Fox Sports.
Soon afterwards, Steve Smith, on 10, edged just short of first slip. A more aware wicketkeeper would have gone for it – and most likely taken it. Instead Rizwan was flat-footed and didn’t move an inch, even when it was obvious the ball was not going to carry.
Instead of Australia being five for under 50 and with an overall lead of just 100, the Aussies went to stumps in full control again with Marsh and Smith having added a revitalising 153 at the pivotal time in the match, Smith’s share just 49.
The deflated Pakistanis walked off slowly, most with their heads down, their brave initial assault all but forgotten with Australia’s lead blowing out to around 250, with more to come.
In front of family members including father Geoff and brother Shaun – who also made multi Test 100s – Marsh launched into anything full and was imperious through the offside.
Ever since edging an injured Cam Green out of the top six in July, his battle plan has been to attack and just as occurred at Headingley during the Ashes, he helped to change the game with his audacious power.
He dined out on the Pakistani tactic of attacking him at a fifth and sixth stump line, crashing the ball to the square fences. By comparison, his more celebrated partner Smith was content to graft and feed Marsh the strike, taking singles with flicks and caresses. It took him almost two and a half hours before he hit his first 4 and four hours for his 50.
Marsh had come in on a hat-trick at 4-16, the two left-armers Shaheen and Hamza swinging and seaming the ball menacingly. For the first time all Test summer, it was game on, the match delicately balanced, all of the near 40,000 crowd on the edge of their seats, not wanting to miss a ball.
Shafique’s shocker, the fourth chance he has missed in two Tests, saw him banished into the cover field and then off the field altogether – his place taken by ex-captain Babar Azam.
As he looked to pack something into a large kit bag near the players’ race, we wondered if tour management had told him to leave the ground immediately – and do not pass GO.
Marsh’s awesome Ashes 100 in mid series came in even time and re-energised his career. The Aussies lost that match but surely they’ll win this one… unless Pakistan’s ‘Bradman’ Babar has a day out and forces the match into the weekend.
Given the way he was skittled by Pat Cummins on Wednesday, that’s a long shot.
KEN PIESSE has covered cricket and football for more than 30 years in Melbourne. Despite that setback, Ken has written, published and edited 86 books on cricket and AFL football to become Australian sport’s most prolific author.
His latest cricket book is David Warner, The Bull, Daring to be Different with Wilkinson Publishing, out now