The extra bounce found downunder has unnerved even the most distinguished Asian batsmen for decades and the hapless Pakistanis have lost their 16th Test in a row on Australian soil. KEN PIESSE reports:
‘Santa’, we all wished a week ago, ‘can we please have a five-day Test and can the Pakistanis push our lads all the way’.
The jolly old ho-ho man did us proud. The game almost went into Saturday and the Pakis, in mid-match were close to breaking the Aussies, but for that fumbled catch which saw Mitchell Marsh take the game away with a match-high 96 – 76 more than he deserved.
Instead of chasing less than 250, the Pakistani target of 317 always shaped as a bridge too far, especially opposed by the most relentless attack in world cricket.
Their 30-year losing hoodoo downunder continues. No wonder Pakistan has lost so many Tests in a row in Australia. Their much-vaunted top six, even Babar Azam, a star at home, simply cannot handle the bounce.
To win Test matches in Australia, touring teams must be able to produce centurions, at least one a match.
When Shan Masood assesses his team’s efforts in both Perth and Melbourne, he will rue the fact that no-one has made a score of more than 62: Imam-ul-Haq in the first Test and Shafique in the second.
Shan has been prolific and promising in both matches with 150 runs including back-to-back half centuries at the MCG. But despite three starts, his series high so far is just 60.
His failure to go on has been a major problem, as has his No.1 batsman Babar’s inability to protect his stumps against the Aussie pacers.
On the fourth day, in front of another vibrant holiday crowd and under beautiful bright blue summer skies, Babar started brightly with a flourishing cover drive for four second ball. He advanced at Nathan Lyon and hit him back over his head, only to lose his off stump to Josh Hazlewood after two hours of defiance.
All 10 second innings wickets were taken by the fast bowlers, Cummins again pivotal with some brilliant spells. At one of the breaks Usman Khawaja said Cummins was bowling at career-best levels. ‘He looks horribly hard to face right now,’ he said. ‘He’s a genius’.
At 4-16 in mid-match Australia was in dire straights, but champion teams develop a winning psyche of being able to win from anywhere.
The Marsh-Steve Smith partnership re-shaped the game. And Cummins helping finish it, becoming the first Aussie captain to take 10 wickets in an MCG Test. ‘He’s already one of the greats of the game,’ said Fox Sports Michael Vaughan. ‘And he’s making captaincy look easy.’
The Pakistani middle-order worked hard in the run chase, without ever really wresting the high ground from the world champions; their last five wickets falling in seven overs – three in extra time on Friday.
With the series won, will Australia remain unchanged for the final Test? It depends entirely on the fitness of the fast bowlers and the time they have spent on the field.
Having been humbled in 30 overs in a tame finish in Perth, Pakistan batted just 74 overs in the first innings and 68 in the second in Melbourne.
Given more resistance, it could be that one of the faster bowlers may have been rested at the SCG, giving Melburnian Scott Boland his first Test of the summer.
In this game, Mitchell Starc bowled 30 overs, Hazlewood 31 and Cummins 38. And all in comfortable, less-than-extreme temperatures.
It’s not a debilitating workload. And it could be that all three play again in the New Year.
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