One of the plaques at Melbourne Cricket Ground defines the Boxing Day Test as ‘electric’ and ‘exciting’.
Everyone in Australia, even the casual cricket observer, is aware of the importance of this match.
Fourteen of the 17 members of Pakistan’s squad for the three-match Test series have never experienced a Boxing Day Test or a Test in front of a bumper crowd of 60,000, the expected figure on Monday.
The likes of Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed and Wahab Riaz have been playing international cricket for over six years, but on Monday they will set foot on the MCG turf for the first time in a Pakistan cap as their team fights to keep the series alive.
Asad, Pakistan’s hero from the Gabba after a determined second-innings century, is acutely aware of the pressure of playing at the MCG.
“We know the importance of the game. It’s a big Test match, the Boxing Day one,” Asad told reporters. “We all grew up watching this match in Pakistan. We know the value of this Test. We are hopeful and positive, especially after the first Test. All the team is gelled together well. We are playing positive and good cricket.
“We will feel it [the pressure] a little because we probably haven’t played in front of such a big crowd.
“This ground has a really prestigious history and playing here is a big honour for me and especially for those who are playing here for the first time. There is also a lot of excitement.”
It is not just the occasion and the festivity that Pakistan players are keen to experience. Melbourne is also a venue from which they can draw some comfort.
If history is anything to go by, then Melbourne provides Pakistan with a chance to end their 10-Test losing streak in Australia. All of their four Test wins Down Under have either been in Melbourne or Sydney.
“I have heard and seen the matches here, Pakistan playing against Australia in Melbourne and Sydney,” Asad said. “Everyone is talking that the conditions here in Melbourne will be more suitable for our team.
“But every day is a new day and every match is a new match. You have to work and play hard for every match to get the victory.”
Pakistan’s two Test victories in Melbourne came in 1979 and 1981.
Pakistan’s bowlers have not publicly spoken about it but the reverse swing is one of the factors that they will be banking on in Melbourne. The return of red ball is also a welcome sign for the team because, unlike the pink ball, it will not soften up and will provide a greater chance to swing in the air.
Reverse swing played a key role in Pakistan becoming world champions, too. Arguably the two greatest deliveries bowled in Pakistan’s history — Wasim Akram to Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis in Melbourne in 1992 — were a great spectacle of reverse swing and the great left-arm paceman did it with the white ball.
Whether Pakistan’s bowlers can mirror the efforts of the former greats remains to be seen, but if they can conjure up a victory in Melbourne — and their first in Australia for over two decades — it will be remembered in their history as much as their any other triumph.