A fine delivery from Jackson Bird and an even better catch by Nic Maddinson at short leg put Australia in control of Pakistan’s first innings when an early tea was taken due to rain on day one of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.
While Azhar Ali made it to the interval on a stubborn, unbeaten 66, Bird’s dismissals of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq kept the hosts hopeful of ensuring Pakistan could not go on to a major first-innings tally on a slow but not unfriendly batting pitch.
Read more: Rain stops play on opening day of second Test, Pakistan 142-4
Pakistan had lost Babar Azam on the stroke of lunch to offset a morning of steady accumulation after Misbah won an important toss.
Nathan Lyon’s capture of Sami Aslam’s wicket with his third ball caused a tumult of celebration for a festive season crowd of more than 50,000 spectators, but for the most part the Pakistan worked assiduously at building a platform on a surface that offered some seam movement and bounce, albeit at a lesser pace than Brisbane. Babar made it to the final ball of the session before edging Josh Hazlewood into the slips.
Until then Azhar and Babar absorbed plenty of pressure from the Australian pacemen, though Mitchell Starc and Hazlewood both appeared to be slightly down on their optimum pace after the physical toll taken on them by the conclusion to the Gabba Test, in which Pakistan came so close to reeling in a target of 490 for victory.
Among the chief nuisances to players on both sides was an unusually large swarm of flies in the arena, requiring the use of plenty of repellants and also compelling Azhar to pull away at the last moment from a Hazlewood delivery.
While there was some movement on offer for the bowlers, none of the home seamers was able to be consistent enough to find the edges that Smith and his slips cordon were seeking. Ultimately it was Lyon who broke the opening stand shortly before morning drinks, finding spin and bounce to dismiss Aslam.
Not another chance was had until the final over of the session, when Hazlewood got his line and length exactly right and drew an edge from Babar, which Smith held in the ends of his fingers to take the Australians to lunch in a buoyant mood.
They were kept at bay for the first hour after the break as Younis and Azhar worked stubbornly to build the innings with deft deflections and hard running between the wickets. Younis was looking at home in Azhar’s company, and it took an excellent off-cutter from Bird to find a gap between bat and pad and flick off stump.
Misbah’s arrival brought a lift in Australian tempo to pressure the new batsman, and the posting of a short leg for Bird brought an inside edge squeezed off the pad towards Maddinson. Timing his lunge perfectly, Maddinson claimed the chance millimetres above the turf and celebrated the wicket after confirmation arrived via video replays.
Azhar and Asad Shafiq then held firm until the forecast rain arrived – a bleak weather radar suggested it may be some time before play resumed.