Marsh’s counterattacking fifty helps Australia build lead

Tea Australia 318 and 107 for 4 (Marsh 57*, Smith 26*, Hamza 2-13, Shaheen 2-40) lead Pakistan 264 (Shafique 62, Masood 54, Cummins 5-48, Lyon 4-73) by 161 runs

Abdullah Shafique reprieved in-form Mitchell Marsh at first slip to dent Pakistan’s charge on the third day as Australia recovered from a calamitous top-order collapse in the Boxing Day Test.

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Turning the match on its head, amid overcast conditions on a tricky MCG surface, left-arm quicks Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mir Hamza claimed two wickets apiece either side of lunch as Australia crashed to 16 for 4 with a lead of just 68 runs.

But Marsh on 20 was dropped by Shafique at first slip off quick Aamer Jamal when Australia were 46 for 4 and a dejected Pakistan appeared in danger of unravelling.

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Marsh made Pakistan pay and powered to an unbeaten 57 by tea. He has combined with Steven Smith in a 91-run partnership to lift Australia to a lead of 161 runs.

The resumption of the second session was briefly delayed after third umpire Richard Illingworth was stuck in a lift. Australia started at 6 for 2 after opener Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne fell to Afridi on the stroke of lunch.

In his last Test innings at the MCG before his retirement, opener David Warner drove Afridi down the ground for a boundary. However, he fell shortly later when he bottom-edged an attempted pull shot off Hamza onto his stumps as he trudged off the ground to a standing ovation from the 30,000 crowd.

Hamza was perhaps fortunate to have dismissed Warner, but he exhibited sheer skill when he cleaned up Travis Head for a golden duck with a gem of a delivery that swung back in and crashed the stumps.

It was a calamity Australia have rarely experienced on home soil. Only during their dire performance in 2016 against South Africa in Hobart, when they crashed to 8 for 4 on the opening morning, had Australia been in a worse position after the fall of the fourth wicket in a home Test over the last 70 years.

Marsh, who has cemented the No.6 position, scrambled to the crease before leaving alone a wide delivery to negate Hamza’s bid for a hat-trick. He had to overcome immaculate lines and lengths from Shaheen and Hamza, who targeted his pads.

Marsh finally got off the mark on his 14th delivery as the sun came out and batting seemingly became easier. He capitalised on loose bowling from Jamal with a trio of boundaries in four balls as Australia’s nerves eased.

Mitchell Marsh had his chances but hung around to complete a solid half-century

Mitchell Marsh had his chances but hung around to complete a solid half-century

Smith had difficulty negating seamer Hasan Ali’s accuracy and survived a nervous moment when he edged only for the ball to bounce just in front of Shafique at first slip.

But Pakistan’s confidence took a hit when Shafique dropped Marsh reminiscent of his blunder early on day one when he spilt Warner. Marsh edged an attempted drive that flew to Shafique with the ball slipping through his fingers but almost landed in the hands of second slip Salman Agha, who appeared to be caught off guard.

Ghosts of the past appeared to be rearing for Pakistan as seemingly distracted Pakistan captain Shan Masood misfielded at mid-off on the next delivery to gift Marsh a boundary.

Marsh’s woes weren’t over as he survived a confident lbw shout from Hasan after trying to leave the ball with DRS upholding the decision in an umpire’s call.

Marsh, who struck twin half-centuries in the first Test, settled alongside Smith as Pakistan’s spirit sank in a bitter disappointment after mounting such a stirring comeback.

Play on day three had been delayed by 45 minutes due to drizzle underlining Melbourne’s fickle weather with no rain having been forecast.

Resuming at 194 for 6, trailing by 124 runs, Pakistan’s lower order kept them in the contest before they were ultimately dismissed for 264. Shafique and Masood made half-centuries before a collapse of 5 for 64 late on day two proved costly.

Wicketkeeper-batter Mohammad Rizwan made 42 in his return having been contentiously overlooked for the first Test with selectors sticking with incumbent wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed.

Jamal was left stranded on 33 not out but continued an impressive start to his Test career. But Pakistan had no answer for captain Pat Cummins, who finished with 5 for 48 from 20 overs to complete his 10th five-wicket haul in his Test career.

Offspinner Nathan Lyon finished with 4 for 73 off 18.5 overs in his first match since claiming his 500th wicket in the series-opener.

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