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Mitchell Marsh’s counter-attack pegs back Pakistan at the 'G

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Last updated on 28 Dec 2023 | 08:18 AM
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Mitchell Marsh’s counter-attack pegs back Pakistan at the 'G

At 16/4, Pakistan had Australia pinned on the mat, but from thereon, Marsh outmuscled the visitors

Australia started the day in the driver’s seat, given how Pakistan faltered under pressure late on day two. But with a 54-run lead, nothing was guaranteed for the hosts, with just 15 minutes left before lunch on day three. 

An hour later, when they were riled up at 16/4, little did they expect to come out on top of the Pakistani pacers at the end of day three’s play. However, after recovery, Australia left the day well placed to take a 2-0 lead with a 241-run lead, but where did Pakistan let the game slip?

An hour of hell for the Aussies

The hour of hell should be viewed in two parts: pre-lunch and post-lunch. 

Australia started their second dig nervously, with just a 54-run lead, when they lost their in-form batter, Usman Khawaja, to a pearler from Shaheen Shah Afridi. Marnus Labuschagne, who also contributed well in the first innings, succumbed without troubling the scorers, leaving Australia under a lot of pressure at 6/2. 

Mir Hamza didn’t let the pressure off from the other end with an inspired spell that saw him knock out both David Warner and Travis Head in the span of two deliveries. First, Hamza floated one wide, which led to Warner pegging the ball back on the stumps before a stunner knocked Head out. 

If Warner got the outswinger, Hamza set up Head with a peach. Head was anticipating an out-swinger and came with a preconceived idea of leaving first up. What followed was the art from the artist. It pitched right in a good length area and swung back sharply to hit the timbers. 

At 16/4, it was Australia’s worst start at the venue since 1911, and Hamza was causing all the chaos. 

Another day, another drop, Marsh reaps rewards

72.4% slip catch efficiency.

Guess where that puts Pakistan? At the bottom of all the Test teams this year. The culprit? Abdullah Shafique!!! And who was at the lucky end? Mitchell Marsh

"I think you got to get Shafique out of there," said Mark Waugh on air, and it happened later in the day. 

Marsh was on 20 off 33 balls, which was the perfect opportunity for Pakistan to make Australia suffer. But since the drop, Marsh took the attack to Pakistan’s bowling unit, starting with a boundary the very next ball. In the next 96 deliveries, the all-rounder scored 76 runs, ensuring that the crowd went up on their feet in applause. 

During that knock, the right-handed batter targetted the off-side boundary, scoring 73 off his 96 runs, including 12 boundaries in the off-side region. The only boundary he got on the leg side was the pull shot against Shaheen. He particularly liked the point and cover boundary, where his strike rates were 100 and 95, respectively. 

If not for Marsh’s counter-attacking, there is a strong chance that Australia would have been pegged back even harder. It took a leaping Agha Salman to remove the in-form Marsh, who walked back to thunderous applause with his head hanging low. 

P.S. All of Shafique's drops have cost Pakistan 132 runs in the series.  

Hamza’s continued pressure on Australia

With Shaheen breathing fire from the other end, would you say it was easy for Hamza to keep the heat on? Hamza only played this Test after an injury to Khurram Shahzad, and his first innings wasn’t too impressive either, with figures of 2/51. But what happened in the second innings is a big reason why the selectors trusted the left-arm pacer. 

Hamza is a veteran in Pakistan where he had shown his jigar and pulled the trigger 418 times at the first-class level. The left-arm pacer averages 22.47, striking at 46.4, with 15 four-wicket hauls and 29 five-wicket hauls, showing his worth year after year for Karachi Whites. That’s what he did in the second innings here against Australia. 

He sustained pressure across different spells, with figures of 3/27 in the day, including removing the dangerous-looking Marsh after the right-hander scored 96. The setup was a rather delicious one, with how he kept finding the perfect spot before sucking him into a big shot. 

Time for Alex Carey to step up?

16 June 2023 was the last time Alex Carey scored a half-century in Tests. 

Since then, the left-hander has batted nine innings, where his highest score was 34, which came in the first Test against Pakistan just a week ago in Perth. There was a pattern across all those nine occasions, he got starts on seven out of those nine occasions but was unable to carry on to convert that into a half-century. 

The nerves were evident when the Southpaw walked out to bat at 169/5. In fact, he couldn’t pinch a run in his first 11 balls at the crease. Carey only took the attack to the Pakistani bowling unit when part-time spinner Salman Agha was introduced, against whom he scored two boundaries. 

With Australia losing Smith on the last ball of the day, with the lead only at 241, Carey has a golden opportunity to shoo off any criticism.

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