Across four days of intense play between Pakistan and Australia in the second Test of the three-match Test series, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) saw a turnaround of 164,835 people, who were treated to one see-saw of a clash.
While Australia started as favourites after setting a target of 317 on the back of a fabulous half-century from Alex Carey, Pakistan made real work of the run-chase, as they ran the hosts ragged before eventually succumbing to a narrow defeat of 79 runs.
So, what worked and what didn’t for the two teams?
Australia have worked Babar out well in the series
One of the best batters in world cricket and someone who frustrated the living hell out of Australia during their trip to Pakistan last year, Babar Azam, was going to be Pakistan’s key. Pat Cummins hadn’t dismissed him on a single occasion till last year when the former Pakistan skipper showed great composure and grit.
But in this series, Australia has worked out a way to remove Babar time after time. Till the start of the second innings at MCG, the mode of dismissal was either caught behind or bowled. If it was Mitchell Marsh in the first innings of the Perth Test, Cummins got the batter pushing away from his body in the second dig.
That area between the 6-8 metre length has resulted in a wicket for the Australian bowlers. However, this time around in Melbourne, during the second innings, they had to push and prod more systematically. During his first 30 balls at the crease, the Australian pacers bowled 66.7% in the area, where they nearly dismissed the man.
But once that phase was done, Babar started looking more and more a threat during the 31-60 ball phase, where he was only beaten twice. In the next phase, however, after testing the water for the longest time, Josh Hazlewood finally struck with the ball, jagging back to hit the stumps.
Timber! A well-worked-out one.
Shan Masood and a really aggressive push
Walk the talk. While Pakistan as a batting unit haven’t been overly aggressive, their skipper Shan Masood has been ultra-aggressive with his batting approach Down Under, which was what he promised ahead of the series. While the other batters were content with playing it more pragmatically, Masood was playing fire with fire.
In the first innings of the second Test, Masood came with the score reading 34/1, but when he exited at 147/4, he had already given Australia a real scare with his ability to counter-attack the opponents. In particular, the left-handed batter took a liking to Lyon, whom he attacked for 22 in as many deliveries with two fours and a six.
Across the Test, Masood has shown great aggression early on, with a strike-rate of 71.67 in his first 30 balls. Once he saw the first 30-ball phase out, the strike-rate boomed up to 93.3, where he scored 56 off 60. In the second dig, that strike-rate shot up to 110, where his 33 off 30 threatened to take the game away from the Australian side.
Pat Cummins and the art of building pressure
At this point, you’d wonder what Pat Cummins cannot do. Perhaps he could try turning water into wine?
Perhaps a statue is ready to be built outside the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) for Cummins, who is on the verge of becoming an all-time great? Cummins’ unreal tendency to turn the game around on its head was yet again on display here in Melbourne. Masood’s counter-attacking innings really took a toll on the Australian pacers, who started looking tired from their own efforts.
But then entered Cummins, the partnership breaker. In only his third delivery of the spell, Cummins removed the well-set Masood after setting him up with shorter deliveries in his earlier spell. This is where Cummins stands out among the other pacers, with his ability to use the crease, the angles, and the armoury that he possesses.
Had it been just the one wicket or a few wickets in a particular spell, it would have been a different case, but Cummins’ ability to repeatedly cause a tremor in the opposition dressing room is uncanny, with his bouncer against Mohammad Rizwan being a prime example. At this point, it all seems like deja vu.
With a five-wicket haul in both innings, captain Cummins joined a rare group of players in this century alongside Rangana Herath, Rashid Khan and Jason Holder.
Different ways to skin a cat
What was fascinating about the Australian bowling display was how they had a completely different approach for the top-order and the middle-order against a contrasting plan for the lower-order batters.
In the first two sessions on day four, Australian bowlers tried to entice the Pakistani batters into early drives, with 23% of the deliveries being fuller length. In fact, the first four wickets were marginally fuller deliveries than the last six wickets.
Once Babar was dismissed, Australia switched to a short-ball ploy, peppering the Pakistani batters with short balls, with 85.7% of the wickets coming to shorter deliveries. It was in that very spell where Cummins ran riot.
Can Superman Cummins extend his Midas touch to T20 cricket?
Ball comes back in, Babar Azam goes out
It happens just like that for Pat Cummins
Pat Cummins helps Australia dominate Pakistan in MCG Test
Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique stand firm to keep Australia in check
Put some respect on Pat Cummins the captain’s name
Why the onslaught from Pat Cummins should surprise no one
Cometh the hour, Cometh skipper Pat Cummins
Dependable and determined, sky's the limit for Pat 'workhorse' Cummins