Having been made to fight tooth and nail for victory in a contest they had dominated for three days in Brisbane, Australia will be looking for an easier time of it against Pakistan in the Boxing Day Test.
Boosted by Steve Smith’s first innings 130, the Baggy Greens looked set for a morale-crushing win.
Until the skipper’s failure to enforce the follow-on and conservative fifth-day tactics, which came in for heavy criticism, saw a resurgent Pakistan threaten to haul in a record fourth innings chase of 490.
Having scythed through the visitors for 142 first time around, new ball pair Mitchell Starc (pictured above) and Josh Hazlewood had to bowl a lot of overs in the back end of the game.
That has forced selectors to include the uncapped Hilton Cartwright in the 13-man squad as extra bowling cover.
With Darren Lehmann an unabashed fan of five-man attacks, the Zimbabwean-born Cartwright could join the likes of Bryce McGain and Peter Taylor (Peter Who?) as shock Test selections at the expense of Nic Maddinson.
Unlike fellow young guns Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb, the lefty has struggled to deal with the step up to Test standards, although he has been a victim of circumstances to some degree.
Scores of 0,1 and 4 make sour reading but he faced difficult final session conditions in Adelaide and sacrificed his wicket in the search for quick runs in the second innings at the Gabba.
Pakistan won the hearts of the Brisbane crowd with their pluckiness and would have derived plenty of confidence over the last two days of play that they can match it with the Australians.
Statistics and history though, favour the locals with Pakistan comfortably beaten on their past three visits to the MCG and winless there since 1981.
As always, Smith (pictured above) led from the front - with scores of 134 not out and 70 not out against the West Indians here last summer and a career average nearing 60, it’s a straightforward tip to plump for him as the Top Australian Batsman.
While the Pakistani quicks all bowled well in patches (particularly Mohammad Amir) the choice of playing three left-arm paceman arguably stunted the variability of their attack.
This may see Imran Khan (the 21st century version) drafted into the playing XI after he impressed on the short recent tour to New Zealand.
Somewhat lost in the adulation surrounding Asad Shafiq’s (pictured above) superb 137, opener Azhar Ali also showed great application in the second dig to muster 71 and soak up plenty of overs.
His sound technique and temperament have been admired by this author for some time so if he can survive the new ball burst of Australia’s leading pair he is fancied to anchor the innings as the Top Pakistan Batsman.
Unibet Odds: Australia 1.42 Draw 6.00 Pakistan 5.50
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