Australia captain Pat Cummins has roared back to his lethal best with the ball at the MCG to help deny Pakistan a rare day of Test dominance down under.
After cruising at 1-124, Pakistan lost their way late on day two as Cummins stepped up twice in as many overs to remove opener Abdullah Shafique (62) and star batter Babar Azam (one) and swing the momentum of the Boxing Day Test
Shafique and Babar falling in quick succession spelt trouble for Pakistan as they slumped to 6-194 at stumps, still trailing Australia by 124, in a disappointing end to an otherwise promising day for the tourists.
Recalled wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan (29 not out) and fast bowler Aamir Jamal, unbeaten on two, will resume batting for Pakistan on Thursday.
Pakistan took the points from the first two sessions, but will now need something special to avoid losing a 16th-straight Test in Australia and going down 2-0 in the Benaud-Qadir series.
“To have them six (wickets) down overnight, still a fair way behind puts us in a good position,” Cummins said.
“I think the wicket is gonna get better and better so obviously it sets us up nicely.”
Cummins (3-37) held onto a stunning return catch to get rid of Shafique, while Babar lost his wicket after receiving an unplayable delivery from the Australia quick that hit the seam and clipped the top of middle stump.
Nathan Lyon (2-48) truly put Australia in a position of dominance after dismissing Pakistan captain Shan Masood (54), who skied an easy catch to Mitch Marsh.
Three hours were lost to rain on Tuesday as Australia crawled to 3-187 at stumps, making it a forgettable opening day for the traditional holiday blockbuster.
But both teams decided to up the ante on Wednesday as 13 wickets fell and the batters showed an aggression that had been lacking on day one.
Australia lost 7-131 during the first session to be dismissed for 318 by lunch.
Marnus Labuschagne scored his fourth Test half-century of 2023, but Australia’s No.3 could not go much further as Jamal (3-64) claimed the prized wicket for 63.
Pakistan will be regretting how they gave up 52 extras – the second-biggest contributor to Australia’s total – in a mostly improved performance in the field following their 360-run thumping in Perth.
“As a batting unit, it hurts because we lost the wickets back-to-back, but hope we will recover from this partnership which is going on now,” Shafique said.
Earlier, allrounder Mitch Marsh threatened to banish his MCG demons.
It is the 32-year-old’s first Boxing Day Test since he was mercilessly booed by the MCG crowd in 2018 after taking the spot of Victoria batter Peter Handscomb.
In a sign of respect, and possibly regret, from the MCG crowd, Marsh received a roaring reception when he walked out to bat on Wednesday.
Late in the day, Marsh was celebrated by a rowdy section of the crowd that chanted, “We love, Bison”.
Marsh survived twice in consecutive balls to Pakistan pacer Hasan Ali (2-61) during his knock of 41.
The 32-year-old was given out lbw by umpire Joel Wilson, with Marsh successfully taking his time to challenge the decision.
The next delivery Wilson again gave Marsh out, caught behind, following a frantic appeal from Ali.
But this time the Australian knew for sure he hadn’t hit the ball and the decision was overturned.
Labuschagne was the only Australia batter to pass 50, with Usman Khawaja (42), Marsh and Warner (38) all getting significant starts without going on.
During Mitchell Starc’s (nine) brief innings, the new most-expensive recruit in the Indian Premier League became just the fourth Australian – after Richie Benaud, Shane Warne and Mitchell Johnson – to record 2000 runs and 300 wickets in Tests.