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Melbourne's last laugh after WA's BBL crowd sledge, drop 'as regulation as you get' stuns greats, Uzzy's shoe message

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26th December, 2023
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Day 1 rain hasn’t stopped a sizeable Melbourne crowd descending on the MCG for the traditional Boxing Day Test.

According to reports, 61,228 fans attended Day 1 against Pakistan – lower than pre-match hopes for 70,000-plus but still bigger than the capacity of most cricket grounds in the country.

Indeed, the crowd is a mere 38 smaller than the maximum capacity at Perth’s Optus Stadium, whose local newspaper The West Australian recently took issue with small crowds at Melbourne Renegades Big Bash League games in the city, compared to the noticeably larger attendance at Perth Scorchers matches.

To add further salt into the wound, the MCG crowd for Day 1 alone is bigger than the combined attendance across the four completed days of the Perth Test against Pakistan, where just 59,125 total fans came along – including a mere 17,000 on Day 1.

The MCG figure is slightly smaller than the 63,478 Boxing Day attendance in Pakistan’s last Test at the venue in December 2016, while the ground’s record crowd for a day of Test cricket is 91,112 set on Day 1 in 2013 during that summer’s Ashes.

The MCG.

The MCG. (Photo by Morgan Hancock – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

‘As regulation as you get’: Greats horrified by Pakistan slip fielder’s horror drop

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It’s the oldest saying in cricket – catches win matches.

And while it’s still too early to say for sure whether that will apply to Pakistan in the second Test against Australia, they may just come to rue a horror dropped catch from opener Abdullah Shafique at first slip in just the third over of the Boxing Day Test.

After captain Shan Masood won the toss and elected to bowl under cloudy skies at the MCG, the tourists looked set to get off to the perfect start when seamer Shaheen Shah Afridi produced a gem of a ball that swung late to catch David Warner’s outside edge, with the first Test centurion on just 2.

But Shafique would leave everyone stunned after spectacularly botching the easy offering to give Warner a life, Afridi only able to put his hands on his head and bemoan the missed chance.

“Edged – oh, dropped!” exclaimed former great Adam Gilchrist on Fox Cricket.

“Can you believe it! Afridi can’t – a big life for Warner.

“That is the worst possible start for Pakistan… you cannot be giving these sort of chances to this type of batting line-up. That’s pretty well as simple as it gets.

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“Abdullah Shafique… Pakistan gave the Australian cricket team a big bag of Christmas presents yesterday for the kids. They’ve just given them another very big gift there.”

Another former great in Mark Waugh, one of the finest slips catchers in Australian history, described the drop as ‘as regulation as you get in Test match cricket’.

“It went slowly, he had a good look at it, it was a nice height, and it’s hit him right at the top of the hands. I don’t know whether he’s picked it up or hasn’t picked it up, but it’s gone nowhere near the middle of the hands.

“He’s just had an airswing… I think he’s just got his hands in the wrong plane. Just got them too low, for whatever reason.”

“It looks like a guy who’s fielding in the slips for the first time,” added former New Zealand wicketkeeper Ian Smith.

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Over on Channel 7, Pakistan legend Waqar Younis was even more scathing.

“That is as easy as it gets,” Younis said.

“If you are not going to catch these, you are going to be in trouble. Watch that. Almost missing the hands.”

The mistake looked set to cost Pakistan, against whom Warner has six first-innings centuries in 11 previous Tests, when he moved to 38 on the stroke of lunch; however, spinner Salman Ali Agha would spare Shafique any further blushes by removing the opener caught at slip.

Khawaja’s shoe message to daughters after black dove ban

Usman Khawaja has responded to the ICC’s latest ban on his attempted equipment messages with a touching tribute to his daughters on Day 1 at the MCG.

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Having been denied a request to write ‘All lives are equal’ on his shoes in Perth in response to the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine, Khawaja began his innings on Boxing Day with the names of his daughters, Aisha and Ayla, written on his shoes.

However, Khawaja couldn’t mark the day with a big score, edging Hassan Ali to slip on 42 just after lunch.

‘Part of Test match cricket’: Great flames Marnus’ bad light complaint

As forecast, the rain arrived midway through the second session at the MCG, bringing about an early tea and seeing groundstaff scramble to get the covers on.

But before that, it seemed bad light would stop play first, the floodlights coming on amid darkening skies over the famous ground.

Speaking to Fox Cricket at drinks, Marnus Labuschagne, who had been having repeated conversations with umpires Joel Wilson and Michael Gough in previous overs, openly questioned the conditions.

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When asked about the light by Mark Howard, Labuschagne answered: “Obviously the light’s faded a little bit there, the clouds are coming over and it’s swinging around a little bit.

“It’s dark – let’s just leave it at that!”

However, Waugh was far from impressed with Labuschagne’s attitude, saying the challenging conditions were ‘part of Test match cricket’.

“He’s got to stop worrying about the light, if they’re going to go off, if they’re going to stay on. He’s just got to focus on the next ball,” Waugh said after a Labuschagne play and miss a few balls after drinks.

“I actually think once the lights are on, you stay on. Isn’t that why you have the lights on – to make it not dark?

“I know it’s not perfect conditions, but I just think it’s part of Test match cricket. There’s not always perfect conditions.”

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‘Bit of weather around’: Recent history on Pakistan’s side after surprise toss call

Pakistan captain Shan Masood has opted to bowl first after winning the toss at the MCG, in an early surprise on Boxing Day.

Having been crushed on Day 1 in the first Test Perth as David Warner raced to 164 and never able to get a foothold in the match, the tourists will be hoping to make early inroads on the hallowed turf.

Australia have won the toss and bowled first in the last two Boxing Day Tests and recording innings victories over England and South Africa, bowling the former out for 185 in 65.1 overs in 2021 and the latter for 189 in 68.4 in 2022.

The year prior, the hosts themselves have been bowled out for 195 by India in just 72.3 overs after Tim Paine the toss and elected to bat, with recent history explaining Pakistan’s choice.

“Looking at the MCG for the past three years, the bowling first side has done well,” Masood said at the toss.

“There’s bit of weather around; we will avail ourselves of the opportunity.

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“Hopefully it won’t crack up [like] at Perth. That’s why we took the risk to bowl first. And I think there will be enough for the bowlers.

“There is always something for the batsmen, whoever plays well, there is always value for your shots and we have seen decent scores.”

Pakistan have made three changes for the must-win Test, with quick Khurram Shahzad missing through injury, while all-rounder Faheem Ashraf and wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed has been dropped.

Back-up gloveman Mohammad Rizwan has replaced Sarfaraz in the team, while Pakistan will again feature a four-man pace bowling attack, with Hassan Ali and Mir Hamza recalled.

Australian captain Pat Cummins revealed he would have bowled first as well, but was far from disappointed.

“It [the pitch] feels harder than it has been in previous years,” he said.

“There is a bit of grass, bit of cloud cover, but, yeah, feels firm. Not too upset.”

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Having not won a Test series outright in 2023, Cummins is confident his team can finish an outstanding year, which has featured ODI World Cup glory, a maiden World Test championship final and an Ashes retention, in style.

“A fantastic year. Really successful. Also had a lot of fun,” Cummins said.

“The last couple of weeks, getting the Test side back together after a few months has been great.

“Having the families together was a special reflection of the year. Be a good way to finish off.”

Australia will field an unchanged XI for the match, with local hero Scott Boland unable to force his way into the team which thrashed the tourists in Perth.

Pat Cummins confirmed the identical line-up on Christmas Day, while Pakistan have named a 12-man squad for the Boxing Day Test, with veteran wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed axed in favour of Mohammad Rizwan and all-rounder Faheem Ashraf also left out.

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After fielding a four-man pace attack in Perth but needing to replace the injured Khurram Shahzad and Ashraf, the visitors will weigh up whether to recall last spinner standing Sajid Khan, with fellow slow bowlers Abrar Ahmed and Noman Ali ruled out with injury, or play back-up seamers Hassan Ali and Mir Hamza.

Despite a superb first-class record at the MCG and 10 wickets at 13.8 in his two Tests at the venue, including a famous haul of 6/7 in the 2021/22 Ashes, Boland was unable to oust any of star trio Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc for a spot in the Australian XI.

“We’re a huge fan of Scotty, I don’t think that’s a secret,” Cummins said on Monday.

“It’s very rare that you’re going to get through seven Test matches with the same bowling line-up – there’s always niggles or things that pop up.

“He’s ready to go if anything happens, so I’m sure he’ll play a part at some point.

“The message is always ‘we love what you’re bringing: unfortunately, you miss out on this one, but don’t change… and stay ready’.”

Australia Boxing Day Test XI

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David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Alex Carey (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins (c), Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.

Pakistan Boxing Day Test XI

Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Shan Masood (c), Babar Azam, Saud Shakeel, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Salman Ali Agha, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Hassan Ali, Mir Hamza, Aamer Jamal.

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