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Warner nominates surprise option to replace him at opener as Pakistan again let Aussies slip through their fingers

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26th December, 2023
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David Warner believes Marcus Harris has what it takes to replace him at the top of the order after the opener was given a late Christmas present by Pakistan when they gave him an early life on a wasteful opening day for the visitors of the Second Test at the MCG.

Pakistan paid the price for dropping Warner in another simple catch and not attacking the stumps as Australia negotiated their way through tricky bowler-friendly conditions.

They also gave Steve Smith a second chance later with a much more difficult dropped catch while their swing bowlers failed to target the wickets and although the Aussies played and missed at many deliveries, they finished on top.

Rain cut out a session of play in the middle of the day but Australia were able to navigate their way to stumps at 3-187 from 66 overs with Marnus Labuschagne (44) and Travis Head (nine) well placed to cash in on Wednesday when much more favourable batting conditions are likely.

At the media conference after stumps, Warner said the Aussies were “in a pretty good position” while he was also adamant that after he retires following the third Test in Sydney that Harris deserved to get the nod ahead of Cameron Bancroft or Matt Renshaw for the rare vacancy at the top of the order.

“It’s a tough one,” Warner said. “It’s obviously up to the selectors but from my position, I feel like the person who’s worked their backside off and has been there for a while in the background, I think Harry’s been that person.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 26: David Warner of Australia and Mir Hamza of Pakistan collide during day one of the Second Test Match between Australia and Pakistan at Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 26, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

David Warner and Mir Hamza collide during day one. (Photo by Daniel Pockett – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

“He’s toured, he’s going to have that chance. He scored a hundred the other day (for Victoria against Pakistan in a practice match). He missed out in a couple other games but he’s always been that person who was next in line.

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“If the selectors show faith in him, then I’m sure he’ll come out and play the way he does. It’s not too dissimilar to me. If he sees it in his areas, he goes for it, plays his shots. I think he would fit well.”

Bancroft has been the better run-scorer of the contending trio at Sheffield Shield level (945 at 59 last season and 512 at 56.9 this summer to be first on both occasions) while Renshaw, who is four years younger than his two rivals at 27, is widely considered the better long-term option.

Warner was sent out to the middle by Shan Masood when the Pakistani skipper won the toss and elected to bowl with Pat Cummins saying he would have done the same thing if the coin fell his way.

But as they did at the First Test in Perth, the tourists wasted early opportunities to get on top with Warner dropped at first slip by Abudullah Shafique, who shelled an absolute sitter.

Former Pakistani skipper Waqar Younis was furious, blasting the pathetic effort in Seven commentary.

“That is as easy as it gets,” Waqar fumed. “If you are not going to catch these, you are going to be in trouble. Watch that. Almost missing the hands.”

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Justin Langer was equally unimpressed.

“That’s as easy a catch that you’ll ever see in Test cricket,” his co-commentator added.

“I said it before this Test – if Pakistan have got any chance of fighting back in this series, they must field better than they did. That’s an impossible catch to drop. While he’ll feel sick about it, it’s not acceptable at international level.”

Warner rode his luck after the chance, edging another drive over slips and nearly getting out in strange circumstances when he tried to back away before a delivery because a bird had flown across the pitch.

He then stuck his bat out and hit the ball – if he had spooned it to a fielder he would have been out but he looked bemused as he flapped his arms like a bird to the umpire to indicate why he had pulled away at the last moment.

His eventful innings ended in the final over before lunch when he wafted at a seemingly harmless off break from Agha Salman to depart for 38.

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When you send a team into bat on a seam-friendly wicket in swinging conditions to have the opposition at 1-90 after the first session is nowhere near good enough.

Usman Khawaja did all the hard work to get through the morning session but he went soon after the lunch break when he also presented the slips cordon with an unnecessary offering on 42.

The left-hander guided the ball like he was offering up pre-game catching practice, which Pakistan definitely needed, and gifted Hasan Ali a well-deserved wicket after he and Shaheen Shah Afridi dominated early in the second session.

He backed down after being told by the ICC he couldn’t have stickers on his bat or shoes with the dove symbol for peace to raise awareness of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and instead sported the names of his daughters, Aisha and Ayla, on his footwear.

Khawaja has waged an ongoing battle with the ICC over free speech over the past fortnight but Warner said his opening partner was not being weighed down by the off-field drama.

“He wouldn’t have made that statement if he didn’t feel like he could take the criticism. He’s a big boy. I just said to him you’ve got to keep believing in what you believe in and move on and get on with cricket, and he’s done that pretty well,” Warner said.

“That’s just how Uzzy is, he’s always been a leader around the group. He’s got a lot of respect from a lot of people.”

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Pakistan had Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith reaching for the swinging ball but bowled without luck as the Australian pair survived a testing period with the skies darkening.

When the rain started falling with the home side 2-114 in the 43rd over, it stalled the momentum Pakistan were building as they tried to claw back momentum to justify their decision to bowl first.

Warner told Fox Cricket during the rain delay that it was challenging in the first session.

“When they put the ball in the right areas and challenged our front foot defence, a lot of play and misses, a chance which is always handy. It was quite tough,” he said.

“We spoke with each other about trying to get on with it. It was doing a little bit too much. Uzzy was playing a bit more conservatively like he always does and for me, I was saying if it was in my zone I’m going to try and go for it. 

“They didn’t give us too much freebies. In Perth I think they did a little bit.”

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As for his dismissal, he added: “I just had a laugh with Uzzy on the way off. Before lunch, generally you’re not playing at most of those. It was too full for me to play and I got a bit lazy and just threw my hands at it. I didn’t expect it to spin and bounce as much as it did.”

Despite the inclement weather, a bumper crowd of 62,167 waited through the lengthy delay or more than 2.5 hours and when play resumed later in the afternoon under lights, Smith was dropped on 16 when Babar Azam spilt a sharp one-handed diving chance at cover.

It’s tough to be too harsh as it would have been a pearler if Babar had held on but it added to the touring team’s torment.

The MCG.

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

Smith was given out LBW on 19 to Shaheen but the replay showed it was tracking just over the bails, a welcome relief for the 34-year-old after the DRS went against him in a similar scenario in Perth.

But his luck ran out on 26 when he Aamir Jamal claimed a nick but after the appeal was turned down, the video review highlighted the faintest of marks on hotspot and snicko to reduce Australia to 3-154.

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Apart from a Shaheen beamer which cannoned into Head’s shoulder, they didn’t face too many anxious moments in the final half-hour before stumps.

Labuschagne again looked scratchy as he looks to finish the calendar year with what would be just his second ton for 2023 but too often during his 120-ball stay, he was allowed to let balls go because the bowlers sprayed the ball wide or targeted a line well outside off stump.

With the rain expected to clear on Wednesday, the stage is set for Australia to mount a sizeable first-innings total to bat Pakistan out of the game.

This was Pakistan’s chance to seize the initiative but they worked hard rather than smart in the field and unless they get into the tail quickly on day two, this Test is likely to follow a similar script to the series opener when Australia’s relentless pressure eventually overwhelmed their outclassed opponents.

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