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'Dream ball': Brilliant Cummins leads from the front but rival skipper wilts under pressure as Aussies take upper hand

27th December, 2023
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27th December, 2023
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Australia are used to their leaders stepping up with a captain’s knock with the bat but Pat Cummins changed the course of the Second Test at the MCG with a spectacular spell with the ball. 

Just when it looked like Pakistan were going to surge into a position of strength on day two of the Boxing Day clash Cummins peeled off a brilliant return catch and then an even better off-cutter to rip into the touring middle order.

Cummins’ spell of 2-10 transformed the Test with Pakistan slumping from 1-124 to 3-131 and the wickets kept tumbling as they finished the day on 6-194 in reply to Australia’s 318 in front of a crowd of 44,837.

“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.”

The tourists had dominated play in the first two sessions, taking the remaining seven Australian wickets in the elongated first session after they resumed at 3-187.

And they lost just one wicket in the middle session, when Imam-ul-haq was caught at slip off Nathan Lyon, to have the Aussies well and truly on the back foot.

Like the Pakistani pace brigade the previous day, the Australians wasted the new ball with only five deliveries aimed at the stumps from the first 11 overs before Lyon was called into the attack.

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Cummins broke a 90-run partnership when he removed Abdullah Shafique for 62 with an athletic reflex catch, diving to his left in his follow through and snaring the six-stitcher in one hand after attempting to catch it in both.

“It’s just one of those ones. Off the bat, they’re pretty hard to pick up and they stick or they don’t. Luckily, that one’s stuck,” he recalled after stumps.

“It went in the other hand from what I was thinking it would go into. It was satisfying because he was playing well.”

Babar Azam (1) was his next victim with a player considered one of the best batters on the global Test circuit totally helpless as an off-cutter jagged back between his defences to hit the top of off stump.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 27: Pat Cummins of Australia celebrates the wicket of Babar Azam of Pakistan during day two of the Second Test Match between Australia and Pakistan at Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 27, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Morgan Hancock - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Pat Cummins celebrates the wicket of Babar Azam. (Photo by Morgan Hancock – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

“It’s a dream ball,” Cummins said. “It’s what you try to bowl most balls, but it’s rare that it comes off.

“That wasn’t a deliberate ball to seam in. It’s 50/50 whether it will seam in or out. You try to create a bit of an angle, and if I don’t know what it’s doing, hopefully the batter doesn’t know either.”

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Pakistan skippers aren’t known for having a long shelf life and his counterpart, Shan Masood, won’t last much more than the two Tests he’s been in charge if he keeps playing shots like the one that brought him undone on Wednesday. 

After reaching his half-century on the back of those two quick wickets, he danced down the wicket to launch a wild slog at Lyon but skied the ball to Mitchell Marsh at point.

That made it 4-147 and the middle order continued to fold with Saud Shakeel bowled for nine by Josh Hazlewood, which was the first time in his 16th Test innings that he had not made it to 20.

Agha Salmon was the third Pakistani batter brought undone by Cummins when he nicked one behind to Alex Carey on five.

The 30-year-old seamer is now just five wickets away from entering the top 10 for Australia’s all-time Test wicket-takers on 244, just two behind 1960s quick Graham McKenzie and another couple adrift of legendary leg-spinner Richie Benaud.

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Australia’s middle and lower order failed to convert the promising day-one start with Pakistan’s bowlers pitching the ball up and finding the edge with regularity in the first two hours.

Travis Head nicked off to Shaheen Shah Afridi for 17 and the other overnight batter, Marnus Labuschagne, fell just two deliveries before the second new ball was taken when he edged Aamer Jamal to Shafique for 63.

The former top-ranked Test batter looks likely to finish 2023 with just one century to his name.

Alex Carey (four), Mitchell Starc (nine) and Cummins (13) came and went without doing much damage and Hazlewood should have gone for a duck but Shafique, who dropped a sitter to give David Warner a life before he had scored on day one, failed to cleanly scoop up a low catch from the tailender.

Hazlewood and Lyon only added another 10 runs before the innings closed but it was another example of Pakistan not seizing the moment.

Unfortunately for them, it has been a common theme over the first six days of this Test series and instead of potentially being in a position where they could push on for victory, they will now be lucky to escape with a draw.

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