The way Pakistan fought on the last day at Brisbane, giving Australia a big scare while chasing a score well in excess of 400, it seemed the contest was well and alive going into Melbourne.
The way Pakistan fought on the last day at Brisbane, giving Australia a big scare while chasing a score well in excess of 400, it seemed the contest was well and alive going into Melbourne. And they came up with the goods again, notching up 400 once more, this time while batting first. Yet for the second time in as many games, they ended up on the losing side. The reason for the loss is not that difficult to comprehend. While Pakistan crossed 400 once each in the two Tests, they capitulated miserably in the other two innings, which caused their downfall. The collapse on the final day at MCG was most disappointing, since rain had washed away a significant portion of the match, and Pakistan only had to bat decently to survive. They didn't.
With the series lost, Pakistan's sole objective at Sydney will be to avoid another abject surrender. The match could also bring the curtains down on two of Pakistan's legends depending on how they perform at Sydney. Younis Khan and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq are clearly struggling. And, the latter was even candid enough to admit that he was considering retirement even as the Sydney Test loomed. For now, he is a certain starter for the dead rubber. If at all, he decides to hang up his boots, Misbah would want to go out on a high. Younis hasn't made any statement as much. But, the fact is that both him and Misbah have struggled badly in the last two series', and would be under immense pressure.
Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq have been the two standout batsmen for Pakistan on this tour, and it is primarily because of them that Pakistan have managed to make an impression with the bat. Unfortunately, two splendid knocks by them in the first two Tests have been in vain. Apart from Misbah and Younis, Sami Aslam and Babar Azam have also not made much of an impact while Sarfraz Ahmed hasn't converted his cameos. In the bowling, Yasir Shah has been a big disappointment. If he needs inspiration though it is the fact that Pakistan's last Test win in Australia came at this venue in 1995, and was delivered by another leggie Mushtaq Ahmed.
Australia will be delighted that they would be going into Sydney on a high. After being embarrassed in Sri Lanka and the disappointment at home against South Africa, it is a welcome relief. They have a tough tour of India coming up. But, for now, the focus would be on clinching a clean sweep. At the same time, the Aussies will also be making some changes to their XI, with the series in the bag. All-rounder Hilton Cartwright is all set to make his debut as Nic Maddinson has failed to utilise his chances. With the pitch at Sydney traditionally assisting spin, Steve O'Keefe is also set to come in instead of Jackson Bird. Again, much will depend on Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood with the ball.
The match will be a big one for skipper Steve Smith in the sense that he would be playing his 50th Test, six years after making his debut as a leg-spinner. So successful has Smith been with the bat, he averages 60. Australia have faced some tough times under him though so he will be keen to make it count. The hosts would be extremely pleased with the form displayed by opener David Warner as well as Usman Khawaja. Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb too have proved that they belong to this level. Australia have everything going for them, a far contrast from things when they were facing the Proteas at home. They would want to keep the momentum going.