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Labuschagne holds fort as Pakistan make inroads on rain-hit Boxing Day

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Marnus Labuschagne survived a thorough examination from a new-look Pakistan pace attack on a tough MCG surface as Australia finished a truncated opening day strongly in the Boxing Day Test.

As had been forecast, bad weather gripped Melbourne in the afternoon with play stopped for almost three hours before restarting late in the day. Only 66 overs were bowled all day, but Australia lost just one wicket in the final session to move into a favourable position.

Labuschagne and Steven Smith thwarted Pakistan after the resumption as batting appeared to get easier in sunny conditions. They added 46 off 147 balls to frustrate Pakistan until Smith was caught behind off Aamer Jamal, with replays confirming a faint edge after it was originally deemed not out and Pakistan reviewed.

Smith had moments earlier been given out lbw after being trapped by Shaheen Shah Afridi, but the decision was overturned on review.

It deprived Afridi of his first wicket in the match on the back of figures of 2 for 172 in the series-opener. Like in Perth, Afridi struggled for top pace – it has been a bane for him in recent times.

Labuschagne, who entered averaging a modest 35 this year, was made to work and by stumps had closed in on his half-century having faced 120 deliveries.

Travis Head finished on 9 not out having survived a nervous moment in the last over when he edged offspinner Salman Agha but captain Shan Masood couldn’t hold on to a tough chance.

After Pakistan copped a 360-run pummelling in the first Test on a spicy surface in Perth, their rejigged pace attack fought back from a wayward opening session with Afridi and recalled seamer Hasan Ali mustering an inspired spell after lunch in gloomy conditions.

Hasan justified his selection and was rewarded by having opener Usman Khawaja caught at second slip for 42 with a delivery that zipped off the wicket.

He bowled in sync with Afridi, who threatened by bowling across right-hand batters Labuschagne and Smith and he occasionally made the ball jump off the pitch.

Their sustained bowling on a good length forced Labuschagne and Smith to be in survival mode. With black clouds hanging over the ground, Labuschagne was clearly displeased about play continuing despite the light towers being switched on.

But rain finally fell to give Australia respite, who only scored 24 runs in 15 overs after lunch.

Hasan was one of three changes for Pakistan, who opted to again field an all-out pace attack with left-armer Mir Hamza also selected. They replaced injured seamer Khurram Shahzad and allrounder Faheem Ashraf, who was dropped, while offspinner Sajid Khan was overlooked. Mohammad Rizwan returned as wicketkeeper and took the place of Sarfaraz Ahmed, who had been contentiously preferred in Perth.

Australia named an unchanged line-up as they looked to wrap up the series and claim a 16th straight victory on home soil over Pakistan. Cricinfo

Brief scores:

Australia 187 for 3 (Marnus Labuschagne 44*, Usman Khawaja 42, Travis Head 9*, Salman Agha 1-5) vs Pakistan

The post Labuschagne holds fort as Pakistan make inroads on rain-hit Boxing Day appeared first on DailyNews.

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