MELBOURNE: A trio of wickets to Nathan Lyon gave Australia a glimmer of hope for victory over a bedraggled Pakistan as the Boxing Day Test veered into the home stretch on day five at the MCG. Lyon is under immense pressure for his place in the Australian side, but his dismissals of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq in the space of three balls, followed up by that of Asad Shafiq, put the hosts within five wickets of an unlikely win with Pakistan still well short of the tally required to make them bat again. Pete Handscomb took a pair of excellent catches at short leg to dismiss Younis and Shafiq. Much responsibility now rests with the first-innings centurion Azhar Ali if the tourists are to reach Sydney with the series still alive. Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc had procured the early breakthroughs Australia’s captain Steven Smith was seeking, defeating Sami Aslam and Babar Azam either side of lunch. Aided by a rapid-fire innings of 84 from Starc, Smith quickly built Australia’s lead and left Pakistan to survive a minimum 68 overs to secure a draw. The hosts’ tally of 624 was the highest in all Test matches played at the ground. Much of Pakistan’s early bowling and fielding was lacklustre, personified by Sohail Khan’s wretched drop of Starc at long-off. Sohail finished with three wickets but was one of four expensive bowlers on what remains the flattest of pitches.
So quickly did Smith and Starc score that the home captain had the luxury of declaring before the interval, meaning the visiting openers were compelled to survive two bursts of the new ball either side of lunch. In four overs before the interval, Pakistan lost the wicket of Sami, dragging a ball from Hazlewood onto the stumps via his body. The first over of the afternoon brought another, when Azam was struck on the pad by a Starc inswinger that the umpire Ian Gould judged to be hitting leg stump – a decision the batsman’s referral showed to be marginal. Younis scored freely enough until Lyon’s introduction, when a fraction of extra bounce saw him turn an offbreak in the air towards short leg. Handscomb moved forward to claim the chance a matter of millimetres above the turf. Misbah, out of sorts with the bat all series so far, tried a sweep first ball and then repeated it to his second, the top edge well caught around the corner by Nic Maddinson. This double left the door ajar for Australia, and it opened further when Shafiq advanced and pushed Lyon directly to Handscomb, who this time hung on after a juggle. Lyon, for so long this summer a harried figure, was now dictating terms, and his team could sense a remarkable result.