Australia claw ahead with regular blows

Australia Pakistan Cricket
Brettig: Maddinson finally makes a contribution

A fine delivery from Jackson Bird and a better catch by Nic Maddinson at short leg put Australia in control of Pakistan’s first innings before rain arrived to bring a premature end to day one of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.

While Azhar Ali made it to the early closure on a stubborn, unbeaten 66, Bird’s dismissals of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul Haq kept the hosts hopeful of preventing Pakistan from posting a major first-innings tally on a slow but not unfriendly batting pitch.

Pakistan had lost Babar Azam on the stroke of lunch to offset a morning of steady accumulation after Misbah won an important toss. Nathan Lyon’s capture of the wicket of Sami Aslam with his third ball caused a tumult of celebration for a festive-season crowd of more than 60,000 spectators, but for the most part the Pakistan worked assiduously at building a platform on a surface that offered some seam movement and bounce, albeit at a lesser pace than Brisbane. Babar made it to the final ball of the session before edging Josh Hazlewood into the slips.

Mark Nicholas in hospital after abdominal pain
Mark Nicholas, the television broadcaster and columnist, was taken to hospital after complaining of severe abdominal pain on day one of the Boxing Day Test.

Not on air at the time, Nicholas was attended to by paramedics in the back of the MCG’s broadcast room soon after the lunch break, and was then transported to hospital to undergo tests.

“Mark is doing much better this evening and is in good spirits,” a Channel Nine spokesperson said. “He wants to thank the MCG staff for all of their help, and the Channel Nine viewers and cricket community for their good wishes.”

Until then Azhar and Babar absorbed plenty of pressure from the Australian pacemen, though Mitchell Starc and Hazlewood both appeared to be slightly down on their optimum pace after the physical toll taken on them by the conclusion to the Gabba Test, in which Pakistan came so close to reeling in a target of 490 for victory.

Among the chief nuisances to players on both sides was an unusually large swarm of flies in the arena, requiring the use of plenty of repellant and also compelling Azhar to pull away at the last moment from a Hazlewood delivery.

While there was some movement on offer for the bowlers, none of the home seamers were able to be consistent enough to find the edges that Smith and his slips cordon were seeking. Ultimately it was Lyon who broke the opening stand shortly before morning drinks, finding spin and bounce with his third ball to dismiss Aslam.

Not another chance was had until the final over of the session, when Hazlewood got his line and length right and drew an edge from Babar, which Smith held in the ends of his fingers to take the Australians to lunch in a buoyant mood.

They were kept at bay for the first hour after the break as Younis and Azhar worked stubbornly to build the innings with deft deflections and hard running between the wickets. Younis was looking at home in Azhar’s company, and it took an excellent offcutter from Bird to find a gap between bat and pad and flick off stump.

Misbah’s arrival brought a lift in Australia’s tempo to pressure the new batsman, and Bird found the inside edge squeezed off pad towards Maddinson at short leg. Timing his lunge perfectly, Maddinson claimed the chance millimetres above the turf and celebrated the wicket after confirmation arrived via video replays.

Azhar and Asad Shafiq then held firm until the forecast rain arrived – a bleak weather radar suggested that was likely to be the last play of the day, and so it was to prove.

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