Rain spoils contest after Azhar ton

Azhar Ali
Chappell: Azhar Ali performing in various conditions

A century from Azhar Ali and staunch support by Asad Shafiq frustrated Australia’s bowlers but rain was a sickener for both sides on day two of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.

Showers truncated the morning session and then re-emerged shortly after 5 pm to prevent any further play, meaning at least 78 scheduled overs were lost over the first two days. The inclement weather cut into the time available to Pakistan to force the result they need to stand a chance of winning the series.

In between the rain breaks, Azhar and Shafiq showed good composure to work through the early spells of the Australian pacemen then rotating the strike when Nathan Lyon’s spin was introduced. After Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed perished to the second new ball, Mohammad Amir played some handsome strokes while Azhar forged on with impressive determination to push the score to 6 for 310 at stumps.

Azhar’s hundred was his 12th in Tests, a brilliant exercise in restraint and patience to keep Australia in the field. The hosts looked a little less than their best in what was their fourth consecutive day in the field, when also including Pakistan’s narrowly failed chase of 490 to win the first Test of the series in Brisbane.

In their search for a wicket, the Australians wasted a referral when Jackson Bird appealed for caught behind against Shafiq, before replays showed that ball was nowhere near bat.

Later in the same over, Shafiq drove Bird down the ground and the bowler touched the ball before it hit the stumps at the non-striker’s end. Azhar quickly turned to regain his ground in time, before there was brief pandemonium at the ground when the third umpire flashed an OUT decision on the MCG’s big screen.

This mistaken verdict was quickly rescinded, and following some light rain the batsmen resumed their occupation in the final few overs before lunch. Steven Smith tried himself and also Nic Maddinson in this brief period, and with a deft leg-side deflection off the latter Azhar made it to three-figures before the rain returned.

There was no further play before 3.30pm local time, and with Smith immediately taking the second new ball conditions became more challenging for the visiting batsmen. Shafiq was undone for 50 by an excellent away swinger from Bird, and Sarfraz also edged the moving ball, inching Josh Hazlewood further towards his 100th Test wicket in the process.

However, Amir ended Australian hopes of rolling up the tail, playing his shots with aplomb and adding 42 in quick time with the enduring Azhar. Pakistan have manoeuvred themselves into a strong position in this match, but the return of the rain lessened the meaning of that advantage.

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