Pakistan fight back against Australia on bizarre day in Melbourne Test

Hosts lead by 241 with four wickets in hand after Shaheen Afridi and Mir Hamza strike early

Pakistan's Shaheen Afridi dismissed Australia batsman Steve Smith at the strike of stumps on day three of the Melbourne Test. EPA
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Pakistan put up one of their best efforts with the ball in Australia in recent memory as they pushed the hosts into a corner in the Melbourne Test on Thursday.

Australia were hoping for a routine second innings after dismissing the visitors for 264, which gave them a lead of 54.

However, Pakistan's new-ball attack ran through the top order, reducing the Aussies to 16-4 and just one strike away from total collapse. But Mitchell Marsh (96) and Steve Smith (50) rescued the hosts with a stellar partnership that added respectability to the total.

Pakistan squandered a golden chance to have the world champions five down for 46 when Abdullah Shafique dropped a sitter off Marsh against Aamer Jamal. From there, the two Aussie stalwarts went on the offensive as the lead stretched to 200 and beyond.

Marsh was brilliantly caught at slips four short of a deserved century while the untiring Shaheen Afridi got Smith off what was the last ball of the day, caught at gully.

Australia ended the day on 187-6 for a lead of 241, which is significant but not match-winning as yet. Left-arm seamers Afridi (3-58) and Mir Hamza (3-27) gave almost nothing away to keep the pressure on the Australians.

Afridi induced Usman Khawaja into an edge with the second delivery of the innings to send the Australia opener back for a duck and removed Marnus Labuschagne caught behind for four with the last ball before the break.

Australia went into lunch on 6-2 but the worst was not over for the home batsmen.

David Warner, playing his final Test innings at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, edged Hamza onto his own stumps and departed shaking his head with six runs to his name.

With the next ball, Hamza next produced the delivery of the match so far, which nipped in and went straight through Travis Head's defences to shatter the Australian's stumps. They could have been in deeper trouble had Pakistan held on to their chances.

Pakistan have lost their 15 Tests in Australia in a row, which makes Thursday's turn of events all the more interesting.

It was a bizarre day in a way. Play was briefly held up after third umpire Richard Illingworth got stuck in a lift at the MCG.

Players returned to the field after the lunch break but on-field umpires Joel Wilson and Michael Gough would not allow action to resume, with Illingworth not in his position in the grandstand.

"The game is delayed because the third stuck in the lift," Cricket Australia posted on social media platform X, which elicited a prompt post from the MCG saying "Sorry".

After several minutes, fourth umpire Phil Gillespie occupied the third umpire's box so play could resume and Illingworth eventually appeared and looked amused as he waved at the camera.

Updated: December 28, 2023, 9:00 AM