Australia – $1.45 at Luxbet
Draw – $5 at William Hill
Pakistan – $5.75 at Sportsbet
MAYBE – just maybe – we have a proper Test series on our hands.
Pakistan’s fight back in Brisbane was something we haven’t seen often enough from touring Asian sides.
Asad Shafiq was the hero in that fourth innings chase, but the focus this week has turned to the side’s old stagers.
Misbah-ul-Haq has failed to pass 50 in six first-class innings since landing in New Zealand in November – a most unusual slump for one of the most reliable bats in world cricket.
Some have suggested age might finally be catching up with the 42-year-old Pakistan captain, but word from the camp is that he isn’t at all fazed.
“He doesn’t seem worried,” the team’s batting coach, Grant Flower, told the press this week.
“But he’s always mentally strong and relaxed. He’s got a lot of experience.
“He’s just going through a bit of a trot but he’s been through these periods before and he’s a class player.
“He’s got the mental strength and resilience to come back and I’m sure a good innings is just round the corner.”
Flower was also positive about Younis Khan, who found some touch at the Gabba with a well-made 65 in the second innings.
“He did look a lot better,” said the former Zimbabwe international.
“Obviously the shot he got out to – at that stage what wasn’t the best. But having said that, he scores quite a few runs with the reverse sweep.
“You’ve got to find the balance regarding how you go about things.
“But he’s getting into better positions and today he had his best net practice for ages and he looked brilliant.”
Much was made of Pakistan’s decision to go into the first Test with three left-arm quicks.
After Rahat Ali failed to fire, right-arm seamer Sohail Khan is expected to return and add some balance to the pace stocks.
That is a much safer bet than the selection gambit the hosts are preparing to make.
Hilton Cartwright is the shock bolter for the Boxing Day Test as debate continues over Australia’s troublesome number six slot.
Nic Maddinson has looked well out of sorts in his first two Tests, contributing a mere five runs and failing to convince with his technique at the crease.
Speaking to the press on Tuesday, Hohns made it clear that Cartwright – picked ahead of his fellow West Australian allrounder, Mitchell Marsh – was called into the squad as a batsman who could provide bowling cover for a trio of quicks who threw down more than 150 overs altogether in the first Test.
“The bowlers got through a high workload in Brisbane and although everyone has pulled up okay, on reflection we wanted to give ourselves the option of including an allrounder in Melbourne to ease that workload somewhat,” Hohns said.
“To do that, we wanted a batting allrounder, someone to bowl seam-up and capable of batting in the top six as well, and after considering several names we came to the conclusion that Hilton fits that bill.
“We have seen plenty of him, he has performed well this season and we believe that if called upon he will do an excellent job.”
Another under the selection spotlight is Matthew Wade, whose wicketkeeping and batting have both left much to be desired.
It hasn’t helped that the man he replaced, Peter Nevill, scored 179 in his first Sheffield Shield innings after getting the axe.
Asked on Monday what Wade brought to the team, Australia coach Darren Lehmann said: “Obviously his batting ability, although he hasn’t got any runs at the moment.
“He’s been working pretty hard with that. And his energy behind the stumps.
“He’d like to keep better obviously, but I thought he’s improved his keeping out of sight in the last 12 to 18 months from where we were.
“Peter Nevill is obviously a very good keeper as well. It’s a tight call whichever way you go.
“But Matthew’s got the chance to nail down the spot and we’ll see how he goes in Melbourne.”
Australia vs. Pakistan match tips
It was great to see the Pakistanis rally at the Gabba, but they shouldn’t have put themselves in such a hole to begin with.
Bowling, batting, fielding, captaincy – none of it was anywhere near the required standard in the first innings.
Unless they are much, much better in every department in Melbourne, the tourists will lose again.
The big question for Australia is how Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood will pull up after clocking more overs than either of them have ever bowled in a first class game.
But every man in the Aussie top five has made plenty of runs at the MCG, so the hosts should have enough in the locker to wrap up the series.
Match result – Australia to win ($1.45 at Luxbet)
Highest opening partnership – Australia ($1.67 at CrownBet)
Top Australia/Pakistan runscorer – Smith/Azhar ($15 at Sportsbet)
Hilton Cartwright betting specials
If Cartwright is picked for the MCG, it will be one of the more fascinating inclusions of the last few years.
Pay heed to what Hohns said about this guy – he is a genuine middle-order batsman who can relieve the quicks with his medium pace.
This is not another stop in our quest for an Andrew Flintoff (read Mitch Marsh), but more like a nod to the old days when someone like Doug Walters would bat at six and put in 10 to 15 overs of canny seamers if required.
Cartwright averages over 44 with the bat in the Sheffield Shield and has produced plenty of solid knocks already this season.
Here’s hoping he takes to Test cricket the way Peter Handscomb and Matt Renshaw have.
Man of the match – $34 at CrownBet
Top Australia bowler – $15 at CrownBet
To score 100 – $11 at CrownBet
To score 50 – $3.50 at CrownBet
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