Steve Smith, the Australian captain, has rated Australia’s miraculous second Test victory over Pakistan as one of the best wins he’s been part of and hopes it will spur his inexperienced team to great heights.
Despite rain marring the opening four days of the Melbourne Cricket Ground Test and a draw the likely result, Australia won by an innings and 18 runs claiming the match midway through the final session with 14 overs left. Overcoming a flat MCG pitch, Australia dismissed Pakistan for 163 in the 54th over and claimed five wickets in a stunning assault after tea.
Speaking at the press conference after the Test, Smith said the victory was a memorable one. “Got to be right up there (in terms of wins)…. I said to the boys, cricket is a funny game and anything can happen,” he said. “The plan this morning was to bat the first 40 minutes, lose no wickets and then put our foot down and get a total to have a crack at the Pakistanis today.
“We always thought if we can get three or four wickets when we got the ball reversing then we would be in for a show,” he added.
Nathan Lyon, Australia’s maligned off-spinner, has been under severe criticism after enduring a prolonged form drought with his place seemingly in jeopardy for the third Test in Sydney. However, Lyon emerged as an unlikely hero after claiming three vital wickets in the second session to turn the match on its head.
Lyon nabbed the key wickets of Younis Khan (24) and Misbah-ul-Haq (0) within three deliveries to leave Pakistan teetering at 63/4 midway through the second session and Pakistan struggled without the support from their veterans.
A day after he had been slightly critical of his spinner, Smith was effusive of Lyon’s final day performance. “A lot of credit has to go to Nathan Lyon, he mixed up his seam… bowled a lot of cross seam which put doubt in the heads of the Pakistani batsmen,” he said. “He put us in a position for when the ball reversed. Then Starcy did what Starcy does and he was world class.
“If he keeps bowling like that… that was outstanding. I thought he bowled beautifully,” he added. “He bowled a good length and he challenges the defence of the Pakistani batsmen consistently and he got the rewards.”
Smith said he felt confident of victory once Lyon removed in-form No.6 Asad Shafiq (15), who fell shortly before tea to leave Pakistan wobbling at 5 or 89. “I thought when we broke the Azhar Ali-Shafiq partnership…. the catch Pete (Handscomb) took at bat-pad, we’re in for a good show,” he said. “The ball was starting to tail. It was getting difficult for the batters to start… everything worked to plan.
“It was one of those days. Pleased that we played in this Test match,” he added. “Not many times you win when the (opponent’s) first innings is 450.”
After three consecutive Test victories, following the calamity in Hobart last month, it feels very much like something special is simmering in Australia’s team. Smith hoped the miraculous victory could provide his inexperience team with a major tonic.
“I sort of think it (the victory) can (instill) the belief that you are never out of the game,” he said. “You can pull a win out of your hat from nowhere. It was quite remarkable that we were able to do that today. Hopefully, the guys can take a lot of confidence (from) how we played this week.
“We are still a work in progress…. we are a young team, I’m proud of the boys,” he added. “To win three Test matches and three one-day internationals has been outstanding. We want a clean sweep and we want to improve. We want to grow and get better each and every day.”
Smith said the drama during the second Test’s finale was a great advertisement for the longest form of cricket, which grabbed some of the attention away from the ongoing Big Bash League. “I think it says that Test cricket is alive and well. That was a pretty amazing Test match and a great one to be a part of,” he said. “A lot of people would have had doubts that this could happen… phenomenal that we could turn it around and give ourselves a chance. I’m really proud.”