Australia head to Melbourne winners but not grinners

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(PHOTO: AFP)

Australia head to Melbourne for the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan with some festive cheer after winning the series opener in Brisbane but Steve Smith’s side will not find many Christmas presents under the tree from local media.

Pundits described Australia’s 39-run win in the first day-night Test held at the Gabba as one of the most gripping matches of the year.

However, they could conjure only faint praise for the home side after they set Pakistan a mammoth 490-run chase and very nearly let them get there on day five.

“Australia will take a one-nil series lead to Melbourne, but it was Pakistan who skipped off the Gabba like winners,” cricket writer Malcolm Knox penned for Fairfax media.

“For Australia to skim home with a 39-run margin, after leading by nearly 300 on the first innings, suggests a litany of blunders.”

After losing five Tests in succession in Sri Lanka and at home to South Africa, Australia have hit back to win their last two with a new-look side energised by two of their three rookie batsmen.

Smith, however, is under no illusions about his team’s growing pains.

“It showed we’re still not the finished product,” he told reporters. “We’ve got to continue to work hard, and keep the foot on the throat when we’ve got (opponents) in that position, and be ruthless.”

Caution criticised

The comments seemed ironic when weighed against Smith’s waiving of the right to enforce the follow-on after Pakistan were skittled for 142 in their first innings, 287 runs short of Australia’s total.

His cautious field settings on day five, with Pakistan still needing 108 runs for victory with only two wickets in hand, were queried by former captains Michael Clarke and Mark Taylor and slammed as “ridiculous” by ex-England skipper Michael Vaughan.

Smith’s faith in his front-line seamers was ultimately rewarded when Mitchell Starc broke through to remove centurion Asad Shafiq with a perfectly pitched bouncer.

But it exacted a heavy physical toll that could have repercussions for the next match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Workhorse Josh Hazlewood bowled 42 overs in the second innings alone, with Starc, still yet to reach peak form after an injury lay-off in the leadup to the home summer, bowling 38.

Along with fellow paceman Jackson Bird and spinner Nathan Lyon, the pair were spared only three overs’ work during a hot and humid five days at the Gabba, with part-time slow bowler Nic Maddinson the only non-specialist thrown the ball.

Australia’s selectors said they would stick with the same 12 for the Melbourne Test but on Tuesday decided to draft in uncapped all-rounder Hilton Cartwright.

The Zimbabwe-born 24 year-old, who plays for Western Australia state, bowls medium pace and could also bat in the top six if required, selectors said.

“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 all-rounder in Melbourne to ease that workload somewhat,” said selector Trevor Hohns.

Bowling coach David Saker lamented during the Gabba Test that Australia lacked an all-rounder to support the bowlers after Mitchell Marsh was jettisoned during the South Africa series for his failure to perform with the bat.

“We have to work with what we’ve got,” Saker told state radio.

Cartwright’s inclusion is likely to be grimly received by middle order batsman Maddinson, who has managed a total of five runs from his three Test innings since his debut against South Africa in Adelaide.

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