Allrounder Starc propels Australia to innings win at MCG

Australia's Mitchell Starc hits a six against the bowling of Pakistan's Azhar Ali on the fifth day of their second cricket test in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) A brilliant all-round performance by Mitchell Starc propelled Australia to series-clinching victory over Pakistan by an innings and 18 runs in the second test as the visitors crumbled under pressure on the fifth day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday.

The rain-interrupted test had long seemed destined for a draw, with only 18 wickets falling in total up until lunch on the last day, but Australia took Pakistan’s final nine wickets in a hurry, clinching the win with an hour to spare.

Starc hammered 84 runs off 91 balls with a record seven sixes as Australia built its first-innings lead early Friday, and then took 4-36 as Pakistan – which needed 181 runs to make the hosts bat again – was skittled for 163 in the second innings. He took three wickets in the space of nine balls to turn the likely draw into a stunning win.

Skipper Steve Smith (165 not out) and Starc shared 154 runs for the eighth wicket as Australia declared just before lunch on 624-8 in response to Pakistan’s 443-9 declared.

”Starcky was incredible,” Smith said. ”He hit the ball incredibly cleanly to give us the opportunity to get 180 and have the overs we had at them today.

”Starky did what Starky has done for a while. He was world class.”

Smith paid credit to his team for turning around a match that seemed beyond Australia’s reach after Pakistan’s big first innings and repeated rain delays.

”You don’t often win a test when the first innings score is 400 odd,” Smith said. ”For us to pull off something like that is extremely pleasing and something special.

”It gives you the belief that you can pull a win out of nowhere.”

It was only the third time in Pakistan’s history it had scored over 400 runs in the first innings and lost a test, after 1957-58 versus the West Indies in Guyana and 2000-01 against England in Karachi.

Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul Haq, who said he was contemplating imminent retirement even before the Sydney test next week, said the batsmen must be held to account for the defeat.

”We take the blame as a batting unit,” Misbah said. ”It was not the pitch, it was the pressure we couldn’t handle.

”Instead of dominating the test after scoring 400 runs, we were under pressure to save the test. Full credit should go to Australia … they bowled beautifully.”

Misbah, who has scored just 68 runs over the past seven test innings, is under pressure to improve but may well have played his last test.

”I always believed if I could not contribute anything for the team then there is no point staying there.” the 42-year-old said.

”In the next couple of days I will think about that and decide what to do. There is no point hanging around and doing nothing.”

Josh Hazelwood dismissed opener Sami Aslam prior to lunch and, with the first ball after the resumption, Starc trapped Babar Azam lbw to immediately put Pakistan on the defensive at 6-2.

Azhar Ali (43) continued from where he left off in the first innings, when he hit an unbeaten 205. He and veteran Younis Khan shared 57 runs for the third wicket before the innings unraveled.

Offspinner Nathan Lyon (3-33) forced Younis to lob a catch to Peter Handscomb at short leg, and two balls later claimed skipper Misbah-ul-Haq (0).

Misbah swept the first ball he faced dangerously, and then repeated that shot, only to lob a simple catch to Nic Maddinson at backward square leg. Pakistan had slumped from a seemingly comfortable 63-2 to 63-4 in the space of three balls.

Then minutes before the tea break, Asad Shafiq flicked a Lyon delivery and Handscomb took a brilliant reflex catch.

Azhar fell soon after tea, trapped lbw by Hazlewood, but wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed (43) and Mohammad Amir put on a handy seventh-wicket stand that threatened to deny Australia victory.

However both were dismissed – Amir bowled by Jackson Bird and Sarfaz by Starc – in the space of 19 balls and Starc then swiftly removed Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah to end it.

Australia also won the first test at Brisbane, and the series will be completed at the Sydney Cricket Ground starting on Jan. 3.