Australian players embrace Mitchell Starc after his dismissal of Wahab Riaz.
Australian players embrace Mitchell Starc after his dismissal of Wahab Riaz. JULIAN SMITH

Starc's all-round magic seals miracle win

CRICKET: Is Mitchell Starc Australia's best all-rounder?

Starc took four wickets and belted 84 on the final day of the Boxing Day Test yesterday as Australia pulled off an incredible win over Pakistan at the MCG by an innings and 18 runs.

The search for the next man who can do it all at No.6 has been described as "desperate” from within the Australian camp.

But Starc's smashing 84 could form the blueprint for the versatile line-up selectors are working towards.

The big left-armer may be destined to go down as one of Australia's all-time great fast bowlers, but breaking an MCG record for most sixes in an innings (seven) will stay with him forever.

Starc averages 25 with the bat in his 33-Test career, better than Mitchell Marsh (23.18) and incumbent No.6 Nic Maddinson (6.75).

His innings, combined with skipper Steve Smith's unbeaten 165, helped Australia to 8-624 yesterday before Smith declared 25 minutes prior to lunch with a 181-run first-innings lead.

Smith then attacked with everything he had, unleashing his bowlers to perfection to roll Pakistan in just 54 overs.

Pakistan needed to survive only 14 more overs to save the Test after so much time in the game was lost due to wet weather.

But on the flattest of flat MCG wickets, Starc made the ball sing to knock over the final three wickets and seal a remarkable win.

With his career hanging in the balance, Nathan Lyon bagged three final-day wickets, and Josh Hazlewood chimed in with two as Pakistan capitulated for just 163.

In scenes reminiscent of Australia's famous 2006 Ashes win in Adelaide - where out of nowhere they carved through England's batsmen on the final day - Smith's side, down and out earlier this summer, discovered a fighting spirit that indicated pride in the baggy green had been well and truly restored.

Pakistan only has itself to blame for suffering the rare fate of losing with 450-plus on the board after the first innings, with no-balls and dropped catches ultimately coming back to haunt them.

Hazlewood started the rot by bowling Sami Aslam before lunch, and Starc trapped Babar Azam with the first ball after the break to make it 2-6.

Then it was over to the Lyon hunter, who systematically tore through Pakistan all-time greats Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, and in-form star Asad Shafiq - with Peter Handscomb and Maddinson catching superbly to make it 5-89.

When Hazlewood struck again to remove first- innings double-century maker Azhar Ali for the first time in the match, for 43, Australia could almost taste a famous victory.

Jackson Bird broke a 42-run seventh-wicket partnership between Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Amir, knocking over the dangerous Amir's off-stump.

Then Starc knocked over Sarfraz (43), Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah.

Smith was delighted with his side's effort on the final day.

"It's been a pretty good day. (At) the start of the day we spoke about batting for the first 40 minutes and seeing how things went. We didn't lose any wickets, so we sort of put the foot down,” he said.

"I thought Starcy played particularly well to get his 80-odd and clear the fence a couple of times. I think he broke the record for the MCG hitting seven or eight sixes. That set us up to get 180 (ahead) and give us an opportunity to bowl and get the ball reversing and things like that. It worked out really well.”

Smith hammered an unbeaten 165 and says he's just "hitting them okay”.

"I felt for a while that I've been hitting them all right and just haven't been able to get that big score. It's nice to get 100 last week and back it up this week,” he said.

"I love batting at the MCG, it's been a pretty good hunting ground for me. Can't wait to go to the SCG next week. It's been a good one for me so hopefully I can make it three in a row.”


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