Crumbling Aussies face humiliation in final Test
SHAUN Marsh heads a group of Australian stars auditioning for their Test match futures following a nightmare disappearing act in Abu Dhabi.
Following the fighting heroics of the last Test, Australia's meek submission on day two to be rolled for just 145 and belted to the brink of almost being out of the game was a bitter blow to Justin Langer's rebuilding plans.
No one gave Australia a hope to win in the UAE upon arrival, but the fact they got themselves into a series decider and had Pakistan on the ropes at 5-57 on day one only makes the latest crippling collapse more deflating.
As the loudspeaker blasted Hunters and Collectors classic Holy Grail across the desolate desert stadium, Australia were forced to confront the massive opportunity they look to have squandered as they slumped to their fourth lowest ever innings total in Asia.
At stumps Pakistan had a firm grip on series victory at 2-144 and 281 runs ahead.
Aaron Finch who topscored for Australia with 39 denied the camp was deflated but admits urgent work needs to be done following a streak of unacceptable first innings offerings this year.
"Absolutely. That first innings is always key to set up the game," he said.
"We've seen Pakistan in the first Test go really big in the first innings and that gives them freedom in the second innings to play as aggressive as they want or as conservative as they want and then the game's in your hands.
"It goes a long way to winning games … we've probably left ourselves a little bit too much work to do at the back end of games, which no doubt we'll address and hopefully going forward we can keep improving on that.
"I wouldn't say (we are) deflated. There was obviously a bit of a feeling that we let them off the hook a little bit yesterday.
"We managed to hold on and scrap for a brilliant draw in the first Test so we see still two results on the board tomorrow.
"Back-to-back wickets are going to be important to stay in the game."
With three full days left in the match, it's likely Pakistan will try and bat out day three and utterly demoralise an Australian bowling line-up already showing significant signs of wear and tear after again being let down by the batters.
Mitchell Starc bowled only one session before tea and then made a bizarre cameo at slip, and Jon Holland struggled to make an impact as Fakhar Zaman (66 off 83) and Azhar Ali (54 not out) did what Australia could not on day one and put their foot firmly on the throat.
Holland's wicketless Test was summed up in the penultimate over of the day when he thought he had Ali lbw only for Australia to be told for the second time in the series that the appeal was void because Ali was more than three metres out of his crease, putting him out of the jurisdiction for DRS reviews.
The only highlight for Australia on a shocking day was an incredible caught and bowled from Nathan Lyon on a chance smashed back at his face by Fakhar.
Marsh was supposed to be the anchor man for Australia at No. 3 but instead he is fighting for his Test career after going backwards at a time when his depleted team desperately needed him to step up.
The 35-year-old averages 14 from his past 11 Test innings and looks hugely vulnerable with Matthew Renshaw presenting an overwhelming argument to be recalled to the top three for the home summer opener against India at Adelaide Oval in six weeks' time.
Brother and vice-captain Mitchell Marsh (averaging 10 from last 10 innings and 26 from his 30 Tests) and two-game rookie Marnus Labuschagne could also come under scrutiny if they fail to produce a knock of substance in the second innings.
A brain fade from Labuschagne (25) cost him his wicket in the worst possible circumstances when he fell victim to a deflection off the tip of bowler Yasir Shah's middle finger when he failed to ground his bat at the nonstriker's end when Mitchell Starc blocked one back down the wicket.
Batting in the top six, Labuschagne needs runs to cement his place, but there is reason to show the faith following his uncanny ability to always be where the action is.
There is more accountability on the shoulders of the enigmatic Marsh brothers who were key men coming into this series and expected to stand up.
After nearly top scoring with 34, Mitchell Starc broke through with an early wicket to do his best to inspire hope following the 137-run first innings deficit. But otherwise it was one-way traffic.
Shaun Marsh was one of five victims for Mohammad Abbas who, with his grubby 130km/h medium pacers, has tormented Australia's batters like Imran Khan and after 50 Tests has a record to rival some of the greats.
Langer loves Marsh, not least of all because his experience is seen as important for a greenhorn side missing Steve Smith and David Warner, but Test great Mike Hussey said on Wisden Radio that the West Australian veteran's future is firmly on the line and the second innings in Abu Dhabi could be hugely decisive.
"In reality, at the end of the day, you do need to be scoring runs," said Hussey.
"There's going to be a lot of discussion about his place in the team."
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