Azhar Ali piled on the runs for Pakistan before falling just short of a double century as the hosts dominated day two of the first Test against Australia.

This has been a tough start to the three-match series for Australia, with Pakistan totting up 245-1 on day one, followed by the jarring news of Shane Warne's death.

On Saturday, Pakistan kept Australia in the field for a long time once again, declaring on 476-4 shortly before stumps and imposing a stranglehold on the contest.

Azhar reached 185 before attempting an ambitious reverse sweep and paying a high price for failing to make the intended powerful contact, an unexpected misstep.

Rather than sending the ball soaring over the in-field, Azhar looped up a top edge to Cameron Green at short third man to give part-time spinner Marnus Labuschagne a prized wicket.

It made for a disappointing end to a stellar knock from the 37-year-old Azhar, whose 19th Test century proved to be the fourth highest of his Pakistan career.

He had been 64 not out overnight and reached three figures by taking on Nathan Lyon, just about clearing the leg-side field with a blow that was not quite middled but nevertheless raced away to the boundary.

Imam-ul-Haq had earlier advanced from his overnight 132 not out to 157 before he was pinned lbw by Australia captain Pat Cummins, a review only confirming the obvious.

Labuschagne ran out home captain Babar Azam for 36 with a direct hit, after a chancy attempted single, but it was another day to forget for the tourists, who reached 5-0 from one over before bad light ended proceedings.

Azhar puts Pakistan in pole position

This was a special innings from the Pakistan veteran, falling just short of the 205 not out he scored in the first innings in Melbourne in December 2016, which remains his highest score against Australia. Remarkably, Australia still managed to pull off an innings victory in that match, but such a prospect seems highly improbable this time.

Azhar, whose latest innings contained 15 fours and three sixes, also belongs to the exclusive club of players with a Test triple century, having made an unbeaten 302 against West Indies six years ago in Dubai.

Putting the pitch in perspective

It should become clear on Sunday whether this was a match-defining effort by Pakistan, or whether the pitch is likely to result in a high-scoring stalemate. It was frustrating to the home side that they could only get in one over at the Australian openers before the umpires called a halt to the action.

Pakistan have won seven of their last eight men's Tests including their last three on the bounce, with only India (8) picking up more wins in the format than Pakistan (7) since the beginning of 2021.

Australia mourned the loss of a cricket legend before they endured a frustrating time in the field against Pakistan on the opening day of the first Test.

Rod Marsh, a great of the Australian game, passed away at the age of 74 on Friday. The former wicketkeeper played 96 Tests for his country and famously teamed up for 95 dismissals with paceman Dennis Lillee.

Both teams observed a minute's silence in tribute to Marsh before the start of play in Rawalpindi, but Pakistan went on to impress in their first home Test against Australia in 24 years, with Imam-ul-Haq's unbeaten 132 from 271 balls leading the way.

Pakistan captain Babar Azam promised the tourists – who top the ICC Test Championship rankings after their Ashes thrashing of England – a stern challenge and so it turned out, with the hosts, who won the toss and elected to bat, reaching 245-1 at stumps. 

Openers Abdullah Shafique (44) and Imam put on a 100 partnership in the first session, though Australia got a timely wicket when the former clipped to visiting skipper Pat Cummins off Nathan Lyon's bowling just before lunch.

Yet any Australian confidence was chipped away as the day wore on and Imam's maiden Test century arrived when the 26-year-old sent a Mitchell Starc delivery through the covers for four, with Azhar (64) moving to a 35th half-century in the longest format soon after.

Australia took the new ball with Pakistan on 235-1 from 82 overs, yet there was no late slip-up from the batsmen.

Imam marks his comeback in style

Imam had not featured in a Test for Pakistan since doing so against Australia in December 2019, when he scored two and then got out for a duck in a heavy defeat in Adelaide.

Yet the opener was sensational this time out, with his tally including 15 fours and two sixes, and he will go into day two looking to build on a fantastic first Test ton.

To make matters worse for Australia, Pakistan have Babar to come in next. He has scored two centuries and a half-century in his four Tests at Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, where he averages 110 in the longest format. 

Reliance on Lyon backfires

The onus was on Lyon to make the difference for Australia, given he was the sole full-time spinner selected for this Test, and that decision might prove a costly one.

Lyon was hit for 87 for his one wicket, and though Marnus Labuschagne (17-0), Steve Smith (5-0) and even Travis Head (13-0) were given a go, none could make the desired impact.

Babar Azam says Pakistan are ready to give Australia a "tough time" when a historic three-match series gets under way at Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium on Friday.

Australia will be playing their first Test in Pakistan for 24 years and the two nations will be competing for the honour of lifting the Benaud-Qadir Trophy for the first time.

Pakistan whitewashed Bangladesh 2-0 in their last Test series, but they will have to do without the injured Hasan Ali and Faheem Ashraf along with Haris Rauf – who tested positive for coronavirus.

Australia are top of the rankings after thrashing England 4-0 to retain the Ashes, but Babar says Pakistan can bring them back down to earth.

The Pakistan captain said: "It did disturb our combination, especially injuries to Faheem and Hasan. Faheem contributes both with ball and bat, and Hasan is one of the top bowlers, a proven match-winner.

"Still, we have Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah, who both are bowling well, and Fawad Alam and [Mohammad] Rizwan in good batting form. Australia is one of the best sides, we can't take it easy against them.

"We did well against Bangladesh. In this series, too, we will do well and give them a tough time. Fans can expect quality cricket from us."

Andrew McDonald has been installed as Australia's interim head coach after Justin Langer's departure.

Both Babar and Australia skipper Pat Cummins revealed they will wait until the coin toss to name their sides after they were unable to take a look at the pitch due to rain on Thursday.

Cummins said: "We're pretty sure [what the team will be] but we just want to have another look at the wicket, and we probably won't get the chance today, so we'll have a think late this arvo [afternoon] to work out the XI, or tomorrow morning,

"We've got a fair idea what we want to do, but don't want to make the call too early without fully knowing what the wicket is."

Australia were 1-0 winners in their last Test series in Pakistan back in 1998.

Babar to rack up the runs in Rawalpindi again?

Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium has been a happy hunting ground for run machine Babar.

The prolific skipper has scored two centuries and a half-century in his four Tests at the venue, where he averages 110 in the longest format.

Babar's last reached three figures in a Test in Rawalpindi just over two years ago, making 143 versus Bangladesh.

 

Warner a thorn in Pakistan's side

David Warner has a staggering average of 108.4 against Pakistan in the longest format – the best of any player in any history to have been at the crease at least six times against them.

That average soared after the Australia opener made a magnificent 335 not out when the Pakistan attack toiled in the second Test at Adelaide Oval in 2019. Warner also scored a hundred in the first match of that series, which Australia won 2-0.

Warner will be eager to put the misery of bagging a pair in his last Test, against England in Hobart, behind him when he bats in Pakistan for the first time in a Test.

West Indies Women suffered a 90-run defeat to Australia in their first warm-up match of the ICC Women's Cricket World Cup played at Lincoln Green.

David Warner, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Glenn Maxwell will all miss Australia's white-ball upcoming tour of Pakistan after being left out of the 16-player squad.

Cricket Australia's National Selection Panel (NSP) on Tuesday confirmed the squad for three One-Day International and one T20 International in late March and early April.

All bar Starc were picked up last week in the IPL Auction with that competition due to start around a similar timeframe as the white-ball series. Warner, Cummins and Hazlewood were named in the previously announced Test squad for the series that begins in Rawalpindi on Friday next week.

Five other squad members have IPL deals; Marcus Stoinis, Mitch Marsh, Sean Abbott, Jason Behrendorff and Nathan Ellis.

NSP chair George Bailey explained that the omissions were due to a variety of factors to "juggle", including the need to manage multi-format players.

"We have picked a talented and versatile squad with a number of challenges to juggle, including the tour structure of predominantly 50-over games, management of several multi-format players in the medium to long term; and our need to build experience and depth in preparation for two short form World Cups within the next 18 months," Bailey said.

"We're confident the squad can both compete successfully on this tour and continue our progress towards those crucial tournaments."

Australia are also due to tour Sri Lanka in June for two Tests, five ODIs and two T20Is, while they will defend their crown on home soil at the 2022 ICC T20 World Cup in October and November.

The tour marks Australia's first in Pakistan since 1998, with the white-ball players and staff to join the Test squad mid-tour.

Australia Test squad: Aaron Finch (c), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitch Marsh, Ben McDermott, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa

Kusal Mendis' excellent 69 was influential in helping Sri Lanka beat Australia by five wickets and avoid a 5-0 series whitewash in the final T20I in Melbourne.

Opener Mendis carried his bat, hitting five fours and a six off 58 deliveries as Sri Lanka reached their 155 target with just a ball to spare at the MCG.

Captain Dasun Shanaka made a valuable 35 off 31 before departing to Kane Richardson in the final over, while Charith Asalanka made a swift and important 20 off nine.

Earlier, Australia had posted 154-6 having struggled with the bat early in the innings, Matthew Wade top scoring with 43 not out.

The hosts defended pretty well but ultimately did not have enough runs on the board to secure a clean sweep of the series.


AUSSIES SLOW OFF THE MARK

Australia will defend the T20 World Cup on home soil later this year and have used this series to experiment with a few ideas.

On this occasion here, they struggled to get going with the bat and lost openers Aaron Finch (8) and Ben McDermott (3) cheaply.

Josh Inglis (23) and Glenn Maxwell (29) made starts without posting big numbers and had Wade - who had two fours and two sixes in his 27-ball knock - not contributed then it would have been an even tougher outing.


MAGIC MENDIS

One of the key difference makers was Sri Lanka's aggression in the powerplay. The tourists hit 54 runs for the loss of two wickets, compared to Australia's 22.

Asalanka's cameo certainly gave Sri Lanka momentum, but Mendis earned Player of the Match recognition for a fine performance.

Australia recovered to claim a six-wicket victory over Sri Lanka in Melbourne on Friday as they opened up a 4-0 lead in their five-match T20I series.

The hosts elected to bowl first and, despite being without rested trio Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, restricted their opponents to 139-8 off their 20 overs.

Opener Pathum Nissanka top-scored with 46 off 40 balls, while Kusal Mendis added 27 off 21, but it was another underwhelming batting display from the tourists.

Jhye Richardson impressed with figures of 2-20 off his four overs, paving the way for Australia to make it nine T20Is without defeat against Sri Lanka, winning eight of those.

That is despite getting off to a slow start to their response as openers Ashton Agar and Ben McDermott made 19 off 25 balls, before the latter (nine) fell to Maheesh Theekshana.

Aaron Finch was snared by Danushka Gunathilaka for just two runs off the bowling of Lahiru Kumara and Agar (26) was next to go when he top-edged to Mendis.

But star man Glenn Maxwell and Josh Inglis all but ensured there would be no joy for Sri Lanka with their fourth-wicket stand of 71 off 47 balls. 

Inglis went for 40 off 20, leaving Australia needing 20 off 22, and Maxwell got them over the line with his unbeaten 48 to set up a potential whitewash in Sunday's fifth match.


MCGlee for Maxwell

Australia have now won five of their last seven T20Is at the MCG, including the last three in a row – their best run since winning four in a row between 2008 and 2011.

Agar's struggles as a makeshift opener will be of concern, but Maxwell's 48 off 39 balls – a strike rate of 123.1 – meant Sri Lanka's modest target was never of concern.

Pathum shows more promise

Nissanka headed into the game as the only player to score above 100 runs this series against Australia (125) and the 23-year-old was again Sri Lanka's shining light in the fourth T20I.

He helped steer his side to 73-1 at the halfway mark alongside Mendis, yet the tourists still managed to squander a promising opportunity.

New chairman Lachlan Henderson says Cricket Australia must take time to reflect on the "messy" manner in which Justin Langer's reign as head coach came to an end.

Langer resigned this month after only being offered a six-month contract extension on the back of a 4-0 Ashes thrashing of England.

The former Australia opener had also masterminded a T20 World Cup triumph in the United Arab Emirates last year.

Eyebrows were raised over Langer's dramatic exit, but Australia Test captain Cummins said the feeling in the dressing room was it was the right time for a new coach to be appointed.

New chair Henderson does not want a repeat of the way the situation was played out so publicly. 

He told reporters: "It got messy in terms of things playing out in the media. But the board's role was to receive recommendations from management. We made our decision based on that.

"With any significant decision like that boards should reflect on that process that was involved.

"It is unfortunate that a bit of that played out in the media, and we will reflect on whether that should have been accelerated through the summer."

Henderson will look to bring stability after taking over from interim leader Richard Freudenstein, who stepped in following Earl Eddings' resignation.

The new chair has vowed to be transparent in a new era for Cricket Australia.

"My communication style will be to be open, transparent, hopefully consistent," he said on Thursday. 

"I work in health care. We've negotiated a pandemic in the last two years. That's required a fair amount of resilience. So within the bounds of the confidentiality of boards, I hope that there's a really open and transparent way forward."

Uncapped paceman Mark Steketee has been called up for Australia's Test series in Pakistan next month after Michael Neser was ruled out.

Neser suffered a side strain during Queensland's Marsh Cup defeat to New South Wales on Monday and the quick bowler will not travel for Australia's first tour of Pakistan since 1998.

His team-mate Steketee has been drafted into the squad for a three-match series that starts at Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium on March 4.

Steketee has taken 29 Sheffield Shield wickets at an average of 16.31 this season and claimed match figures of 8-100 against New South Wales last week.

Brendan Doggett is on standby to face Babar Azam's side along with Sean Abbott.

Jhye Richardson was not considered, as the Australia selectors manage his workload.

Australia held on for victory in the second T20I against Sri Lanka despite the tourists forcing a super over with a thrilling run chase.

Having won the opener – also in Sydney – by 20 runs, Sunday's match looked to be in Australia's control after they posted 164-6 after batting first.

Captain Aaron Finch (25) and 48 from Josh Inglis carried the hosts to 112-4 before late flurries from Marcus Stoinis (19) and Matthew Wade, who hit 13 off just four deliveries.

After Danushka Gunathilaka thumped a Josh Hazlewood ball straight to the waiting Ben McDermott, Inglis leapt to his left to catch a drive from Avishka Fernando in the third over, and Sri Lankan hopes looked forlorn indeed when Pat Cummins skittled Charith Asalanka for a duck.

Yet Pathum Nissanka maintained composure to build Sri Lanka's score. He smashed 73 off only 53 balls, including nine boundaries, while captain Dasun Shanaka added 34 from 19 deliveries before being run out by a brilliant Steve Smith throw.

It was Stoinis who eventually ended Nissanka's stand, his full toss swung towards deep square where Cummins claimed a fine catch, but Maheesh Theekshana promptly hit a six from the next ball despite Smith nearly concussing himself in a desperate attempt to save it.

In an extraordinary finish, Dushmantha Chameera then thumped another full toss from Stoinis straight down the ground for four to force the eliminator, for which Hazlewood was chosen for the Australia attack.

It proved a wise choice. Sri Lanka managed 5-1, with Dinesh Chandimal run out by Glenn Maxwell, allowing Stoinis to settle the contest with consecutive fours.

Unlucky Sri Lanka can take heart

Sri Lanka have now lost seven T20I matches in a row against Australia and have only one win from 15 in the format when playing outside Asia.

They are unlikely to get much closer to victory than this. Needing 46 off the final 18 balls, they managed 45, while fortune was against them when Chameera's final strike fell just short of a six after a wide had not been called on the penultimate delivery.

Hazlewood shines in super over

Nissanka kept Sri Lanka's hopes alive, but Hazlewood ended them clinically in the super over with some expert deliveries.

"I just kept a nice clear mind," said Hazlewood, who finished with figures of 3-22. "[I] had a chat with Finchy and came up with a plan of what I wanted to do. The confidence is high at the moment and [it is] nice to execute."

Australia Test captain Pat Cummins believes Justin Langer had no need to apologise for his intensity but insists he will always stick up for his mates amid a backlash to his sacking as head coach.

Former opener Langer guided his country to T20 World Cup success last November before overseeing a 4-0 Ashes thrashing of England across December and January.

However, the 51-year-old rejected a short-term extension on his contract, which was due to expire in June, and resigned as head coach of Australia last week.

Mitchell Johnson, Usman Khawaja and Shane Warne headed a host of names in Australian cricket to question the treatment of Langer, who has recently been linked with the vacant England head coach role.

But Cummins responded by emphasising his defence of his team-mates and Cricket Australia on Wednesday as he addressed the matter for the first time with a statement and later at a news conference.

The fast bowler wrote: "Justin has acknowledged that his style was intense. And it was. He has apologised to players and staff for his intensity.

"I think the apology was unnecessary because the players were okay with JL's intensity. It came from a good place - his fierce love of Australia and the baggy green - something which has served Australian cricket well for three decades.

"I take this responsibility seriously. I live and breathe it. We also have a duty to our mates. Many former players have reached out to me and silently offered me their advice, which is welcome.

"Some others have spoken in the media – which is also welcome and comes from a love of the game and their support of a mate.

"To all past players, I want to say this: Just as you have always stuck up for your mates, I'm sticking up for mine."

Cummins, who also explained it would not have been right for him to make "public comment" on the topic earlier, praised Langer's efforts, though he is now looking forward to a new era of Australian cricket.

"I think this group looking forward, a few things through the review process we really wanted and found important to get the best out of our players is I think the players benefit from a more collaborative approach," Cummins told reporters.

"A big theme this summer was to be more calm, more composed. That's been the feedback from the players, staff and Cricket Australia that that's the direction we want to take the team.

"I think he tweaked and changed quite a bit. He deserves a lot of credit for that. I think the question then became do we think that it's sustainable. We thought it is the right time to make a change.

"I think some of these skill sets are perhaps a little bit different to perhaps his traditional coaching style.

"I think he tweaked his coaching style in the last six months and did a really good job, but we think now is the right time for a different direction. It's a matter of opinion but we think it's the right one."

Andrew McDonald has been promoted from assistant coach in the interim and is expected to lead Australia when they tour Pakistan in March.

Australia's three-match T20I series against New Zealand has been cancelled, it has emerged.

Cricket Australia (CA) said the planned fixtures in March had been shelved "due to New Zealand's border controls and quarantine requirements".

The three matches were due to be played in Napier, on March 17, 18 and 20.

Yet the travel restrictions between the two countries, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, mean Australia would not be able to make the trip.

In a statement on its website, CA said: "The three-match series, scheduled for March 17-20 at McLean Park in Napier, was initially arranged with the New Zealand government's plan to relax restrictions at the trans-Tasman border in mind.

"However, with those plans now substantially delayed, the decision was made to abandon the series."

CA chief executive Nick Hockley added: "We thank NZ Cricket for making every effort to host the series, but unfortunately it wasn't possible given the border restrictions and quarantine requirements."

The teams are due to clash in the short format later in the year at the T20 World Cup. The October 22 match at the SCG in Sydney will be the opening game for both sides in that tournament.

Adam Gilchrist has been upset by the treatment of Justin Langer, believing the departed Australia coach has been "painted by some particular people as a monster".

Langer stepped down on Saturday after rejecting a short-term contract extension.

Cricket Australia had hoped Langer would remain in his role for a "period of transition", with the organisation looking elsewhere for a long-term appointment.

The coach's intensity away from the pitch had been an apparent point of contention among some of the playing squad – an issue that has been raised again following his departure.

"My life has been built on values of honesty, respect, trust, truth, and performance," Langer wrote in a resignation letter reported by The Australian. "And if that comes across as 'too intense' at times, I apologise."

But Gilchrist, who played alongside Langer, has bristled at this criticism, as he explained to SEN on Monday.

"He's been painted by some particular people as a monster," Gilchrist said. "That is not Justin Langer.

"He'll be the first to admit he has his frailties, he has his areas of weakness, but gee, he'll sit and look you in the eye and work it out with you.

"So, to be painted as a monster, what sort of effect would that have on you personally and what's the flow-on effect to your family and the people that are nearest and dearest to you? Particularly through a period of time when you're not nearly understanding what is going on, the consistent innuendo and rumour.

"I think he stated it perfectly in his resignation letter: honesty, respect, trust, truth, performance.

"And then, unfortunately, he felt a compelling need to say 'if that's been the trouble, I apologise' – they're the foundations he bases his life on.

"I totally agree with him; I unfortunately disagree with him that he felt a need to apologise, because that shouldn't be a situation."

Ashley Giles has left his position as the managing director of England men's cricket following a shambolic Ashes showing from the Test team. 

England's Ashes campaign was effectively over after just 12 days of cricket in Australia, with some woeful batting and questionable selections coming amid a 4-0 loss. 

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) met this week to review England's performances and Giles, who spent three years in his position, has been dispensed with. 

Head coach Chris Silverwood and batting coach Graeme Thorpe are also under pressure, with ECB chief executive Tom Harrison suggesting that large scale change is needed. 

"I'm extremely grateful to Ashley for his commitment and contribution to England men's cricket over the last three years," Harrison said in a statement. 

"Under his leadership the teams have scored some notable results, most memorably the dramatic victory in the 2019 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup, while dealing with some of the most challenging times English cricket has ever been through. 

"He's highly respected throughout the game and has made a huge contribution to the ECB and England men's cricket. 

"Off the back of a disappointing men's Ashes this winter we must ensure we put in place the conditions across our game to enable our Test team to succeed." 

Giles said: "I'd like to thank everyone for the support they've given me, particularly all the staff and the players, as well as the board for giving me this opportunity. 

"The past couple of years have been incredibly challenging and I'm proud of what we've been able to deliver in the toughest of circumstances. This has undoubtedly protected the future of the game in England and Wales. 

"Despite these challenges, over the past three years, we have become 50-over world champions, the top ranked T20I side in the world, we remain the fourth-ranked Test team and our Under-19s have just reached the World Cup final for the first time in 24 years. I wish all our players and staff great success for the future. 

"I'm now looking forward to spending some time with my family before looking at the next challenge." 

A brace from Abdullah Fawaz, including a late penalty, earned Oman a 2-2 draw with Australia, putting a dent in the Socceroos' hopes of an automatic qualifying spot for the 2022 World Cup.

While they are guaranteed at least a playoff spot in Group B of Asia's World Cup qualifiers, Australia now sit three points behind Japan and four adrift of leaders Saudi Arabia with two games to play.

Australia were denied the lead in the fifth minute after Trent Sainsbury's header from an Aaron Mooy free-kick was ruled out by an offside flag, but the visitors had a penalty just nine minutes later when Oman goalkeeper Faiyz Al Rusheidi brought down Martin Boyle, and Jamie Maclaren successfully placed his spot kick high to the keeper's left.

Oman levelled in sensational style early in the second half as Abdullah received a pass from the left by Munzer Al-Alawi before firing a fierce strike high into the top-left corner, giving Mat Ryan no chance.

Australia regained the lead with just over ten minutes to go when a cross from the left was headed down to substitute Mitchell Duke, who cushioned the ball back for Mooy to fire past Al Rusheidi.

However, more drama followed as substitute Muhsen Al Ghassani was felled by Fran Karacic in the box, and Abdullah sent Ryan the wrong way with his penalty to earn Oman a draw and dampen Australia's hopes of a top-two finish.

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