David Warner and Josh Hazlewood are on target to join the greats of the game, having celebrated milestones on a day when Pakistan was criticised for relinquishing their firm hold on the second Test.
Warner ended his MCG curse with his maiden ton in a Boxing Day clash, spearing to 2-278 by stumps on day three, in response to Pakistan’s first innings of 9-443 declared led by an unbeaten double century from Azhar Ali.
Warner played a pivotal role in ‘s fightback by ensuring a run rate of more than four an over but he enjoyed good fortune on 81 when bowled off a no-ball by paceman Wahab Riaz, who had a case of the overstepping yips. He would deliver three straight no balls, and had trouble with the popping crease all afternoon, finishing with 10 no balls. His fellow bowlers were blemish free.
Pakistan great Waqar Younis lamented Riaz’s costly no-ball to Warner and the heavy runs leaked by leg-spinner Yasir Shah.
“Pakistan made it hard for themselves. If you are going to bowl all those no-balls – just take his (Warner’s) wicket and things might have changed,” he said on Macquarie Radio.
Azhar said Riaz had been working diligently on eradicating his no-ball problems but these had resurfaced.
“There is a lot of work to be done – today was, obviously, not ideal. He works a lot with the bowling coach. I think he wanted to bowl really quick and get some reverse swing,” Azhar said.
“The no-ball problem came and really hit him badly. Hopefully, he can turn it around tomorrow. “
Yasir, who has Shane Warne as a mentor, claimed the first n wicket when Matt Renshaw mistimed a slog sweep and was bowled but he lacked potency from that point. That he again was instructed to largely bowl to a defensive leg-side field did not help his cause.
“Yasir Shah looks ordinary. They  have made him look ordinary,” Waqar said.
The dynamic Warner, in his 59th Test, became the 19th n to notch 5000 Test runs, and the sixth quickest, behind Don Bradman, Matthew Hayden, Greg Chappell, Neil Harvey and Mike Hussey.
Now the fittest he has been, Warner, 30, could yet play for another five years, giving him time to overtake Hayden (8625 runs at 50.73 in 103 Tests) as ‘s most prolific opening batsman.
The tourists had appeared in a commanding position when they declared, due largely to Azhar’s unbeaten 205 – the second highest score at the ground by an overseas batsman behind only Viv Richards (208 in 1984).
But that changed when the ground, lashed by rain through the opening two days, was bathed in sunshine in the late afternoon.
Warner was finally dismissed for 144 when a decision review appeal by Pakistan found he had feathered a leg-side edge behind off his glove off Riaz.
“You have, obviously, got to take the weather into consideration, you can’t control that. Our focus is about trying to bat as big as we can and make the most of it in the first innings,” Warner said.
Resuming at 6-310, the tourists thrashed 123 runs for the loss of only one wicket through the morning session after play had been delayed for 35 minutes because of drizzle.
Azhar, resuming on 139, motored to the third double century of his career, while tailender Sohail Khan took to Nathan Lyon with glee, crunching four sixes and finishing with his highest Test score.
Azhar attributed his personal success in part to seeking the advice of “players who have played here before”.
“Also, you have got to see what lines the bowlers are bowling – I concentrated really hard,” Azhar said.
“The good thing was my feet were moving and I judged the ball really well. I was really confident about my decision making. When the ball came in my zone, I was always ready to score runs from it.”
Hazlewood’s third wicket, when he caught Riaz off his own bowling, not only signalled a declaration but was also his 100th Test victim, in his 25th Test. He became the fourth n to do so before his 26th birthday.
Former skipper Michael Clarke said Hazlewood had prospered since understanding he needed to hit the deck hard rather than rely on swing, while Test great Glenn McGrath was also full of praise.
McGrath even suggested on Wednesday that Hazlewood could overtake his record fast-bowling haul of 563 wickets if he maintained health and fitness.