MELBOURNE: After such an unforgettable back end of the first Test, there is a swirl of anticipation ahead of the Boxing Day Test between Australia and Pakistan. The historic Test is always the centerpiece of the Australian cricket summer and circled as one of the country's most cherished sporting dates. Apart from the Ashes Tests, this affair at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) looms as the most intoxicating for many years, with more than 60,000 spectators tipped for the Boxing Day.
The final couple of sessions in Brisbane gripped the entirety of the cricket world and has fuelled excitement for the second Test. It has been an eternity since a competitive series ensued between these teams and, tantalisingly, it feels like something special is simmering.
Pakistan will be looking to build on the goodwill fostered from Brisbane, after a sluggish start to the series. Spirits are high in the Pakistan camp after they almost pulled off a miracle come-from-behind victory in Brisbane, piling on a mammoth fourth-innings total of 450.
The spirited comeback breathed life into the visitors' dressing rooms after a disastrous start to the Test, and also forced Australia's quicks to bowl far more overs than they would have liked.
One of the few players in Pakistan's side with a Boxing Day Test under his belt, 42-year-old skipper Misbah ul-Haq says he has never seen such self-belief among a touring side in Australia. But down 1-0 in the series, he says they're nothing taking for granted. "The guys are relaxed and confident that they can perform well here," Misbah said.
Out-of-form Australia batsman Nic Maddinson has been granted a reprieve with his captain Steve Smith confirming his side would be unchanged for the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan.
There had been strong speculation Maddinson could be dropped in favour of uncapped all-rounder Hilton Cartwright, having scored a duck, 1 and 4 in his first two matches in the baggy green.
But Australian captain Steve Smith says selectors have opted to stick with the team that beat Pakistan in Brisbane, despite the heavy workload his pacemen shouldered during the first Test.
"Obviously [Nic] hasn't started the way he would have liked. I was really proud of him in the second innings in Brisbane to come out and do the thing for the team and try and score quick runs and have a crack," Smith said.
With plenty of grass on the MCG wicket, Smith may be tempted to send his bowlers in first should he win the toss."It's a lot greener than I've seen it in the past couple of years," he said.
"The grass dies pretty quickly here and the wicket goes white so we'll sum it up the morning and see what we want to do from there."
The decision to field an unchanged line-up in Melbourne signals a desire for continuity after a period of turmoil during Australia's 2-1 series loss to South Africa. And with a tour of India on the horizon, Smith is confident Australia are back on track.
The captain was exemplary with the bat in Brisbane but faced criticism for his defensive field settings on day five and for electing not to enforce the follow-on when the hosts claimed a first-innings lead of 287 runs.
"People are open to criticize me all they like but in the end, we won the Test match so I'm happy with that," he said.