Two days of rain dampened the Boxing Day Test between Australia and Pakistan but sunshine returned to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday as a pair of opening batsmen ignited day three with over 300 runs.
Azhar Ali’s epic unbeaten 205 raised Pakistan’s hopes of a series-levelling victory after lunch before David Warner crushed them ruthlessly with an exhilarating run-a-ball 144 after tea.
Warner, who shared in a 198-run partnership with Usman Khawaja, propelled Australia to 278 for two at stumps, having slashed the deficit to 165 runs after the tourists declared their first innings at 443 for nine.
Although both players enjoyed reaching a string of milestones, their innings shared little else in common.
Right-hander Azhar had to grind through six rain interruptions over the course of his nine-and-a-half hour knock and marched off unbeaten after 364 balls.
Left-hander Warner had to labour in sapping heat and humidity, but only for 48.5 overs before being caught behind feathering an edge off Wahab Riaz.
Warner, when on 81, was bowled with a no-ball from Wahab, one of the 10 committed by the errant paceman.
The 30-year-old also survived a string of edges to complete his 17th ton, his first in nearly a year and first at the MCG, which had been a conspicuous void in his burgeoning resume.
Warner also raced past 5,000 Test runs during the innings to join an honour roll of Australian batsmen including Don Bradman, Ricky Ponting and the Chappell brothers Greg and Ian.
“A childhood dream, it is one I hadn’t really ticked off,” Warner told reporters, having celebrated his maiden Boxing Day ton with his customary jump and fist-pump.
“I was a bit emotional. It was a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders.”
Gritty Azhar’s double hundred was another endorsement of a late-blooming career and the highest by a Pakistan player in Australia.
He also became the first from the south Asian nation to surpass 200 twice in a year, having struck an unbeaten 302 against West Indies in Dubai in October.
“You get a bit itchy when you’re out there in the field and you’re coming off and on and off and on,” said Warner.
“That’s credit to Azhar Ali, the way he played, to switch on and off like that and score 200 runs on the MCG is fantastic.”
Azhar’s leap for joy after reaching 200 rivalled Warner’s for exuberance and he was thrilled to stamp himself at the iconic stadium.
“It certainly is a big achievement,” he said. “It’s a big, big tour for our team. So I was very focused and really wanted to get there.”