Nobody turns up to day five of a Test anymore. Well, hardly anybody. At the Gabba: 2593 showed up, with free entry all day. At the MCG: 6189 - though more flooded in after tea when Cricket Australia threw open the gates. And yet day five was when both Tests sprung dramatically and unexpectedly to life. The end result was that in Brisbane, Australia nearly lost the unlosable Test, while in Melbourne they won the unwinnable.
Even Steven Smith turned up to the MCG on day five thinking a result was unlikely. Possible, yes, but improbable. After all, rain had washed out nearly half of days one, two and four, and Pakistan had piled on 443 in their first innings, across three days. "If we can get a lead of 150-ish then maybe we can have a crack and see how we go," Smith said on ABC Radio on the fifth morning. "Funnier things have happened in the game of cricket."
He might not have expected it, but Smith's words could hardly have been more prophetic. In the first session, Smith and Mitchell Starc provided outstanding entertainment for the small crowd. Starc struck seven sixes, the most for any player in a Test innings at the MCG, and Australia amassed 624, the highest total ever in a Test at the venue. In the end, Smith gave himself a little extra room to manoeuvre, declaring 181 in front.
Australia's golden run continued when Josh Hazlewood struck in the second over of Pakistan's second innings, justifying Smith's declaration timing - Pakistan had to bat for a nervy four-over period before lunch. Everything continued to fall into place from there: Nathan Lyon - whose consistency was questioned by Smith on the fourth evening - ran through the middle order, and the fast men finished the job after tea.
Australia had won by an innings, in a Test in which Pakistan had made 443 batting first, and in which Australia did not even begin to bat until after lunch on day three. In a Test in which rain wreaked havoc. After the match, Smith could hardly believe that Australia would fly to Sydney for the third Test having already wrapped up the series with a 2-0 lead.
"That was a pretty amazing Test match and a great one to be a part of," Smith said. "Coming here this morning, lots of people would have had their doubts that this could happen. Everyone was always staring down the barrel of a draw, really. It was phenomenal the way we could turn things around, give ourselves a chance and take that chance when it came. I'm really proud, and I think it says Test cricket is alive and going really well.
"I thought Starcy was incredible. I thought he batted incredibly. He broke the record for the most sixes at the MCG, and hit the ball incredibly cleanly to give us an opportunity to get 180 and have the overs that we did at them today. It was pretty special. To come out and do what we did - we always thought if we could get three or four wickets, when we got the ball reversing we'd be in for a show.
"A lot of credit has got to go to Nathan Lyon. I thought he bowled beautifully this afternoon. He mixed up his seam. He bowled a lot of cross-seam balls today, which I guess put a bit of doubt in the Pakistan batters' minds. He came up with the crucial wickets to get us in a good position for when the ball started to reverse. And then Starcy did what Starcy's done for a while and was world-class."
Smith's praise for Lyon was particularly notable after his tepid support of the offspinner on the fourth evening, when he declined to back him as a certain starter for the Sydney Test. Lyon had taken 1 for 115 from 23 overs in the first innings, but showed on day five why he has been Australia's most successful Test offspinner of all time.
He collected 3 for 33 in Pakistan's second innings, importantly claiming the wickets of the two most senior members of the side: Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. He also had Asad Shafiq brilliantly caught at short leg by Peter Handscomb shortly before tea, ending a ten-over partnership with Azhar Ali that Smith believed was the turning point for Australia.
"I thought when we broke the Azhar-Shafiq partnership, the catch that Petey took at bat-pad, I thought we're in for a good show here," Smith said. "The ball was starting to tail and it was about to get pretty difficult for the batters to start. Everything just sort of worked to plan. It was one of those days."
The victory means Australia have now won three consecutive Tests since the nadir of their loss to South Africa in Hobart, after which the selectors made sweeping changes to the side. Not all of those changes have been successful - No. 6 batsman Nic Maddinson has now been axed for the Sydney Test, and wicketkeeper Matthew Wade is yet to make a batting contribution - but Smith believes the wins will give his young team confidence.
"I think it can give you that belief to know that you're never out of the game or you can pull a win out of your hat from nowhere," he said. "It was quite remarkable the way we were able to do that today. Everything just went to plan. It was just one of those days. I'm just incredibly pleased and hopefully the guys can take a lot of confidence out of how they've played this week.
"We're still a work in progress. We're a young team. I'm proud of the boys. We've played some very good cricket in the last couple of weeks, to win three Test matches and three one-day matches on the bounce has been outstanding. But we want a clean sweep in Sydney, and we need to continue to improve in every aspect. We've got to grow and get better each and every day. If we do that hopefully we can get to where we want to get to."