A CENTURY from Azhar Ali and staunch support by Asad Shafiq frustrated Australia bowlers but rain was a sickener for both sides on day two of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.Showers truncated the morning session and then re-emerged shortly after 17:00hrs to prevent any further play, meaning at least 78 scheduled overs were lost over the first two days. The inclement weather cut into the time available to Pakistan to force the result they need to stand a chance of winning the series.In-between the rain breaks, Azhar and Shafiq showed good composure to work through the early spells of the Australian pacemen then rotating the strike when Nathan Lyon’s spin was introduced. After Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed perished to the second new ball, Mohammad Amir played some handsome strokes while Azhar forged on with impressive determination to push the score to 6 for 310 at stumps.Azhar’s hundred was his 12th in Tests, a brilliant exercise in restraint and patience to keep Australia in the field. The hosts looked a little less than their best in what was their fourth consecutive day in the field, when also including Pakistan’s narrowly failed chase of 490 to win the first Test of the series in Brisbane.In their search for a wicket, the Australians wasted a referral when Jackson Bird appealed for caught-behind against Shafiq, before replays showed that ball was nowhere near bat.Later in the same over, Shafiq drove Bird down the ground and the bowler touched the ball before it hit the stumps at the non-striker’s end. Azhar quickly turned to regain his ground in time, before there was brief pandemonium at the ground when the third umpire flashed an OUT decision on the MCG’s big screen.This mistaken verdict was quickly rescinded, and following some light rain the batsmen resumed their occupation in the final few overs before lunch. Steven Smith tried himself and also Nic Maddinson in this brief period, and with a deft leg-side deflection off the latter, Azhar made it to three figures before the rain returned.There was no further play before 15:30hrs local time, and with Smith immediately taking the second new ball, conditions became more challenging for the visiting batsmen. Shafiq was undone for 50 by an excellent away swinger from Bird, and Sarfraz also edged the moving ball, inching Josh Hazlewood further towards his 100th Test wicket in the process.However, Amir ended Australian hopes of rolling up the tail, playing his shots with aplomb and adding 42 in quick time with the enduring Azhar.Pakistan have manoeuvred themselves into a strong position in this match, but the return of the rain will lessen the meaning of that advantage.
The USC football team has the chance to win 10 games, sweep Notre Dame and UCLA and lay the groundwork for what could be the most explosive offense in college football next year. On the surface, it looks great, and 2014 seems like a solid debut season for coach Steve Sarkisian.Reflecting on the season at this point seems to be dominated by looking at the year in two different lights. The eternal optimist looks at the season and says, had a couple more plays gone USC’s way, the team could have been in contention for the playoff. The pessimist says USC is a couple bounces from being a .500 football team. Though both of those are plausible scenarios, I don’t think that offers the most enlightening perspective on what the season means for the football program moving forward.Due to the abridged nature of the season, luck and variability can play a role in determining the fortunes of a team. Ultimately though, enough small sample sizes combine to stabilize and neutralize “luck,” and the on-field product is rewarded in proportion to its merits. That’s why I think just using the eye test can sometimes be the most effective judge of a team’s performance. In terms of this, the USC football team has had an inconsistent on-field persona. They have had glimpses of the glory years with an offense rolling on all cylinders, while also going through the most frustrating of dry spells.It’s obviously important to take into consideration the roster limitations due to sanctions and injury when looking at the team, as well as the fact that the young group is implementing an entirely new scheme on both sides of the ball. Understanding this, Sarkisian has done an admirable job this year.But I can’t help shake the feeling that every game I have watched this year, USC has not reached its full potential. Even in the wins, there is a decrease in enjoyment because the team blows leads in the fourth quarter, and, with the exception of a few games, cannot seem to put four quarters of offense together. I have no idea if this should be attributed to a lack of depth or if it is more of a playcalling issue. Either way, Boston College notwithstanding, USC has been one of the best teams in the country through three quarters every game this year. In the fourth quarter, though, the repeated pattern of wilting is hard to figure out.For the future of the program, one hopes that the sanctions and lack of depth are the primary factor in the drop off in performance in the fourth quarter. Whatever the case is, it has left me feeling like the USC team could accomplish a lot more this year with the type of drives like they had in the first quarter of the Cal and Utah games.Redshirt junior Cody Kessler has developed into the most underrated quarterback in the country, and the array of wide receivers, tight ends and running backs at his disposal is second to none in the country. The offensive line is starting to click with the freshmen becoming more comfortable in their roles. Knowing this, it’s just maddening and frustrating to see them struggle so mightily in the latter stages of the game.Just by using the eye test, it’s clear this team has greatness in its future. The hope is that the reason fans left frustrated after Cal and other games this year was because of depth, something that is easily fixed moving forward. If it is more of a system issue, it’s a lot more worrisome. I personally don’t believe this will be the long-term approach to football games with Sarkisian. I think the sanctions have been both a physical and mental hurdle this year, and once that is fixed the offense will run high octane for 60 minutes.Even though the Trojans aren’t going to be competing in the playoff, beating UCLA and Notre Dame over the next two games has a significant impact on recruiting and the trajectory of the program. Though most reasonable evidence would indicate that the USC offense will go through periods of struggle in the two games, I am holding out hope that the extra adrenaline and passion will carry them through.This Saturday is the Trojans’ chance to make most fans forget about the fourth quarter struggles. If USC is able to beat both the Bruins and Fighting Irish, a very plausible scenario, those fourth quarter issues will become a thing of the past.Using the beloved eye test this year, I spot an overrated Bruins team that is ripe for defeat. Though they put together their most complete games of the season the last two weeks, their defense should not be able to match the speed outside the hashes. Forget the rest of the season, Saturday is what defines the year. It’s time for the Trojans to take back Los Angeles.Jake Davidson is a sophomore majoring in accounting. His column, “Davidson’s Direction,” runs Mondays. To comment on this column, visit dailytrojan.com or email Jake at [email protected]