Australia v Pakistan: Hosts have the advantage in most areas but visitors look solid in the middle-order

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Babar Azam and Asad Shafiq are in excellent nick.

Pakistan open their ICC World Test Championship campaign on Thursday as the visitors take on Australia at the iconic Gabba in Brisbane.

The two-Test series will be Pakistan’s first red-ball assignment since they were whitewashed 3-0 in South Africa in January.

Since then, plenty has changed in the team’s Test setup with Misbah-ul-Haq taking over as the head coach, while veteran batsman Azhar Ali has been appointed as skipper.

As the two teams prepare to battle in Brisbane and then in Adelaide, we take a look at how they match-up across all departments.

OPENERS

Australia – David Warner, Joe Burns

Pakistan – Imam-ul-Haq, Abid Ali, Shan Masood/Azhar Ali

Warner will be desperate to bounce back from a poor Ashes series.

Warner will be desperate to bounce back from a poor Ashes series.

Australia have more quality in this department, purely due to the experience and runs David Warner brings to the table. While the southpaw did endure a horrendous time in England during the Ashes, he remains one of the most prolific openers in the Test arena with as many as 21 tons to his name.

Warner will most likely be partnered by Joe Burns at the top after Marcus Harris was given the axe. Queensland’s Burns has more than 7,500 runs at the first-class level while he averages a healthy 40.1 in his 16 previous Test appearances.

Pakistan, on the other hand, are not so stacked in this department and will need Imam-ul-Haq to step up big time. The left-hander’s Test displays have not been the most promising so far despite his excellent start to life in ODIs.

Who joins Imam at the top for Pakistan still remains anyone’s guess with both Shan Masood and skipper Azhar Ali capable of performing the role.

Both Masood and Ali are solid and reliable batsmen who can weather the new ball, although a lot will depend on how Imam goes at the other end.

MIDDLE-ORDER

Australia – Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Mathew Wade, Cameron Bancroft

Pakistan – Azhar Ali/Shan Masood, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Iftikhar Ahmed

Smith looks in ominous touch.

Smith looks in ominous touch.

This is the area where the two sides are perhaps the most evenly matched, but Steve Smith’s ominous presence slightly skews it in Australia’s favour. The No1 ranked batsman in the world was in stunning form in the Ashes and he has warmed up for the upcoming series with a magnificent ton in the Sheffield Shield.

The hosts will also expect big things from Labuschagne after his instant Ashes impact and the right-hander can be the perfect foil for Smith at the crease. Head and Wade will fancy their chances of racking up the runs in home conditions while Bancroft brings grit and doggedness to the table.

For Pakistan, Babar and Shafiq have been in stellar form in the warm-up clashes with the latter racking up two centuries in as many innings. Babar, meanwhile, is starting to come into his own at Test level and the upcoming series could be a defining one for his red-ball career.

They will be joined by one of Azhar or Masood in the middle-order and both of them are capable of playing the long innings. Sohail, however, hasn’t looked too convincing in the practice matches and will most likely miss out on the playing XI.

All-rounder Iftikhar, on the other hand, has shown plenty of encouraging signs since his Pakistan comeback.

WICKETKEEPER

Australia – Tim Paine

Pakistan – Mohammad Rizwan

Rizwan has played just the one Test previously.

Rizwan has played just the one Test previously.

Here again, its advantage Australia with skipper Paine being the more experienced man by some distance over his counterpart.

Paine is as tidy as they come with wicketkeeping gloves in hand, while he can always be relied upon to play an innings of 30 or 40 odd down the order.

Rizwan, meanwhile, will be making only his second Test appearance with his only previous outing coming all the way back in 2016 against New Zealand.

The 27-year-old has plenty to prove in the series after replacing former skipper Sarfraz Ahmed in the side.

SPIN

Australia – Nathan Lyon

Pakistan – Yasir Shah, Kashif Bhatti

Lyon's track record is exemplary, especially in Australia.

Lyon’s track record is exemplary, especially in Australia.

Pakistan have more options when it comes to the slower bowlers with Iftikhar also capable of throwing down some handy off-spin.

Shah, meanwhile, remains one of the best Test leg-spinners in the business, though he hasn’t been at the top of his game for some time now owing to injuries.

Despite Pakistan having the numbers, the hosts will still be confident of clinching this battle with veteran Nathan Lyon leading their line. Apart from India’s Ravi Ashwin, no other bowler has picked up more Test wickets in the last four years than Lyon (194) who can be a particularly difficult customer to handle at home.

PACE

Australia – Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Michael Neser

Pakistan – Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Afridi, Imran Khan, Muhammad Musa Khan, Naseem Shah

Pat Cummins is the No1 ranked Test bowler by some distance.

Pat Cummins is the No1 ranked Test bowler by some distance.

There is no debate on this one with the hosts boasting one of the most formidable pace trios in the world. No1 ranked Cummins, Hazlewood and Starc is a lethal combination while Pattinson and rookie Neser are no mugs with the ball either.

The visitors, meanwhile, have an excellent seamer in the form of Abbas who can be expected to perform well no matter what the conditions. Imran Khan is making a comeback after two years out and the 32-year-old looked threatening in the recent warm-up clash.

The remaining three pacers in the Pakistan attack are all teenagers, although Afridi is already a seasoned international by now. Muhammad Musa and 16-year-old Naseem, however, are still raw at international level and it would be asking too much of them to perform wonders Down Under.

It will be interesting to see what pace combination Misbah and Azhar opt for in the two Tests.

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