Pakistan are hoping to end an excruciating 24-year wait for a Test win on Australian soil as they prepare to battle the hosts in a two-match series beginning on Thursday.
The visitors have never tasted a Test series victory Down Under with their last four tours of the country all ending in 3-0 whitewashes.
As such, the task facing newly appointed skipper Azhar Ali and head coach Misbah-ul-Haq is huge, as they prepare to play their first match of the inaugural ICC World Test Championship.
While Tim Paine’s men will definitely count themselves as the favourites to win the two Tests, we look at three individual battles that Pakistan can try to win if they are to upset the odds.
Cummins v Babar
At one point, it looked like Pat Cummins’ international career was dead and buried after multiple injuries derailed his progress after a stellar debut against South Africa in 2011. However, the Sydney-born pacer never threw in the towel despite the frustrations of his setbacks and made an Australia return after a gap of seven years in 2017.
In the two and a half years since his comeback, Cummins has topped the wicket-taking charts for two-consecutive Ashes series while establishing himself as the runaway No1 ranked bowler in the Test format.
His injury woes look like a thing of the past with the 26-year-old barely missing a Test since his return and he has now picked up 87 wickets in his last 16 appearances in the format.
How Pakistan cope with Cummins’ incredible consistency will be crucial and they need their star man Babar Azam to rise to the task. The right-hander’s T20I and ODI credentials are unquestionable, but he has not lived up to the same standards in Tests. That picture looks to be changing of late though, with Babar putting up some promising displays in the tour of South Africa at the start of the year.
He has also looked in superb form in Pakistan’s two warm-up clashes with scores of 157 and 63. It is only a matter of time before Babar affirms his Test credentials and getting the better of Cummins in Australia would go a long way in that regard.
Smith v Abbas
As if facing the No1 ranked bowler in the world isn’t enough, Pakistan also need to withstand the might of No1 ranked batsman Steve Smith. The one-year suspension from cricket has only served to whet up Smith’s humongous appetite for runs, with the right-hander returning with a vengeance in the recent English summer.
His Ashes return saw him score a staggering 774 runs in just four matches at an average greater than 110, while he is also scoring runs for fun now in the limited-overs formats. Worryingly for Pakistan, Smith showed he is up for another run-fest by registering a patient ton for New South Wales in a recent Sheffield Shield clash.
The Pakistan series will mark the first Test appearance for Smith on home soil since the infamous ball-tampering episode occurred in Newlands, and he will be desperate to win over the Aussie fans with some rollicking displays.
The visitors, meanwhile, will hope that Mohammad Abbas can do what England couldn’t: Dismissing Smith before he has already milked them dry. Abbas is arguably the best seam bowler in the Test format currently and has been excelled in nearly every series he has been a part of, since making his debut in 2016.
He was literally unplayable in the reverse series against Australia in the UAE last year where he claimed 17 wickets in just two matches at an average of 10.59.
This will be the first time that he will be squaring up against Smith and the outcome of this tussle could very well define what direction the series takes.
Warner v Shah
Australia’s players have been sending repeated reminders that David Warner has overcome his Ashes misery and the notion does seem to be true when taking his recent limited-overs form into account.
However, Tests are a totally different ball-game altogether and Pakistan will be hoping to pounce on every loose chink in Warner’s armour. The left-hander endured a torrid time in England where Stuart Broad gave him a proper working over in the five-match series. Just 95 runs at an average below 10 is the worst series display in Warner’s Test career which has seen him register 20 tons previously.
Like Smith, the opening batsman will be keen to win over Aussie fans after being painted as the main villain of the ball-tampering saga and it could be Pakistan’s bowlers who could face his wrath.
The visitors, on the other hand, will be looking to unsettle Warner with some real pace and they have just the bowler to do that in the form of young Naseem Shah. The 16-year-old is in line to make his Test debut for Pakistan after making a real impression in the first-class set-up and could end up being the surprise package of the series.
Shah’s express pace and sharp bounce was seen in abundance in Pakistan’s recent warm-up clash against Australia A and that display has already seen the hosts sit up and take notice. It might be a risky ploy to throw him into the deep end so soon in his career, but his youthful exuberance and fearlessness could be exactly what Pakistan need to topple the Aussies.
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