Australia’s summer of Test cricket begins on Thursday as the hosts get ready to take on Pakistan in Brisbane.
It has been over three decades since the Aussies last lost a Test match at the iconic Gabba, with Tim Paine’s side now unbeaten in their last 31 matches at the venue.
It was the mighty Windies side led by the great Sir Viv Richards who last prevailed over Australia at the Gabba, and as such, the task before Pakistan is a mammoth one.
Misbah Test era starts now for Pakistan
Australia’s daunting Brisbane record stares down at Misbah-ul-Haq and Azhar Ali in their first Test assignment since taking on their new roles with the Pakistan team.
While the 2020 T20 World Cup in the same country looms large, it is Test improvements that are the major part of Misbah’s mandate as Pakistan head coach and chief selector.
Misbah’s extensive captaincy stint with Pakistan culminated with the team achieving the No1 Test rank, and it is that same steeliness that he will need to bring to a side currently languishing in seventh spot in the rankings.
He has already installed a new skipper in the form of the experienced Azhar Ali, while fresh faces have been brought into the bowling unit. Ultimately, though, Misbah will be judged on his results and there will be no better place for his side to make a statement than Down Under.
Pakistan’s last 12 Tests on Australian soil have all ended in defeat with the side yet to win a series in the country. If Misbah’s men can stop that miserable streak, they will do well.
Young Shah set for historic debut
One of the new faces brought into the squad by Misbah is Naseem Shah and the teenage pacer has been all but confirmed to make his debut at the Gabba on Thursday.
At 16 years and 297 days, Shah will become the ninth youngest player in history to make his Test debut and the talented fast-bowler is being backed to achieve plenty of success in the years to come.
“If you ask anyone not many players can reach that standard so early but there are exceptions and he’s one of them and hopefully we’re all looking forward to it that he has a very successful career,” Pakistan skipper Azhar Ali said on the eve of the first Test.
“When I saw him first I was so surprised the control he had and the pace he had, on top of all the temperament and the composure when he bowls is so exciting to see.
“I captained him five times in first-class matches and he’s been fantastic.”
The teenager was mighty impressive in his brief spell in the warm-up clash against Australia A, and his youthful aggression could just be the tonic Pakistan need to unsettle the hosts.
Shah is likely to partner senior spearhead Mohammad Abbas and fellow teenager Shaheen Afridi in a three-man pace attack, with Yasir Shah set to perform the role of the sole spinner.
Test homecoming for Smith, Warner as hosts look to reaffirm red-ball credentials
Australia’s Test credentials clearly suffered last year in the absences of star men Steve Smith and David Warner, after the duo were suspended for the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal. That infamous incident was followed by a Test series defeat in South Africa before they were turned over by Pakistan in a two-match series in the UAE.
How badly they missed the services of their two stalwarts, particularly Smith, was highlighted when they fell to their first ever Test series defeat on home soil to India at the end of last year.
Being ranked at No5 is almost unheard of for the Aussies, who were the defining Test side for more than two decades under the successive leadership of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. That mantle, however, has seemed to shift to India now with Australia’s fearsome aura now a thing of the past.
Head coach Justin Langer has constantly harped about his wish to see the glory days of Australia’s past restored, and the former opener has set his sights on beating India away in 2022 as his ultimate goal.
That hurdle is still some distance away and Paine’s men need to first start consistently putting visiting teams away on Australia soil.
Smith’s return to the Test arena in England was a sensational one with the world’s number one batsman racking up 774 runs in just four Ashes matches. He is putting up numbers not seen since the days of Sir Don Bradman and Aussie fans will be ready to embrace him on his Test homecoming to see his march towards greatness continue.
For Warner, it is much a case about silencing up his critics and detractors after what was the most miserable of Ashes campaigns in England for the left-hander.
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