WILL EVANS charges down the wicket with cricket tips for a historic Test series opener between Pakistan and Australia in Rawalpindi.
16:00 (AEDT), Fri 4th Mar @ Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium
History: Played 66: Australia 33 V Pakistan 15 (18 Draws)
Last meeting: November 29-December 2, 2019: Australia d Pakistan by innings and 48 runs at Adelaide Oval
Final Thoughts: Australia line up for their first overseas Test since 2019 – and it’s in a country they have visited in almost quarter of a century.
The nations meet in Pakistan for the first time since Australia won a three-Test series 1-0 in 1998. They last clashed at Test level Down Under in late-2019, with Australia carving out two innings victories. David Warner (154) and Marnus Labuscahgne (185) dominated with the bat in the first Test in Brisbane. Warner (335 not out) and Labuschagne (162) shared in a 361-run partnership in the second Test in Adelaide. Babar Azam managed a century at the Gabba and 97 at Adelaide Oval.
But Pakistan have had the wood on Australia in their de facto home of the UAE in the past eight years. They swept a two-Test series in 2014 two-nil and snared a one-nil series win in another two-Test rubbering 2018.
Australia are coming off a hugely emphatic 4-0 Ashes series win on home soil. Travis Head (357 runs at 59.50) and Labuscagne (335 runs at 41.87) were the stars with the bat, while Usman Khawaja bagged two centuries after earning a recall for the last two Tests. Captain Pat Cummins (21 wickets at 18.05) led the bowling standings ahead of Mitchell Starc (19 at 25.37) and three-Test sensation Scott Boland (18 at 9.56).
The aftermath of the series was overshadowed by coach Justin Langer’s messy sacking, however.
Tough line-up call for Australia in spin-friendly conditions
The Aussies’ top order is now well settled, while Cameron Green will hang onto the all-rounder role and Alex Carey will be retained as ’keeper. Cummins and Lyon are the only certainties in the bowling line-up as they weigh up whether to play two spinners. Starc and Hazlewood could be competing for one spot, Boland will be an unfortunate omission either way, and Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson are vying for the potential second spinner’s role.
Pakistan, sixth in the ICC Test rankings, have played just two Tests since last August’s 1-all draw in the West Indies. They beat Bangladesh by 8 wickets and an innings and 8 runs in a 2-0 sweep in Bangladesh in November-December. Abid Ali (133 and 91) starred with the bat in the first Test, while Sajid Khan took 12 wickets in the second Test.
The hosts will lean heavily on Babar Azam, ranked ninth in the Test batting standings. His last Test century was more than two years ago, but he has six fifties in his last 11 Tests. Meanwhile, Shaheen Afridi – fourth in the Test bowling rankings – will take on extra responsibility with Hasan Ali carrying an injury and Haris Rauf out with COVID. Afridi’s battle with David Warner will be key.
Steve Smith has averaged just 36.86 in 14 Tests since his mind-blowing 2019 Ashes series in England (774 runs at 110.57). He’ll be a crucial figure for an Australian side heading into the series opener as slight outsiders.