Match Preview – Pakistan vs Australia, Australia in Pakistan 2021/22, 1st Test


Both sides were still mulling the balance of their attacks as rain hit the build-up

Big Picture

Australia’s arrival in Pakistan for their first Test tour of the country in 24 years has been billed as a momentous occasion for world cricket and it is certainly important. However, they are the sixth nation to tour since 2019 and the fourth to play Test cricket behind Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and South Africa.

It is perhaps just as significant that Australia have not played Tests overseas since mid-2019, due to the impact of Covid, prior to Pakistan’s first home Test in a decade against Sri Lanka. Since then, Australia have had 14 Tests at home while Pakistan have only played five at home and 12 away. Pakistan have won seven of their last eight Tests including two at home against South Africa early last year. Australia are coming off an Ashes series where they thumped England 4-0, with Sydney’s rain the only thing preventing a whitewash.

Australia are at full strength but outside of Usman Khawaja, David Warner and Steven Smith, the rest of the batting group has very little first-class experience in Asia. Pakistan are missing some key contributors from the side that was very successful in 2021 with Abid Ali still recovering from a heart problem, while Hasan Ali, Faheem Ashraf and Haris Rauf are all absent at least for the first Test.

Australia look stronger on paper but that could be neutralised in the conditions and with a very limited preparation. They only arriving in Pakistan at the start of the week and rain wiped out their last training session on Thursday.

Form guide

(Last five matches; most recent first)
Pakistan WWWLW
Australia WDWWW

In the spotlight

Shaheen Shah Afridi looms as one of the key men in this series and he will have to shoulder the load of leading the attack without Hasan alongside him. He was the leading quick bowler in Test cricket during 2021 with 47 wickets at 17.06 and has faced Australia before in two Tests in Australia where he bagged just five wickets for the series as Warner and Marnus Labuschagne plundered four scores of 150 plus between them in two Test matches, with Warner making 335 not out in Adelaide. But Shaheen is now far more experienced and Australia showed some vulnerability against the pace of Mark Wood in the Ashes. Late left-arm swing at high pace either with the new or old ball could rekindle memories of Wasim Akram.

Steven Smith was Bradman-esque on Australia’s last overseas Test series in the 2019 Ashes and he also starred on the 2017 trip to India, scoring three centuries in a four-Test series. However, since facing England in 2019 he has averaged 36.86 from 14 Tests and is coming off a home Ashes series where he passed 30 just twice in eight innings and failed to make a century. The batting surfaces were challenging during that series and he will likely enjoy the pitches in Pakistan far more. But his latest concussion is also another concern having not faced fast bowling in the nets until two days ago since he knocked himself out in the T20I series against Sri Lanka. If Australia are to succeed in the subcontinent over the next 12 months they will need large contributions from Smith. He will want to make an early statement.

Team news

Pakistan have a lot to ponder. Firstly one of Shan Masood or Imam-ul-Haq will open alongside Abdullah Shafique in the absence of Abid Ali. The absence of Ashraf upsets the balance and the damp weather on Thursday has left them weighing up the extra bowler or extra batter. If they go for the former, it could mean a Test debut to Mohammad Wasim Jr.

Pakistan (possible) 1 Shan Masood/Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Abdullah Shafique, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Babar Azam (capt), 5 Fawad Alam, 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 7 Mohammad Wasim Jr, 8 Nauman Ali, 9 Sajid Khan, 10 Shaheen Shah Afridi, 11 Naseem Shah

Australia’s top seven is settled but Pat Cummins said they are debating whether to play three quicks or two spinners and will wait for the toss although the extra pace bowler would seem the likely option. There were some questions over which three quicks it would be, but Scott Boland is likely to miss out with the return of Josh Hazlewood. Australia did not confirm which of the two back-up spinners is in the frame. Legspinner Mitchell Swepson has long been the understudy to Lyon and the likely man to partner him but Ashton Agar’s left-arm orthodox is tempting for the selectors if the surface is slow.

Australia (possible) 1 Usman Khawaja, 2 David Warner, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Cameron Green, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Pat Cummins (capt), 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Josh Hazlewood

Pitch and conditions

The pitch was under covers on Thursday with rain preventing both sides from training but they got a good look at it on Wednesday and it appeared flat and excellent for batting. The cooler weather in Rawalpindi also means the surface is unlikely to break up. In the last three Tests played here since 2019, the fast bowlers have been very successful. The forecast is good for the opening day but rain could be a factor later in the game.

Stats and trivia

  • Since Test cricket returned to Rawalpindi in 2019, Shaheen has the most wickets at the venue taking 12 at 19.83 just ahead of Hasan Ali with 10 at 11.40 in the only Test he played there.
  • Australia faced Pakistan in the UAE in 2018, but the last Test they played on the subcontinent was in September 2017 against Bangladesh. Darren Lehmann was the coach, Smith was captain and Australia played one fast bowler, three spinners and two allrounders.
  • Quotes

    “There could be times when the scoreboard is only ticking over at two runs an over and for our batting group we’ve just got to be prepared to bat and bat and bat. If there are certain stages where you feel it will speed up be brave enough to take on those opportunities.”
    Pat Cummins on Australia re-learning the rhythms of playing Test cricket on the subcontinent

    “We know the significance of Australia coming to Pakistan and we are excited about it. They are one of the best sides in the world and we can’t take them easy. They are quite an experienced side and we have planned accordingly so there will be good cricket.”
    Babar Azam

    Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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