Both sides were still mulling the balance of their attacks as rain hit the build-up
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.
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.
(Last five matches; most recent first)
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.
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 (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
“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.”
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo