With Australia touring Pakistan for the first time in over two decades, the selectors face a fresh challenge of choosing a bowling attack to suit the unfamiliar conditions.
Test cricket made its long-awaited return to Pakistan in 2019, with countries now more open about the prospect of touring the subcontinent nation again. The first test to take place in the newly-named Benaud-Qadir Trophy is at Rawalpindi.
While subcontinent pitches have traditionally been known to create plenty of opportunities for the spinners, Rawalpindi has proven to be an outlier to this common stereotype.
Since cricket returned to Pakistan, there have been three tests to take place at the Pindi Cricket Stadium.
The pitch has often been pace-friendly with the most successful bowlers in recent history being Shaheen Shah Afridi, and Hasan Ali, who have 22 wickets between them. Afridi has taken 12 wickets in three Tests with an average of 19.83 at Pindi.
Meanwhile, Ali has played just the singular Test at Pindi and took five wickets in each of his two innings, with an average of 11.4.
South African allrounder George Linde, is the only spinner to have had any real form of success there since Cricket returned to Pakistan.
In the Pindi Test match in 2021, he averaged 13.6 with the ball, picking up five wickets for 68 runs. Meanwhile, fellow countryman, frontline spinner Keshav Maharaj, struggled to make the same impact as Linde. Maharaj has the most wickets of any spinner at Rawalpindi since its return to Test cricket, taking six wickets at 34.66 in his only test there.
Pakistan’s leading spinner, Yasir Shah, has struggled the most at the Pindi Cricket Stadium, taking just five wickets at 50.2 in his two Tests. While Shah wasn’t selected in Pakistan’s squad for this series, it tells a story about the Pindi track and how it isn’t so conducive to spinners and bags of wickets.
It is for this reason that it seems highly unlikely that the Australian selectors will go for two spinners in the Benaud-Qadir opener, with three pace bowlers and just the one spinner appearing to be the best option for the first test.
The second Test of the series takes place in the largest city in Pakistan, Karachi.
The Karachi National Stadium has hosted just the two Tests since 2009, with the most recent clash taking place in January last year. Unlike Rawalpindi, spinners have had success at Karachi.
The last Test at Karachi offered plenty for the spinners, whilst pace bowlers also had varying levels of success. Pakistani spinner, Nauman Ali, picked seven wickets on debut against South Africa.
His five-wicket-haul in the second innings was the highlight as he finished the match with figures of 7/73. Meanwhile, Shah was also far more successful at the Karachi National Stadium than Rawalpindi, with match figures of 7/133.
Meanwhile, Kagiso Rabada was the best of the pace bowlers, picking up three wickets in the first inning. However, across the four innings, the spinners were far more successful than the pace bowlers.
13 wickets were taken by pace bowlers in the last test at Karachi, whilst 19 wickets were taken by spin bowlers. Pakistan’s spin duo was pivotal to the hosts winning this test and if conditions are similar, then it should not be a surprise to see both nations use two spinners.
This Test would be Mitch Swepson’s best chance at earning a Baggy Green, after spending a large amount of time in the Australian setup as Nathan Lyon’s deputy.
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The third and final Test of the series is set to take place at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. This is the first time Lahore is hosting a Test match since its return to Pakistan.
Gaddafi Stadium last hosted a test in 2009, which was abandoned before the beginning of the third day due to a terrorism attack on the Sri Lankan team.
Historically, Lahore has offered a bit of everything, with the abandoned Test, not giving much to the bowlers, with 716 runs scored for the loss of just 11 wickets before play was halted. In previous matches, there has been a wide range of success for both fast and spin bowlers.
The best single innings figures in history at the Gaddafi Stadium were from Pakistani leg-spinner Abdul Qadir, who took 9/56 against England in 1987. Meanwhile, Imran Khan picked up career-best figures at Lahore when he took 8/58 in 1982.
Khan averaged 17.62, claiming 56 wickets, the most out of any bowler in history at Gaddafi Stadium. He wasn’t the only pace bowler to have plenty of success there either, with Waqar Younis and Courtney Walsh both also dominating in Lahore.
As for the spinners, Qadir sits at the top in terms of leading wicket-takers with 51 scalps while,
Danish Kaneria has 32 wickets against his name at 31.56.
Muttiah Muralitharan enjoyed success in his short time playing there, taking eight wickets for 150 runs. Shane Warne is the leading wicket taker for Australia at Gaddafi Stadium, with nine wickets at an average of 26.66.
While it has been over a decade since a Test match has been played in Lahore, if the pitch is similar to previous Tests, then there will be some tough decisions to be made by the selectors. There has been plenty of proof that pace bowlers are likely to be extremely successful, whilst there is often plenty of opportunities for spinners to dominate as well.
It remains highly unpredictable as to what Lahore will offer, particularly after such a long absence from the test calendar, meaning that the bowling cartel will likely remain up in the air until the coin toss.
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