After comfortably coasting to another Ashes win, Australia will return to Pakistan for their first test series in the country since 1998.
It’s been plenty of time since the traveling team last went on an overseas red-ball tour, and they’ll have to be on their game if they are to come away from Pakistan with another series win.
Recently crowned the number one Test team in the world with the ICC rankings, Australia emerge out of their victorious home summer with a bounty on their heads.
With the likes of Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, and Scott Boland all putting their names up in lights during the Ashes series, Australia possesses more test-quality depth than they have had since the golden generation came to an end in the 2000s.
But if they are to hold onto the mantle and prove they are a team worthy of winning big away series, they’ll have to match it with a Pakistan side baying to return to their home country for test cricket.
The Pakistanis have a bevy of dangerous players who have had stellar calendar years in 2021. If the likes of Shaheen Shah Afridi and Babar Azam can bring their world-beating form to this home series, then they will force Australia to play at their very best in foreign conditions.
With players like young quick Naseem Shah, recently added to the Test squad after Haris Rauf’s COVID diagnosis, looming as an X-factor pace option for the hosts, Pakistan’s renewed rivalry with the Aussies could take on a whole new element in this history-making three-test bout.
For all of the plaudits surrounding David Warner as a top-notch opening batter in test matches, his record has only one fault – his ability to score runs on away turning decks.
He took one big step towards squashing these doubts in his last away series in Bangladesh, where he compiled a mountain of runs to lead the Aussies on dry, turning pitches.
But he has famously struggled in places like India and Sri Lanka, where the likes of Rangana Herath and Ravichandran Ashwin took his wicket for fun.
In a series where the opening partnership is key to solidifying Australia’s confidence in conditions they haven’t experienced for over 20 years, Warner’s firepower and experience up top are critical to the visitor’s success.
Despite the conjecture about whether Pakistan’s test pitches will actually be conducive to turn and spin, Nathan Lyon, looms as a major factor in Australia’s chances of winning the series.
In past series abroad, he has had some days out, including the 2017 India tour where he managed to consistently take bags of wickets against an Indian batting lineup well adjusted to the unique spinning conditions in the subcontinent.
Leg-spinner Mitch Swepson is on standby as a potential second spin option, but Lyon’s ability to lead the slow bowling stakes single-handedly could be the difference between the Aussies being able to play all three of their premier fast bowlers instead of having to rely on all-rounder options.
If the GOAT can find his career-best ways, his wicket-taking threat could help the Aussies consistently take 20 wickets a test match, which is well-known as the key to winning test series.
As much as Warner is imperative to Australia’s success at the top of the order, Masood’s recent form opening the batting is also critical for Pakistan to negate the Aussies’ fast-bowling cartel.
The likes of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, and Scott Boland will all be raring to continue striking fear into the hearts of world cricketers, but Masood’s steadfast defence and unique ways of scoring runs are necessary to protect his middle order.
If Masood fails and skipper Babar Azam is constantly subjected to the new ball, Pakistan may find it difficult to produce mammoth totals that will put the Aussies behind the game quickly.
Yet if he can find his groove and score crucial top-order runs, his whole batting order may benefit and produce the runs required to beat Australia.
Shaheen Shah Afridi
There are not too many bowlers in world cricket in better form than the Pakistani spearhead.
Starting with a blistering T20 World Cup campaign and continuing into all forms of the game, Afridi’s hair-raising pace and steep swing back into the right-hander is a rare talent not too many other Test sides possess.
With fellow bowling leader Hasan Ali ruled out of the first test with a muscle strain, Afridi will have to shoulder even more of the load in Rawalpindi.
He’ll be looking to strike early and bring the likes of Marnus Labuschagne to the crease while the ball is fresh, as a mouth-watering battle will ensure between two of the world’s highest-ranked players.
Josh Hazlewood v Azhar Ali
It’s been a long while since Azhar Ali bullied Australia everywhere on Boxing Day at the MCG.
Since then, his average and runs output in the longest format has dropped, with the likes of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan instead taking over the mantle of Pakistan’s best batters.
But the top-order batter is still in Pakistan’s squad and likely to get the nod for the Rawalpindi test.
If he does play, expect his battle with metronomic seamer Josh Hazlewood to be key. Hazlewood has had a happy knack of troubling Ali in their last series a few years back. If Hazlewood repeats the dose, one of Pakistan’s veteran batters may be out of the contest early, giving Australia the inroads they need to roll through the hosts.
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The Pakistani keeper has quickly gone from an attacking batter-keeper to one of the best glovemen in world cricket.
Now the vice-captain of his nation, Rizwan’s stability behind the stumps and constant runs at a quick clip down the order have made him invaluable.
Many test sides don’t have an X-factor player like Rizwan, but his worth will be severely tested against one of the world’s best bowling teams.
It’s a mammoth series for the Pakistani gloveman, who will need to show his versatility in trying conditions if he is to emerge as one of the world’s best middle-order batters.
In a similar fashion to Rizwan, Head proved in the recent Ashes series that he is similarly capable of changing a Test match in an hour.
His man-of-the-series Ashes summer was characterised by aggressive innings in difficult spots of a game, as he often thrived on turning the momentum of a test match in quick time.
The highlight was a mind-blowing test ton on the first afternoon on a green Hobart pitch, where Head looked a class above with flowing cover drives and beautiful flicks off his legs.
If the Aussies find themselves in a spot of bother yet again, expect Head’s counter-attacking ability to be critical to correcting the tourist’s ship.
Pakistan: Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam ( C ), Fawad Alam, Mohammad Rizwan (WK, VC), Iftikhar Ahmed, Sajid Khan, Nauman Ali, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi
Australia: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith (VC), Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (WK), Pat Cummins ( C ), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
Pakistan: Babar Azam (c), Mohammad Rizwan (vc), Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Fawad Alam, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Wasim, Nauman Ali, Sajid Khan, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Zahid Mahmood. Reserves: Naseem Shah, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Mohammad Haris
Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc, Mark Steketee, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner.
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