19/05/2024

Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium will play host to the final test match of the series (Image: @TherealPCB)

With the series locked up heading into the final Test match, a win in Lahore will be enough to secure the Benaud-Qadir trophy for either side.

After a rather uneventful first match of the series in Rawalpindi, the second Test in Karachi was one for the record books.

A massive first innings score, a lead of over 400, and a fourth innings that lasted almost two days don’t even begin to explain the match, with the series ultimately staying drawn at 0-0 after the fifth day.

If the third and final test in Lahore is even close to the dramatic match that we saw last week, cricket fans are in for a real treat, with both sides pushing for a crucial series win.

Big Picture:

At the end of the third day of the second Test, many thought that Pakistan would be heading into this final match simply looking to not fall to a series defeat. How wrong they were.

After a Babar Azam masterclass in the second innings, Pakistan was able to pull off a remarkable draw, batting for the second-longest time in terms of balls delivered in test match history.

Their 1,030 balls faced only falls behind England, who were competing in a timeless Test when they set the record.

Babar himself faced over 400 of those deliveries, the fourth most by a batter in a fourth innings of a Test match.

The performance in Karachi will fill the Pakistan team with an incredibly large amount of confidence, bouncing back from their disappointing first innings of just 148.

Australia on the other hand is under an unexpectedly large amount of pressure, having dropped crucial World Test Championship points that they realistically should have won.

They head into Lahore with their bowlers having sent down a remarkable 171.4 overs in the fourth and final innings, including nearly 110 of those by Mitchell Swepson and Nathan Lyon.

Despite the disappointment of the final two days, the confidence in the Australian batting line-up should still be high, having only been bowled out just once across the series.

Mitchell Starc’s incredible spell against Pakistan in their first innings will also leave the big left-arm quick brimming with self-assurance, after taking 3-29 with a perfect display of reverse swing.

The calculations are simple. For Pakistan captain Babar Azam a victory means a potential series win in front of his home fans, whilst for Australia, it could be a first series win in Asia since 2011.

Key Players

Mitchell Swepson

After finally making his long-awaited debut the Queensland leg spinner must have thought that Test cricket was easy after the first innings, running out Pakistan opener Abdullah Shafique and picking up two wickets.

Just two days later and the tables had turned, bowling 54 overs in difficult conditions against a batter at the peak of his game.

Despite going for 156 runs and collecting no wickets, the leg spinner still has the confidence of the Australian captain, with Cummins commenting on how well he thought that Swepson bowled without much reward.

This confidence has been reflected by his inclusion in the third Test, with Swepson down to partner Lyon again in Lahore.

If Australia is to break their drought in Asia, a good performance from Swepson will go a long way, with the leg spinner likely hoping that he will get delayed rewards for his effort in the second Test.

He was able to get Pakistan’s captain in the first innings as his debut wicket, for Australia’s sake let’s hope that he can do that a few more times before the end of the series.

Nauman Ali

It has undoubtedly been a difficult series for bowlers, with batters dominating throughout both matches so far.

Only one bowler has been able to truly dominate an innings with crucial wickets at crucial times, helping dismiss Australia for the only occasion this series. His name is Nauman Ali.

Despite a relatively quiet second Test, his first match against Australia was one to remember, collecting 6 for 107 from 38 overs.

It wasn’t just lower-order that he dismissed either, collecting the key scalps of Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Travis Head, and Cameron Green to go along with Nathan Lyon and Pat Cummins.

Considering the side’s difficulties dismissing Australians in the second match, a performance like we saw from Ali in the first match is exactly what Pakistan needs in Lahore to finally dismiss the away side cheaply.

His left arm orthodox bowling offers a unique challenge for Australia, with his ability to trap batters down the leg side a fascinating attribute.

If a bit of luck falls Ali’s way in the third and final match of the series, Pakistan could be well on their way to a series victory.

Usman Khawaja

Whilst many of Australia’s batters have performed well in Pakistan so far, it has truly been the series of Usman Khawaja.

301 runs at an average of 150 in the first tour of his birth nation have been crucial for Australia, with the opener not yet being dismissed for anything under 97.

Whilst it is true that the pitches so far have been less than ideal to bowl on, take nothing away from the important job that Khawaja is playing for the betterment of his side.

You only have to look at David Warner and Pakistan’s openers in Karachi to see that it wasn’t easy to face the new ball, with five of the eight opener innings resulting in under forty runs.

Whilst they haven’t been bad, Travis Head and Cameron Green have not shown the dominance of others whilst at the wicket, with Green yet to score a 50 and Head’s high score being just 23.

Khawaja’s ability to absorb early pressure and score big runs has limited the pressure on both these two and the rest of the middle order, allowing them to not once come into bat with a multitude of pressure on them.

Another stellar test match from Khawaja will go a long way to securing Australia the series. However, if his form slows down it may be a real challenge for the rest of the away team’s batting line-up.

Shaheen Shah Afridi

Fresh off being awarded the ICC Men’s Cricketer of the year, many tipped Shaheen Shah Afridi to have a big series with the ball against the Australians.

Unfortunately for the fast bowler luck hasn’t quite been on his side so far, collecting just four wickets across Australia’s three innings.

Similar to Cummins this does not mean that he has had a poor series, rather a combination of Australia’s dominant batting attack and lacklustre pitches making it almost impossible for the 22-year-old to show just how good he is.

You only need to look back at his opening spells against Australia in the first and second match of the series to understand just how unlucky he has been.

The quick barely missed the edge on numerous occasions, narrowly had an LBW call turned down, and also was on the receiving end of a dropped catch in the gully all within his first six overs in the first fixture.

If Pakistan wants to win in Lahore a few of those early chances resulting in wickets for Afridi will go a long way, especially considering the class that Khawaja has shown throughout the series to date.

The quicker that the fast bowler can get Australia’s middle order out into the middle the better the chance of Pakistan securing victory will be.

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Key Match-Up

Australia’s opening batters vs Pakistan’s opening bowlers

If the first two tests are anything to go by, the matchup between the new ball bowlers for Pakistan, along with David Warner and Usman Khawaja, could shape up to be series-defining.

Whilst Warner did fall in the second innings in Karachi for a relatively low score, Pakistan has struggled throughout the tour to truly get into Australia’s middle-order early.

They haven’t yet been able to utilise the new ball, often finding that luck hasn’t been on their side.

On the other hand, Warner and Khawaja have been able to build partnerships early, and whilst Warner hasn’t been able to score a century yet his contributions have nonetheless been extremely valuable.

If Afridi and co can get Khawaja and Warner out early it truly does open the door for the home side, with the potential for Smith, Head, and Green to all see a relatively new ball, something that has not occurred yet this series.

On the other hand, if the openers can yet again defend against the new ball before building partnerships with Australia’s plethora of world-class batters, another couple of big scores could be coming Australia’s way in Lahore.

In a series of limited opportunities, Pakistan will need to take theirs early against Warner and Khawaja if they are any chance of winning in Lahore.

Players to watch

Babar Azam

After not scoring a 50 in his first two innings of the series, Pakistan’s captain certainly made up for it with a match-saving knock of 196 in the fourth innings at Karachi.

Coming in with his side at 2-21 with over 150 overs left in the match the captain took it upon himself to become the hero, batting off Australia’s attack by facing 70 overs worth of deliveries on his own.

Whilst Pakistan’s batting line-up has looked solid apart from their first innings in Karachi, their captain can step up when required, something which saved his side from certain defeat.

Remarkably despite playing 39 tests so far, the 27-year-old has never played in front of his home fans at Lahore, and with a series on the line, it will be crucial for his side that he performs.

This occasion combined with the superb stroke playing that we saw in the second match likely only mean’s one thing; if you are a lover of test match batting, watching Azam in the third test is a must.

Pat Cummins

Whilst it hasn’t been a bad series for the Australian Captain in terms of his bowling, the quick will be looking to have a big impact on the third and final Test of the series.

Four wickets at an average of 47 can be put down to the pitches that Pakistan has delivered so far, however it is clear that we haven’t quite seen the Cummins that Australians have loved to watch over the past few home summers.

Similar to Afridi the luck hasn’t quite been on his side, however, for a player of Cummins’ quality do not expect this to be the situation for long.

With the Lahore pitch likely to again be batter friendly Cummins must be able to utilise the time where fast bowling will be dangerous, collecting wickets instead of leaving his dual spinners with work to do.  

With the added pressure of outside questions around his captaincy decisions, expect the New South Welshman to come out firing in the third Test of the series, especially combined with the fact he will not be playing in the white ball games component of the tour.

Predicted XI’s

Australia

David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Swepson

Pakistan

Imam ul-Haq, Abdullah Rafique, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Fawad Alam, Mohammad Rizwan, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Sajid Khan, Nauman Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi

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